Crazy ’bout Wood
The Hjertberg brothers, Ric and Jon, like to roll in many circles.
You may remember them as the men behind Wheelsmith. Ric later worked for FSA, and in 2009 launched Mad Fiber wheels.
Wheel Fanatyk began in 2007 to “celebrate fine wheel building,” as their website claims. It’s a store and a resource for wooden rims, handmade hubs, spoke machines and wheel technology.
With a background using stalwart aluminum rims, and developing cutting-edge carbon fiber wheelsets, why would Hjertberg choose to spend time on something so seemingly anachronistic as wooden rims?
“Wood rims have a timeless quality,” Ric Hjertberg says. “They’re comfortable and durable, and have the same appeal that steel or titanium do for the building of framesets.”
Hjertberg actually sees wood rims as part of a new era of wheel technology: “For the first 70 years of bike history, wood rims were used. Then, for approximately the next 70 years, aluminum took over the industry. Now, were seeing a new focus on ride quality, and carbon fiber and wood are leading this new wave.”
Wheel Fanatyk imports Ghisallo Wood Rims from Italy. According to Hjertberg, they’re made by a father/son team using tooling that goes back five generations. He said that while the Italian rims use a type of wood ideally suited to rim construction, and that many types of American wood are unsuitable for rims, the increasing use of bamboo for frame construction may lead to its development as a rim material.
As you might imagine, vintage and art bikes are applications for many of the wood rims that Wheel Fanatyk sells. But recent road tests by the tech editors of Velo and Road Bike Action magazines have opened cyclists’ minds to the many virtues of wheels built up with wood rims, and created demand far beyond just the vintage bike arena.
“Wood rims are stronger than aluminum, and have a shock absorbent feature that’s absent from harsh-riding alumnium rims,” says Hjertberg.
“Most importantly, they’re just fun to ride.”