Wheel Building…

12 01 2011

Adjusting a little bit at a time...

I can build a bike wheel if I have to, but I don’t build my own wheels. Why not?  The difference between building an okay wheel and a great wheel is significant and only happens with years of experience under your belt and many sets of wheels rolling out the door. If I built my own wheels I’d probably build one or two sets a year – enough to be competent, but not enough to be great at it.  Add in the fact wheel building is cheap at $30 – $50 a wheel and it makes a lot of sense to use an expert for your bike wheels.

A well built wheel with parts selected sensibly should never need any major attention unless you have an accident or ram a deadly pot hole at speed so it’s money well spent.

The building blocks to a bike wheel...

Even though I don’t build my own wheels in general I have built two wheel [front and back] just so I understand what’s involved.  That allows me to make good judgement calls on a wheel I’m looking at and should I need to do some on the road tweaking after an incident I have the skills to get my wheel back into rolling shape.  If circumstances demanded I could build up a wheel for my bike and keep a tour going.  Of course if an expert bike mechanic was close by I’d just drop off the parts with him and go find a pub to kill some time!  It’s good to have options.

If you’ve never built a wheel find yourself a cheap used wheel that’s in okay shape.  Borrow a truing stand and tear the wheel down to its basic parts and rebuild it.  There are lots of tips on how to build a wheel online and Jobst Brandt’s book shown above is a handy reference.

Proper tension is key...

Bike tourists in particular fret a lot about how burly their rims are and how many spokes they have in each wheel. I think this worry is often illogical.  If you are concerned about the strength/reliability of your wheel it’s far more important how it was built than the parts used.  That’s not to say you shouldn’t care about the parts used, but that should be secondary to proper wheel building practices.  I’d much rather ride a well built 32H lighter duty wheel set on tour than a poorly built 40H heavy duty wheel set.

If you are riding machine built wheels.  [If you don’t know who built your wheels they are machine built wheels.] Take them to a wheel builder and have him adjust the tension.  This will be the best $10 you ever spent and will make those wheels last much longer and head off any problems before they happen.



6 responses

13 01 2011

DIY truing stand:
Block of wood with hole drilled in that an upside down front fork will fit it.
A set of c clamps setup that the first one holds the second one in position to hit the rim to true it. I too have come to the conclusion that a professional wheel build is going to be stronger and last longer. The stand can then be taken apart and stored away. If you do like building your own wheels you can get a nice park stand after trying the diy.


14 01 2011

Your suggestion to have machine-built wheels “finished” by a professional is spot-on. I have been appalled at how badly tensioned some of the machine-built wheels I have encountered have been. I remember one new set of Rhyno Lite wheels I had gotten for a “good” price. They had been assembled with thread-locking compound on the nipples, so freeing them up and correcting the build took much longer that building them from scratch.

As a part-time wheelbuilder, I am perfectly happy with people choosing to have me do the work. That said, one of the first things I was told by more seasoned professionals is that it’s not a mystical art. The ability to build a great wheel is within reach for anybody with some patience and concentration. What the professionals bring to the mix is a better idea of what components work best and hold up over time. By and large, the old pros are generous with their knowledge, especially if you buy some tools or components from them Given the same components, I (or you) can build a wheel that will stand along to that of a veteran. The biggest difference is that the veteran can do it in a fraction of the time. I spent over three hours on the last set I built (a massive 36H/48H set for a cargo bike) but I know they are up to the task and can guarantee them to stay true and intact. I’m certain someone like Jobst or Gerd or Peter White could have arrived at the same result in much less time.


14 01 2011

some lbs’s offer classes for wheel building. i took one and built my pugsley wheels. just finished my third wheel, a generator wheel. the lbs that offered the class would likely be willing to check your work and give you tips, like mine does.
i really enjoy building wheels and look forward to many more, though time will tell if my builds hold up ok!

17 01 2011

All it takes is attention and the right effort to build an awesome wheel… the pros have it down faster, that is all.

18 01 2011

Although I do agree a home mechanic can build a wheel that works fine I don’t agree that the wheel a home mechanic who builds one set a every year or two will be the same as a pro who builds 50-100+ sets of wheels a year.

Just like the deck I built with Kurt is just fine and won’t fall down, but it’s not the same deck and deck contractor would have built.

Whether or not you care is a personal matter….

30 12 2011

One of the more common mistakes of a novice wheelbuilder is to not use enough tension. It makes sense to be “cautious,” but actually you should put nearly as much tension as you can in (as with any screw) because the tension is what keeps the threaded nipple from unscrewing. That and doing a lot of pre-stressing the spokes (so that the elbows conform to the hub flange holes) turned me from someone who knows the theory into someone who can build good wheels. I also don’t do it very often but that just means I take a lot longer than someone more experienced to get it done. Also I use a tensiometer so that I don’t have to be certain I’m “feeling it” on a particular day. The Park tensiometer is affordable and quite adequate.

But I also get my friend who is quicker at lacing and all that to do it when he is available because he can do it 3x faster and the result is about the same. (though I do doublecheck his work as I’m a control freak)

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