A Chat with PSIMET Custom Wheel Builder Rob Curtis

The following is a write up from Joan Hanscom…..yes, THAT Joan Hanscom:

PSIMET Custom Bicycle Wheels are hand-built in Chicago. I sat down with Rob Curtis in his very busy workshop the week before the Glencoe Grand Prix to talk all things wheels, women?s racing, cyclocross specific design and movie trivia.

Me: Rob, there are a lot of high-quality stock wheels on the market these days through online vendors and your local bike shop. Talk about why custom wheel builds and the life-cycle of the wheel build from query to delivery.

Rob Curtis: There are a lot of very good wheels available. That said, PSIMET fills the niche that pre-built wheels cannot. We are right for the cyclist who realizes that one size does not fit all, the one looking for a better value or who has needs that a pre-built wheel cannot fulfill.

Our wheel building process is truly a collaborative effort from the beginning. Once a customer sends their initial email query the process can run anywhere from 2 to 30 emails before we settle on what is right for them. The first thing we do is ask the customer 3 questions: their weight, riding style and intended use for the wheels. Then we try to ascertain what has worked well for them in the past and more importantly what hasn?t worked. Some people want aero, some want super lightweight, some want heavy duty training or all around wheels. Carbon, aluminum. We can do that.

Based on those variables we go to our deep list of suppliers and find the right products- based on experience- that will work out best for the individual and craft something that will work even better for them in terms of both application and budget.

This way we have a true custom build – and what we come up with depends entirely on how personalized or customized the rider wants to get. In other words, I don?t ever try to sell somebody into something I have in stock. I would much rather go find something new that will work for their specific needs or wants. This means it can take a bit longer than simply buying stock wheels – but ultimately the trade-off is worth it to get wheels they want and functions at the highest level.

ME: Talk about the turn around time once the wheel design once finished.

ROB CURTIS: Once the design is dialed in the build takes 4-6 weeks from payment to delivery. This includes getting the parts in and actually building the wheels. Our goal is to improve that turn-around time and provide the same level of customization but with a 3-4 week build cycle and we are currently expanding our systems and personnel to get there. Ultimately we will also offer an expedited service with 2 week turn time for a premium.

ME: You sound like you love the process. Why?

ROB CURTIS: I love that wheels are cool. And I get to built combinations of wheels that I would LOVE to ride. The best part of my job is looking at the finished product and knowing that when I deliver them to the customer they?re getting exactly what they want. I love getting the emails that say, ?these wheels are amazing?.

I also really enjoy the fun and creativity the custom build provides. Being able to use combinations of things or products that are out there – that?s exciting and it?s a freedom and creativity that stock builds don?t offer. As an engineer, I find the problem-solving part of the design very exciting. I love coming up with the wheel that will work best for the individual.

It keeps my work interesting too – I?m not building the same wheel over and over. Every day, every wheel is something completely new. How cool is that.

ME: That is very cool. And speaking of cool – you?ve been an outspoken supporter of women?s cycling. As an enthusiastic woman racer, I thank you for that. Tell me why you?ve invested in the women?s side of the sport.

ROB CURTIS: I?ve been asked that a lot. And let me say, right off the bat, I love bikes and bike racing in general. But in terms of women cycling there isn?t one reason alone that I can point to. I do think, from a business perspective, that it is a very underserved market segment. And I can?t quite understand why.

As far as women?s racing, I think it?s more entertaining. The racers embody more of what made me fall in love with racing to begin with – it feels pure. You really see the highs and lows – the thrill of victory and agony of defeat as they say. Let?s be clear, almost nobody is getting rich racing bikes, but without the same financial support as the men it?s often more than 30 or 40 miracles that they can even afford to be there to race. But they are still there, racing on passion. Not to mention that because the races are shorter they are often more aggressive, more exciting.

From a sponsorship/ business perspective it?s also a lot harder for a small, boutique business like PSIMET to get involved with the big men?s teams. They all have relationships with the big brands. When I talk to a lot of the women?s teams, the riders are buying their own gear — I can make a huge impact with my sponsorship there.

And finally, my dad set me straight on one thing at a very early age – including respecting gender equality. When I look at a start list and see unequal prize money for the men and women it makes me want to go in the other direction and weigh it towards the women.

ME: Well, I for one am thankful. Now, let?s talk something else dear to my heart – cyclocross. It?s June and PSIMET offers a very unique cyclocross wheel. Talk about the design and what how it came about.

ROB CURTIS: Nobody is building anything like it. And I?m very excited about it. I saw a need and couldn?t figure out why nobody was building it – I asked my industry friends why? Their answer in a nutshell is that the decision makers don?t think that cyclocross is a real market. Secondly, the people designing these wheels in asia don?t really know, haven?t seen, cyclocross. They keep looking at the mountain bike model. Everybody has dressed up mountain bike equipment or tried to convince buyers that their road offerings are just as good by adding spokes. This is where being a boutique builder works to my advantage. To me cross is a real market. And the reality for cyclocross is that the tires and their application require specific, cx specific concessions. In particular you need the correct gluing surface on the rim. This is where the PSIMET PSICLOCROSS rim is different from everybody else?s. I took the time to 3-D scan all the most popular cx tubulars on the market and designed the rim around them.

ME: And if you want these wheels for this season….

ROB CURTIS: Order now. July at the latest. Also, during cx season we offer gluing services.

ME: Noted! Now my last question – you grew up in Bloomington, IN where Breaking Away was filmed. Do you remember the filming?

ROB CURTIS: I do. But I was only 4 or 5. My biggest memory was watching the movie in a theater downtown – in the theater that was featured in the movie. I remember that feeling pretty cool. I used to spend a lot of time rolling down the hill outside the stadium too. But I guess the most fun thing is that my mailman was the mailman in the movie – the one who delivered the news that ?The Italians are coming!?
That movie takes me back home, it?s where I grew up and in a very specific sense of space and time. People don?t often the opportunity to watch something that so specifically takes them back in such a specific way. That it?s about bikes and racing makes it resonate even more.

And with that, Rob was back to crafting wheels for the big week ahead. He had wheels to get ready for Laura Van Guilder and the Vanderkitten women were also in town – all along with the delivery of wheels for a number of local men?s teams he sponsors – and my time was up. You can learn more about PSIMET at PSIMET.com.

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