By Danson Cheong
It is an unusually hot Spring day in the city of Zwolle, Netherlands. But inside Dutch wheelmaker FFWD's headquarters, Mr Roman Storcel's wheel-building workshop is pleasantly cool.
Even so, the 43-year-old's face glistens with perspiration.
The master wheelbuilder, originally from Slovakia, works on FFWD's (short for Fast Forward) F2R carbon-fibre wheel.
He laces the wheel, then tensions the spokes with a lightning speed that comes with 23 years of experience.
Mr Storcel is the most experienced among FFWD's crack team of six wheelbuilders, supplying hand-built wheels for riders worldwide.
They include cycling teams like Vacansoleil Pro Cycling, which alone requires 200 sets of wheels.
Mr Storcel and his team make all the spoked wheels - from the wisp-like climbing wheels F2Rs to the aerodynamic F9Rs.
When Mr Storcel finishes tensioning the F2R, he picks up the wheel and presses it against a wooden block on the floor using his body weight.
The wheel sags, and the spokes look ready to snap - but the rim holds.
This "stretches" the spokes and helps set the spoke nipples in place, Mr Storcel explains.
A quick check of the spoke tensions and the wheel is complete.
The whole process takes just over an hour. Mr Storcel hand-builds up to 20 wheels a day.
Machines could get the job done much faster, but hand-building is something the Dutch company - set up in 2006 - believes is necessary.
FFWD's marketing manager, Mr Rik van Putten, says: "When a wheelbuilder builds a wheel from start to finish, you can really control the quality."
He also argues that machines won't create the wheel strength that a human can, and stronger wheels equate to better riding and more satisfied customers.
It is an equation that has garnered FFWD much success in a short time. Their wheels are ridden at the highest levels of competition and are getting stellar results.
Two weeks ago, Belgian rider Thomas de Gendt, from the Vacansoleil Pro Cycling team, rode to an overall third finish in the Giro d'Italia on FFWD wheels.
For next year, FFWD is releasing a sub 1,000g all-carbon wheelset called "Ghost". These premium lightweight wheels boast 12 carbon fibre spokes, but at 2,800 euros (S$4,490) a pair, they are aimed at the most discerning riders.
FFWD's aim "is to build durable wheels", says Mr van Putten.
"Even if riders crash on a ride and break a spoke, we want them to at least be able to ride the wheel home."
Indeed, a wheel Dutch cyclist Johnny Hoogerland was using when he was mowed off the road by a French TV crew during last year's Tour de France is displayed in one of their offices.
Hoogerland crashed into a barbed-wire fence, and received deep lacerations on his legs and buttocks.
He still finished the stage and the Tour - a move that earned him much admiration. His front wheel was shipped off to FFWD, where it is proudly displayed today.
Why? Because FFWD wants to show that mangled spokes aside, the battered rim could still be relaced and ridden.
Now that's durability.
This article was first published in The New Paper.