Just when you thought everything these days was made off-shore, we’re here to burst that bubble. We caught up with Greg from TWE (Two Wheel Enterprises in Alexandria) to find out more about the Art of the Bike Wheel and plenty more. Here’s what he had to say.
When did you start TWE?
What was your connection to bikes before you started TWE?
I used to work in a bike shop, mainly as a mechanic. I did that for about 12 years but actually I am a qualified fitter and turner – that’s what I started out as.
Why did you start your own business?
Short story – I was tired of working for other people!
Longer story – while I was working in bike shop a nearby importer wanted to import/distribute a brand of wheels called Velomax (this later became another brand but is now no longer in production). As a condition they had to send ‘the warranty guy’ (me) to Los Angeles and experience the Velomax business and their wheel building first-hand. So I was sent to Long Beach L.A. Once over there I think both of us realised pretty quickly that I was already well up to their standard in wheel building.
The whole experience got me thinking and so I asked my boss, why don’t we do our own wheels? There wasn’t a lot of interest in that idea and so I started my own side project. I started sourcing rims and hubs, and started specking and making light wheels.
At the time it was a bit of a thing to badge your wheels with a small signature sticker or something like that. A guy in my bike club, Paul Makensi from Creatronix, made up a design that was BOLD. I was a bit hesitant at first. But he really spurred me on to ‘go hard’ and so I did. As it turns out that original design is still in place today.
I then started working at another bike shop. The manager there was quite behind selling my wheels through the store, which was great. Online shopping was really making inroads into the retail market but the bike store could buy wheels from me and sell them at an online price whilst still keeping a good margin. That opportunity still exists for shops today. TWE wheels are online priced wheels, yet they come with expert backup and service in Australia.
So the entire design and assembling process takes place in Australia?
Yep – all from my workspace in Sydney. It’s packed to the rafters in here. The room upstairs would be about 5.5M2 and has a pretty high roof. The boxes of rims are in three-and-a-half rows stacked to the roof. It’s like a rabbit warren around it. There’s everything up there – in carbon or alloy or both. And that’s before you even get to the separate room full of spokes and hubs.
What influences your designing?
I raced for about seven years – track and road as there wasn’t much MTB back then. So when I first started designing I was essentially just looking at and working from the best examples of standard looking wheels. At the risk of sounding old-fashioned I still think the aged old design of good quality steel J-bend spokes crossed over properly and evenly spaced around the wheel is best. That old saying they don’t make things like they used to doesn’t apply to TWE Wheels!
I have made a few subtle but important changes to the standard spec hubs from manufacturers. For example I have spoke holes drilled smaller than what they’re generally punched out at (so that the spoke doesn’t slop around so much where it’s seated in the hub). Another upcharge is the use of Japanese bearings.
How many wheels in the TWE range?
Essentially thousands, probably more given there are so many rim, hub and spoke combinations, varying spoke counts, etc. That said it becomes a fast process to narrow down options.
What sets TWE wheels apart from the competition?
Apart from the very ‘casual’ work uniform?!
You get custom wheels at online prices – not many places in the world can do this. Some providers allow you to design the wheels yourself but I believe it’s much too risky. I think it results in people buying the wrong wheels for themselves, which I see a lot!
I’ve been around bikes for about 32 years. For the last eight years I’ve worked full-time wheel specking, building, selling, discussing, problem solving ...I know what works well for people’s riding.
I know how light or how strong wheels need to be, and my advice is guaranteed –so my customers need not worry. If ever that advice leads to wheels that don’t perform well or last for ages then I make the customer a new wheel/set..at my expense . My customers only spend their money once !
I also like to interact – I see my customers as people versus numbers. How are they going? How’s their kid riding? Where have they been riding lately? I like to know these things; they often help me make the best recommendations as to the right wheels for each person.
I am also a real honest character – I’ll call a spade a spade, which might be a little full-on but at least people know they get the truth from me. I’m not going to try and talk them into something that’s not right for them, and I’m actually not going to sell them something that’s not right, either. I know this costs me sales sometimes but...
On a practical level - you get a cash replacement warranty with me, and heavily discounted if not free back-up services.
Say someone busts their rim in a pothole. That’s obviously not connected with me. They send me an email and I tell them to return the wheel to me. I then give them an online price for the replacement rim. This is typically around $110 for alloy. My labour is charged out at $80 but whilst I charge them for the amount of $190, they get a store credit which can buy them $200+ worth of TWE clothing. So essentially the wheel repair is free, which I think is a pretty good deal!
My customers all get ongoing discounts – 10% off their next wheel unless they’ve bought carbon, and then it’s more like 15%.
I go over everything before it’s sent out. Disc wheels are the only product I don’t make. But if a disc comes in and I feel it’s not right, I’ll pull it apart and rebuild it. I never just ship unopened boxes.
How are TWE wheels tested and quality assured?
I have made that many I just know if everything’s alright…! When you’re building a wheel you’re working with it from scratch, stretching the spokes force tests the wheels strength whilst you’re building it, so you soon literally feel if something is not going to be ok. Wheels are made round and true within the thickness of paper. I can see that with my eyes. You don’t need a machine testing mechanism – a human test from someone who knows a wheel inside and out and back to front is the best test. But in the old days I used to ride new designs first. And some new models that I’m curious about I have test ridden before selling.
My mates make good Guinea pigs...hehe!
What are the features any quality bike wheel must have?
Road wheels should be a good compromise between light, stiff and aerodynamic – a lower spoke count wheel is more aerodynamic but needs a stronger, heavier rim generally. This doesn’t matter with MTB wheels though. An ultra light road/ hill climbing wheel may need to have a few more spokes than a wheel designed to be very laterally stiff and aero for crits. With TWE you can heavily favour a lighter wheel, heavily favour an aero wheel, or have some kind of compromise. With carbon wheels especially one can have both. There really are many variations.
MTB – 32 spokes is generally the best number of spokes to use in a MTB wheel. It’s the optimum amount to support a rim that’s light and/or gets knocked around a lot. I do have some rims down to 24 holes – that’s for rims that are just so strong you don’t need 32...or for a very light rider or ultimate race wheel.
All wheels should have good bearings to perform well.
It also comes down to the physique of the rider too. If you’re a heavier or very powerful rider then you need wheels that have strength and lateral stiffness. Light wheels will not save the heavier rider time on the bike (nor in the workshop!)
How long does it take to get a set of wheels once the order is placed?
Provided I have all the parts – and I’ll be upfront to begin with if I don’t – then it’s about one week to a fortnight turnaround unless urgent. Some people will boast about how fast they can make a wheel and when I hear that, I shake my head. A wheel needs to be built carefully and deliberately - with concentration throughout the whole build and not just reefed into ‘round enough’ once all the spokes are tight. The wheel is fundamentally the most important part of a bike. Obviously the more wheels you make, the more efficient you become. But thought and feeling and judgement need to go into every wheel made. Get that wrong and the wheel won’t perform to its full potential.
What will wheels be like ten years from now?
Still round...! The future is certainly leaning towards carbon rims. Technology is producing higher temperature carbon resins and disc road bikes will take pressure off this aspect also. But in comparing carbon frames to steel frames; the comfort of alloy rimmed wheels is above that of carbon wheels. Because of bumps on roads and side winds it’s still really hard to get away from a hand built wheel with thin steel spokes.
Name drop – who uses your wheels?
Also… Most recently – the Aussie para track team raced on them in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games... in the tandem events.
What should anyone in the market for wheels be asking?
1/ Are the wheels aerodynamic? (if a road bike)
2/ Do the wheels roll fast?
3/ Demonstrate to me how this wheel is of an exceptional quality
4/ Who’s going to fix this wheel if something goes wrong?