I looked into getting a set of tied & soldered wheels a couple years ago and rejected it, eventually determining that 32 or 36 straight gauge spokes on an aero or semi-aero rim, with liberal amounts of Blue Loctite drizzled into the nipples, was sufficient to keep my rims true.
Tying and Soldering is an old school method of theoretically tightening up a wheelset and keeping it in vertical and horizontal true. Thin wire was twisted around each point where spokes crossed, then solder was dribbled onto the wire & spoke junction to keep it in place. It was thought that such a setup made the wheel stronger - and if a 1970's or early 80's vintage wheelset was whippy (yep, some were) then this probably made some sense. They are marketing them as do-everything-short-of-pool-table-smooth race wheels.
Here's what Competitive Cyclist says about the process:
But here's where we go bananas: This isn't just any set of handbuilts. We've gone ahead and tied and soldered the spokes. We use bee-keepers wire and lead-free solder. The wire does the work, and the solder keeps it in place. Why do we tie & solder? It hardens the wheels up in all dimensions. By tying & soldering them, it effectively increases the flange diameter of the hubs, increasing torsional stiffness. The interlaced crosses are locked together when you tie & solder them, which braces the spokes, making them laterally stiffer and more durable.Increases torsional and lateral stiffness, eh?
Gee, I wonder if anybody has ever tested that. Now who would have ever properly tested wheelbuilding techniques to see which methods might be empirically superior?
Oh yeah, Jobst Brandt. The wheelbuilding engineer. The invaluable Sheldon Brown (RIP) archived what Jobst said.
Hmmm... any difference in rigidity, according to Brandt, was statistically insignificant.
With the hub rigidly secured, with its axle vertical, dial gauges were mounted at four equally spaced locations on the machine bed to measure rim deflections as a 35lb weight was sequentially hung on the wheel at these positions. The deflections were recorded for each location and averaged for each wheel before and after tying and soldering spokes.
The wheels were also measured for torsional rigidity in the same fixture, by a wire anchored in the valve hole and wrapped around the rim so that a 35 lb force could be applied tangential to the rim. Dial gauges located at two places 90 degrees apart in the quadrant away from the applied load were used to measure relative rotation between the wheel and hub.Upon repeating the measurements after tying and soldering the spokes, no perceptible change, other than random measurement noise of a few thousandths of an inch, was detected.
Maybe back in the day, when wheels were so flexy that looking at them would put them out of true, it made sense to tie and solder. But when Brandt tested the technique - what, in 1992 or 1993? - it didn't make sense any longer. I suspect it truly doesn't make sense when you're talking about stout DT semi-aero rims on high quality DA hubs, with modern spokes. I don't know for a *fact* that it doesn't make a difference, but if Jobst tested it, and that was the result, I'm inclined to agree.
You can make up your own mind about whether Competitive Cyclist is selling wheels or horseshit here, but I'm putting my money with Jobst. I love the Competitive Cyclist catalog, love a lot of the gear and bikes they sell, and love the way Competitive Cyclist loves everything about bikes and bike culture. But this isn't the first time that their marketing caused me to shake my head and wonder what the hell they are trying to do, besides rolling cash. You can talk shit about Nashbar and Performance - and I do - but they don't seem to pull this kind of crap. You have to wonder if, in the long run, it's bad for cycling to sell useless products and services to the high end customers. If they ever catch on, those are big fish that won't buy from you again. Then again, maybe those BTGs on the $10k bikes never really do catch on. I don't know.
I guess the next thing they ought to start doing is selling a tubeless tire aging service - set up a room at the warehouse like a humidor, where, for $10 per month, Competitive will age your tubeless tires for you. It will have to be made out of Siberian Birch or perhaps Snakewood, put brass fixtures on the little drawers where the tubies are stored. Hey, if people are going to pay several hundred extra because putting on pedals and handlebars is too hard, and pay a couple hundred extra for disproven technology to 'strengthen' tires, why not? And while they're at it, maybe they could package the new wheelsets with small tubs of slipstream, any oily gel to rub on your knees to reduce wind resistance. 'Cuz you know, it's easier to ride in the slipstream...