DIY: Building Wheels

Last post I talked about new wheels I was building and getting all the important pieces. Now I will go through all the useful information I have in my brain on how to put them together. I must warn you I am no expert builder and maybe put together one to two sets of wheels a year. To my credit all the sets I have laced up are still in good shape. That doesn’t mean every set went together easy, just that I eventually got them together. Where do we begin? Maybe some useful resources and advice from those more skilled than me.

First step is to visit the Sheldon Brown website on wheel building. If you do your own bike maintenance or just want to be more knowledgeable on bikes this is the website for you. Because this wheel building page from Sheldon is so comprehensive I won’t even try to expand on it, but I will say this. Before you build a wheel read this page. I have read it a couple of times and each time I retain more than the last time I read through it. Pay particular close attention to the part about the “key” spoke. The entire process of building a wheel is based on that first spoke.

I don’t always learn from reading a text book so the next thing you are going to want to do is watch the video below. It is a multipart series of videos on how to lace a wheel. The first three or four wheels I built I watched this video to remind myself what I was doing correctly and incorrectly. All of the things on the Sheldon page will start to make sense as you go through this tutorial. Not to mention you will get your hipster viewing points in the for the week.

Now you should be ready to build your own wheel. If you have everything you need (rim, spokes, hub and nipples) gather it up and find a nice quiet place to work. For tools you just need a flathead screwdriver and a spoke wrench that fits your nipples. My place of choice is the kitchen table with no one home. I can spread everything out on the table and work in a chair with the wheel in my lap. Being comfortable really is important here because you will probably be in the same place for a couple of hours. Also you may want to make sure no young children are in earshot because you will expel of few profanities. Nothing will piss you off more then getting our wheel ¾ done and discovering your spoke pattern is off by a hole. It all has to come apart………..

One of the things that I found tuff was to get a nipple into the wheel with a recessed hole and thread it onto the spoke without dropping the nipple. After losing a couple of nipple in the rim I developed a trick to getting the spokes started. Take the nipple and thread it onto another spoke backwards. Now use that spoke to hold the nipple and insert it into the wheel. As you thread the nipple onto the spoke in the wheel it will unthread from your holder spoke. This made the entire process a lot easier for me.

The pattern of the wheel depends on number of holes and spoke length and hub flange size and direction of wind and temperature of the room you are in and ……….you get the idea there are a few variables. For mountain bikes you probably are going to be dealing with either a 28 or 32 hole hub. So really you only have to worry about 2x or 3x patterns. 2x patterns are stiffer side to side and 3x patterns are stronger up and down. I have found on 26” wheels the spokes are short enough that 2x or 3x will be stiff enough in both directions. On larger 650b and 29er wheels the 2x patterns seem to handle a bit better side to side. Down side is it will be a little softer up and down. Now 2x spokes will be short which means less weight too. On a downhill bike do you worry about an extra 20 grams? This probably isn’t a factor, but on a weight weenie cross country bike it may be. If you search the forums there are some very religious discussions about what pattern is better for what wheels and what use. Honestly you will have to do your research what will work for your setup. My only 2 cents here is 2x is easier to lace up than 3x. The key spoke is easier to locate on the reverse side and spoke length during assembly seems to be more consistent.

Last up is truing the wheel. If you don’t have a truing stand you can use your bike with a couple of zip ties on the frame. Cheap and works just fine. There are some inexpensive truing stands you can get from Nashbar or Ebay which probably work fine. I chose to build my own. It cost me $25 in materials from a home improvement store and took me about 2 hours to assemble. Next post I will take some detailed pics and show you how to build it.

It worked great on this last set of 650b wheels I built and should make future sets nice and straight. My new 650bs turned out great and I am looking forward to warmer days ahead to try them out. If you are bored this winter you might want to try wheel building. Hopefully there was some useful information in this post to help you get started. Take it slow and don’t get too frustrated when you have to start over.

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