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With last week’s launch of the new Zipp 454 and its unorthodox undulating shape with what the Indiana brand calls ‘HyperFoils’, we thought the timing was right to bring you a look at another Zipp resource that helps deliver this innovation, yet is often overlooked. It’s not a material or computer program, it’s not an engineer with an aerospace background, it’s the most traditional of all the tools Zipp employees – the wheel builder and his trusty truing stand.
peloton/Image: Joe Vondersaar
In recent history, we don’t think another wheel builder has had a hand in more cobbled-classics victories than Nic James, Zipp’s master wheel builder. Nic built the Zipp wheels Fabian Cancellara rode to cobbled victory, he built Tom Boonen’s wheels, he even built Nick Nuyens’ wheels for his unlikely Tour of Flanders win in 2011. It’s quite a résumé.
Nic was a shop rat before he could drive, and he was riding BMX before getting sucked into the road vortex. He has worked for Trek and Yeti and has been Zipp’s full-time wheel builder for the last 16 years. Currently, Nic builds wheels for Zipp’s UCI WorldTour squads, AG2R and Katusha, while handling most of the builds for Zipp’s pro triathletes and ’cross athletes. Just to make sure Nic has no free time, he is part of Zipp’s Advanced Development group, building all the wheels for testing in the wind tunnel and the real world. This means it was Nic James that laced up the first sets of 454’s from the early development four years ago, to the final wind tunnel validation models.
For this master builder at one of the most high-tech companies in the world it’s a very low-tech, nonsense tool he relies on. “My favorite tool is my Park Tool TS-3 Master Truing Stand,” he says. “It’s my favorite stand of theirs. It’s been discontinued maybe 10 years ago. We got ours about 12 years ago, and this is the only stand I’ve used since. I built thousands of wheels on this stand for our pro athletes. There are plenty of more expensive stands out there, but they do for two or three times the cost what the TS-3 does. I build about 30 pairs of wheels a week. When I’m building wheels, I’ll lace them all at once, then pre-true them, and then do the final truing process at once. I’ve added a number of cycling decals to my TS-3 over the years. I spend more time at this truing stand than I do at my computer.”
This story was first published in issue 57 of Peloton Magazine. You can buy our back issues here.