Three for Thursday: Fairwheel Bikes

What's hot in Tucson: The exotic, the one-off projects and handbuilt wheels

What's hot in Tucson, Arizona right now? Just about everything exotic, carbon fiber and high-end. And the harder to find, the better.

Three for Thursday is a new weekly column that highlights bike culture, bikes and gear as celebrated by local bike shops. The format is simple. We call a retailer and ask three questions: 1. What's the coolest thing in your shop?  2. What are you personally lusting after or loving right now?  3. What is your current best seller?

For our third Three for Thursday, we contacted Jason Woznick of Fairwheel Bikes. Fairwheel first opened its doors 35 years ago and now operates two locations in the Tucson area. One location is a conventional brick-and-mortar retail store that sells fairly common items such as Trek, Specialized, NeilPryde and Parlee. The other, however, serves double duty as a warehouse for the shop's exotic-parts mail-order operation and a studio space for Fairwheel's project bikes based on lesser-known brands such as English, Crumpton, Alchemy, Form, Parlee and others.

Woznick says the shop's customer base includes nearly all walks of life.

"Typical clientele includes everyone from [University of Arizona] students and commuters since our retail store is only feet from campus, to the highest-end customers from all around the world seeking the best high end custom available, and all sorts of people in between," he said. "We really do cover a very wide range, though we don’t often venture into BMX, tandems, or recumbents. We also provide product testing and development to different manufacturers but unfortunately we cannot say who or what we’ve worked on."

1.     The coolest thing in the shop is: everything?

"That’s a really hard question because we really do have a small warehouse filled with cool stuff," Woznick told BikeRadar. "If I had to pick I would probably narrow it to two: my 3-speed Parlee fixed-gear, hand painted by Geoff McFetridge, and our mid-school museum collection, only part of which we’ve been able to get onto the walls."

A three-speed fixed gear? That's right. With handpainted art, of course

That answer may seem like a cop-out to some readers but one only has to browse the shop's astounding online catalog to understand his position. Brands typically considered high-end – such as Zipp, Chris King, Enve Composites and DT Swiss – are practically staples. It's the European exotica including AX Lightness, Tune, Schmolke, THM-Carbones, and Extralite that really make the shop stand out, and much of it is actually in stock and ready to ship.

Fairwheel Bikes also specializes in one-off projects, whose engineering work is often farmed out to an unnamed computer engineer and former hacker in Hawaii. In fact, the shop does so many of these unique jobs that it operates a standalone gallery in Portland, Oregon called Het Fairwheel Podium to display its work.

Part bike shop, part museum

2.     Personally I am lusting after: the new Parlee Z-Zero, 9070 Di2 and a new tubeless ready road rim we designed with Pacenti.

Just like with the hot items inside Fairwheel, Woznick couldn't keep his personal wishlist to just one thing.

"The new Parlee Z-Zero road flagship certainly does sound appealing what with its new-for-Parlee wrapped carbon fiber joints, tapered and ovalized tubing, molded carbon fiber dropouts, and optional disc brake tabs," he said.

Woznick's excitement about Shimano's second-generation Dura-Ace Di2 group perhaps shouldn't come as a surprise, but his shop has even more reason to be anxious about its availability. Fairwheel has a long history of hacking into Shimano's electronic 'brains' to create custom systems to suit nearly any need or desire, such as the sequentially shifting mountain bike Di2 hack built back in 2010 that automatically shifts both the front and rear derailleur to provide 13 equally spaced gears – all with a single shifter.

Even with the not -yet-released Shimano Dura-Ace 9070 Di2, the stock configuration is just the beginning for Fairwheel

Kirk Pacenti, on the other hand, made a name for himself back in 2007 when he first began pushing for the return of middle-sized 650b wheels to the mountain bike world. Many thought he was crazy then but few are so dismissive now. That Pacenti has now directed his attention toward a new tubeless-ready road rim is exciting, indeed.

3.     Right now our bestseller is: custom handbuilt wheels, particular those on Enve hoops

While many shops are content to sell customers ready-built wheels, Fairwheel's business model puts it in a prime position to offer custom rolling stock, especially given its impressive selection of lightweight hubs. In fact, Woznick says Tune hubs have been a particularly popular pairing to those Enve Composites rims, but THM-Carbones is currently winning the sales race for cranks and brakes.

High-end handbuilt wheels sell well at Fairwheel

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