Handbuilt Bicycle News


Rolf Prima

Matthew Butterman

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Rolf Prima: Full Circle

Rolf Prima wheels, handbuilt in Eugene, Oregon, uses a simple-but-elegant design and advanced technology to craft wheels to complement the finest handbuilt bicycles.

Rolf Prima: Full Circle
Photo: Rolf Prima

In an age when many companies in the bicycle industry are moving toward greater automation of the manufacturing process, Rolf Prima has been moving in the opposite direction: toward 100% handbuilt craftsmanship. They’ve reached this laudable goal now.

You may be familiar with the paired-spoke Rolf design from their earlier versions in the late 1990s, after Trek licensed designer/inventor Rolf Dietrich’s patent for the paired-spoke design, and the U.S. Postal Service team rode them in the 1999 Tour de France on their Trek bikes. The mechanical principle behind the paired-spoke design is as simple and elegant as the wheels themselves: by bringing spokes to the rim in pairs, the outward pulling forces are neutralized, and a lighter rim can be used with fewer spokes, producing a wheel that is both light and aerodynamic.

After Trek’s licensing agreement with Dietrich expired in 2001, Dietrich and an engineer who used to work for Trek and Burley Design named Brian Roddy set up shop together in Eugene, Oregon and began producing Rolf Prima wheels by hand there. Roddy bought the business outright after Dietrich retired in 2009.

With the exception of a rough period in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, it’s been a steady progression of growth for Rolf Prima since its beginning as an independent company. The addition of new designers and production staff reflects a thriving business and an increase in production volume, but it also tells of another important theme in Rolf Prima’s growth: an evolution toward full handbuilt production, with wheel components produced in the USA, and many of them in-house.

This evolution began in 2004, when Rolf Prima starting working with White Industries to produce hubs for their wheels. By 2013, Rolf Prima moved aluminum rim production in-house. The partnership between the engineering-minded Dietrich and Roddy yielded a number of unique, proprietary technological developments, including wider, aerodynamically shaped Delta rim technology, jacketed and self-aligning spoke nipples, differential flange diameters and a patented dish-reducing wheel design. The result of all these advances has been a stiffer, stronger and more aerodynamic wheel, without a price to pay in increased weight.

The Ares 6 ES carbon wheelset sets the mark for aerodynamics.   All photos courtesy Rolf Prima.

Tandem wheels were added to Rolf Prima’s offerings in 2005, and carbon wheels came a year later. The Ares 3 and Ares 6 carbon road wheels are Rolf Prima’s flagship models; the Ares 6 setting the benchmark for aerodynamics, and the Ares 3 doing the same for light weight. Both models are offered in versions for both rim brakes and disc brakes.

Rolf Prima are known for their road wheels, but their line-up includes models for track/single speed, cyclocross, mountain biking, and the growing gravel road bike scene. Roddy claims that his flagship mountain bike wheel, the 27.5” Black Rock, “can turn road customers into mountain bikers”.

The Black Rock 27.5 inch mountain bike wheelset

Rolf Prima’s excellent website offers the customer information on factory specs, technical manuals and FAQs, warranties and a crash replacement policy. Of particular interest to HBG readers might be Rolf Prima’s customization program, wherein the consumer can choose decals and a ceramic-based coating for hubs and rims called Ballistic Armor Coating, in ten different colors.

You can likely find a handbuilt, American-made Rolf Prima wheelset in the perfect color to match, or at least complement, your handbuilt, bespoke bicycle.