Velocity make a deep V rim with a wooden image design. However, it is possible to buy rims that are entirely made of wood. My experience of them is only those made by Ghisallo. Ghisallo wooden rims come in a range of different designs, suitable for different purposes. There are clincher and tubular versions available, different drilling, different sizes as well as different stains.
Practicalities of building with wood
When it comes to building with a wooden rim, you have to consider that building with wood makes a different sort of rim to one made with metal. The Ghisallo rims are solid wood, which makes the thickness of the rim considerable, far more than you would find on an alloy or steel rim. This means that building with Ghisallos requires much longer nipples. However Ghisallo helpfully supplies all rims with appropriate nipples. Also, the wood cannot be placed in direct contact with a nipple; the nipple will eat inelegantly into the rim. A special washer is required to separate the two, which also comes with the rim. Finally, the wood requires time to settle into tension. This means that a wheel built with a wooden rim needs to be done over a period of time. The wheel is brought up to a low tension, trued, rounded, dished, and then left. You then add another layer of tension, true, round, dish and leave. This process is repeated several times. It is possible to build over only a few hours; however it is better to build over a whole day, better still to build over a few days. A wooden rim is also more sensitive to tensions so the precise use of a spoke key is required.
All Ghisallo rims are made up from a multi-layer beech ply. This means that the rim can be made directly round a former and no specialist bending of the wood is required. Metal rims are normally joined in one of two ways. Either they have a sleeve joint which only loosely holds the rim together. This is found on cheaper rims and can lead to a bulge at the joint; this commonly results in a high point that cannot be removed without uneven tensions on the wheel. The alternative is a welded joint, which is better; however it will remain a weak part of the wheel. You are unlikely to have problems as a result of either of these joining methods; however it does present Ghisallo’s seamless system as an appealing alternative.
Ghisallo offers one particular model called the Corsa. This, weighing only 320g per rim, comes in as one of the lightest on the market. Lighter than even a Mavic Open Pro Ceramic. It also comes with an aerodynamic profile.
A good quality steel bicycle frame will offer a natural suspension system because of flex within the material. An aluminium or carbon fibre frame by comparison will be stiffer but harsher to ride. Those who extol the virtues of the steel cushioning may find similar benefit to a wooden rim. The wood has a natural flex to it which makes for a softer ride. Some of the heavier duty Ghisallos have been used in amateur classic-themed grass track racing. The natural spring makes for a more comfortable ride.
The main reason why anyone buys Ghisallo rims is aesthetic. They look fantastic. The finish is great, they have an unmistakable traditional charm and finesse and will provide a real talking point on any bicycle. They best suit a classically themed machine though, one to be used on sunny Sundays or may appeal to those kitting out an unusual fixie. Ghisallo are poorly suited to any competitive cycling or commuting.
A fast wheel will be a combination of stiffness and lightness. While Ghisallos compete well on weight, they fall down dramatically on stiffness. The wood bends and flexes in a way which absorbs the rider’s power. It can also lead to binding brakes on hard cornering.
Ghisallos come with a lacquer coating on them to protect the wood from the elements. It has been reported that this coating can wear away surprisingly quickly. The lacquer will need to be reapplied to prevent doing serious damage to the rim. A modest rider may only need to do this once a season; heavier use will require more regular maintenance. Performance will be better if rim brakes are avoided. It is important to note that proper maintenance of Ghisallos will offer good life expectancy, they do not require annual replacement.
You cannot use normal brake pads on a Ghisallo. The issue is with the pad not the rim. They melt. So a carbon specific pad are required on rim brakes. Wood is after all, fibres of carbon.
Ghisallos carry a considerable price tag, somewhere between £105-125/rim. The price tag reflects the huge amount of labour required for their construction. They are hand glued; hand stained and then lacquered many times. A specialist machine is then required to drill the holes. While the price tag makes sense considering construction obstacles, it offers poor value for money when you consider longevity and performance.
Ghisallos can only play a small part in the world of bicycle wheels. They are hard to build with, they require regular maintenance, they are expensive and they flex a lot. However, if you want a traditional looking wheel, avoiding metal altogether is a marvellous move, something that we’re lucky to still be able to do today. Ghisallo have been making rims since the 1940s so the brand carries pedigree, buying a pair means investing in real, traditional Italian craftsmanship. For those who enjoy a good collection of bicycles, a pair of Ghisallos on a traditional bike will be a worthwhile addition.
For further details please visit: http://www.cerchiinlegnoghisallo.com
Below you can find different rims available by Ghisallo and the different staining options available.
There is a lot more information available about choosing wheelsets, building wheels and selecting component parts as well as information on repairing wheels in Bicycle Wheelbuilding: The Manual an ebook which is available to purchase exclusively here: