Building a Business One Bike Wheel at a Time

 By Lynne Strang, Late Blooming Entrepreneurs
 

Bill Mould

Many cyclists, especially recreational riders, are just fine with factory-built, standard wheels.  Then there are the racers, triathletes, commuters and others who are particular about how their bike rubber meets the road.  They come from all over the Washington, DC area – and sometimes the world – just to have Bill Mould custom build their wheels by hand.

“People tell me that wheel building is an art,” says Mould, a mechanic at Spokes, Etc. bicycles.  Mould’s business, Bill’s Wheels, is part of the Northern Virginia retail bicycle chain and housed within its Alexandria, Virginia location.

“Sure, there’s an artistic element to it in terms of choosing components, colors, and lacing patterns that go well together, but it’s mostly science,” he says.  “It’s about being meticulous in following a set of procedural steps and sharpening your skills with each wheel built.”

At 67, Mould jokes that he’s the bike store’s insurance policy against an age discrimination lawsuit.   The grandfather of nine describes his current occupation as “the most fun job I’ve had.”

______________________________________________________________

“I’ve always enjoyed solving mechanical problems, learning new technologies and applying new techniques.  Now I get to do all of those things as they relate to bike wheels.” — Bill Mould, Bill’s Wheels

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Mould began building custom wheels eight years ago, about a year after he joined Spokes.  While he doesn’t track exact numbers, he estimates he’s built some 2,000 wheels.  “I took to wheel building because I realized it was a highly refined skill that could be honed over time,” he says.   

His lifestyle is a bit different from what it used to be.  A retired Air Force colonel, Mould spent 36 years in a uniform.  Now he wears t-shirts and jeans most of the time. 

Some of Mould’s co-workers don’t know their laid back, unpretentious colleague has an undergraduate degree in economics from Penn State and a Master’s degree in chemistry from Yale.  On the side, he teaches organic chemistry at a local community college.

Still, Mould wanted formal training in his new craft.  After research to identify the best programs, he attended the Barnett Bicycle Institute and the United Bicycle Institute, as well as Sapim’s wheel building school in Belgium.

“I’ve always enjoyed solving mechanical problems, learning new technologies and applying new techniques,” he says.  “Now I get to do all of those things as they relate to bike wheels.”

Mould’s wheel building station is in the middle of the bike store, a location that allows him to chat easily with customers who are curious about what he’s doing.

“Sometimes they ask me if I’m building a tire,” he chuckles.

Mould also teaches a monthly wheel building class where students learn about tension balance on the spokes and other fundamentals needed for strength and proper design.  He keeps the class small and brings in a few experienced assistants, to provide at least one instructor for every two students.   

“It’s fun to watch their excitement grow as they see their wheels coming together,” he says.

Last December, Mould released a two-hour DVD, “Master Wheel Building,” which has five-star reviews on Amazon.com.   He hopes to write a book some day but for now, wants to focus on using social media outlets and other distribution channels to generate national sales of his DVD.

“I enjoy giving riders some wheels that improve their cycling experience.  Hand-built wheels make the bike demonstrably faster and more efficient,” says Mould.   A self-described perfectionist, he encourages his customers to give him feedback. 

“When the wheels leave the store, I feel like I’m sending my children off into the wide world,” he says.  “I like to know how they’re doing.”

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About Lynne Strang

I'm a writer who blogs about 40-and-older business owners. I am also the author of "Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs: Eight Principles for Starting a Business After Age 40." Outside of work, I enjoy reading, cooking, vegetable gardening and exercise (especially cycling).
This entry was posted in Business, entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Retirement and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Building a Business One Bike Wheel at a Time

  1. What a great profile — I love that he feels his wheels are like children, and that he likes to hear updates on them…completely charming…

    🙂

  2. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in trying to work my way out of the rat race and into my own business.

    I’m looking forward to reading your other posts to help keep me motivated as I transition from employee to business owner.

    Thanks for the post!

    ~P

  3. That’s a great “spokes”man for a passion of doing what you love. Well done.

    Blessings,

    Ava
    xox

  4. suretno says:

    good, amazing …

  5. beckyspringer says:

    Oh my gosh!! I love everything about this post. Finally doing what he loves at 67 years old that has nothing to do with a graduate degree from Yale. Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

  6. It doesn’t get any more basic than building wheels, does it? Thank you Mr. Mould for demonstrating that craftsmanship and the work ethic are alive and well if practiced for the right reasons. Your story gives me hope that – like your hand-made wheels – there will always be a market for bookstores and reading!

    Now, if only I could find *my* wheel.

    • senecus says:

      Hello Sean,

      Think that is a ‘major’ component- finding ones “wheel”. I’ve discovered you really have to like and have passion for what you do,lest it just become another ‘job’.
      I know, I’m at that place now of reevaluating- in a business that I started due to need(a job transfer that fell through),but find it not satisfying.

      Keep searching,I’m sure yours and everyone else’s “wheel” is out there.

      I continue my search………..

  7. Shonnie says:

    Great Story … thanks for sharing. I love working for myself and we started a few years younger than he did, still it is so encouraging to see people launching out into new adventrues. I wish he worked near me. I would LOVE to have him fit my bike with new wheels!

  8. A life of very fun choices. Isn’t “retirement” grand? Congratulations to Mr. Mould on his star status in Alexandria, VA, Amazon, and fp’s Lynne Strang’s blog.

  9. trondomatic says:

    That guy is so cool! Great write up – subscribed.

  10. raymond hobi says:

    I was “wheelie” inspired by this post! As a long time small business owner who deals in both physical fitness and cycling, I admire his gumption. It doesn’t get anymore
    grassroots than that! Good Luck. wordpress.com/raysfitnessblog

  11. Olivia K says:

    As a triathlete, I know the value of a good wheel.
    There is something magical about a man doing something he loves for people doing what they love.

    Great post.

  12. huffygirl says:

    How interesting! This caught my eye because the man in the picture bears a striking resemblence to my late father in law, who was also very good at building things. And I’m a cyclist too, althought not one who would ever need custom wheels. Congrats on being FP’d!

  13. newsy1 says:

    I love this. Sometimes a new career springs out of the most unique circumstances. I left a big city rat race a few years ago for the mountains and something that didn’t require meetings and 60 hr. work weeks. People thought I was nuts and said I wouldn’t last. They are so wrong–and maybe a little jealous.

  14. rtcrita says:

    I wish every business owner–big and small– in this country would read this article. In fact, maybe even your whole blog every time you post, considering the subject matter. Maybe then they wouldn’t discriminate based on age and could understand that everyone has the potential to learn something new and be good at it.

    I’m very interested to read more of your blog and am subscribing right now! Great subject. You go, Mr. Mould! Do your thing!

  15. Y8 says:

    Great write up. I like it!

  16. It’s really a great post!!You are so cool. Love this post!

  17. hayadith says:

    master in chemistry?..wow..that’s awesome!

  18. whatsaysyou says:

    This guy shows that age should not stop a person from enjoying in what he or she does in life. He is also inspiring too.

  19. Katie Gou says:

    What an uplifting tale of a man with true passion. Thank you!

  20. Excellent.
    Wheels are important.

  21. jule1 says:

    Fascinating.

  22. The Mindset says:

    Love the article.Excellent
    Someone has rightly said – “You are old when you stop thinking”
    and hence Colonel will never become old

  23. richannkur says:

    Congrats on being freshly pressed.

  24. Temi says:

    Very inspiring to know age is no barrier to what one wants to achieve.

  25. excellent and good attitude at 67 years.

  26. We never stop. As they say; “Age is a state of mind.” Learning is a lifelong process. I meet numerous retirees and baby boomers who are finally ready to embark on a new career. It is time for them to follow their passion. This is awesome; a must read article to mentor.

  27. biketraks says:

    This is true, I know someone who builds wheels for a large UK company. He builds EVERY SINGLE wheel they sell. You should see his house!

  28. Allen Beauchamp says:

    Great article! What a way to thrive in todays world. Find your passion, educate yourself and work hard at it.

    Cheers to Bill!

  29. cctv says:

    Great post! It’s such a pleasure to be passionate about your work and know that your customers are happy because of all you’ve invested. Terrific idea to have the wheel shop stationed in the middle of the bike store-it gives people an opportunity to appreciate your incredible work!

  30. I’m told I look younger than my 57 years, that’s one of those compliments that I remember my Mother glowing about when she was in her early seventies.

    That aside I’ve been to the gym this morning and the ache I have in both legs informs me that I am indeed 57 but perhaps with the body of a 67 year old.

    The gym at 6.30am is how I begin my day, I’m working as a self representing artist and have been since the turn of the year.

    You won’t be interviewing me as I haven’t got into profitability just yet, but I have the determination inside me that I will eventually make all of this count.

    So thank you for sharing and If you don’t mind I’ll sign up and keep in touch…

    Great Post, just at the right time..

  31. Mike Wilson says:

    Just started riding about a year ago and love it. Had my own business for the last 12 and love it. Starting a second one helping others have their own business and very excited about it. Very neat to see people do what they love and make it happen!

  32. Great blog… I love to see people still doing something as a craft instead of everything coming off an assembly line. I think we’re beginning to lose that tradition of hand-made and high-quality… hopefully folks like Bill Mould are just the start of a movement back toward quality building instead of cheap disposability. Not to mention that the idea of enjoying your work quite that much is appealing to all of us! 😀

  33. Bill says:

    I cant wait to retire, being able to get up in the morning and go for a ride on my bike really appeals to me. I want to enjoy myself in my workshop repairing bikes, I just want to help people less fortunate than me.
    Thank you for this post as it has inspired me to now know I can do anything I put my wind to at the age of 62. I’m not old!!!
    Good on you Bill, well done.

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