Building Wheels Part II

I started building the wheels for my new bike a few weeks back.  My wheel building project was stalled while I waited to get the remaining spokes I needed to complete the front wheel.  Once I finally got the correct spokes, I was able to finish the front wheel.  Building up a wheel isn’t particularly difficult, it just takes time and a little bit of patience.  A while back, I stumbled across a good guide on wheel building which describes the process I follow pretty well.

beginning the front wheel lacing

Started lacing the spokes inside the flanges first so I don’t have to thread and bend them between the outside spokes later.

Threading the nipplesStarting the spokes is always a slow process.  I like using Spoke Prep.

More spoke lacingMore spoke lacing.

Inside spokes completedOnce the inside spokes are laced up it starts to look like a wheel.

One side completeOne side complete; only the right outside spokes left.

Fully laced wheelOnce the wheel is laced, I begin the process of tightening up the spokes until the wheel is properly tensioned and centered.  It’s tedious, but somewhat relaxing at the same time.

The ENO freewheel!
When you open up the box containing an ENO freewheel, you can almost hear an angelic choir singing in the background.

Installed the freewheel…

Freewheel and disc rotors mounted

…and mounted the disc rotors to the hub. Everything just fits together perfectly, like building with Legos.

Completed wheelsOnce the disc brakes were mounted, I installed the rim strips.  I use the cotton Velox rim strips, even if they are more difficult to remove later.   I’ve had the cheap plastic rim strips actually wear a hole in the inner tubes on previous wheels.   The rubber rim strips tend to creep around and not stay in place over the spoke holes.   I’ve never had a problem with the cloth-based ones.

For tires I’m running Maxxis Ardent on both front and rear.  The rear tires are 29×2.25 inch and the front tires are 29×2.4 inch.  The front doesn’t look particularly large for a 2.4 inch tire but it’s still big enough.

I still have some minor tweaks to make on the spoke tension, but I could probably get away with leaving them as they are.  Both wheels are straight with no discernible wobbles or hops, other than the minor imperfections at the welded seams.  It’s somewhat odd that I have more dish on the front wheel than the rear thanks to the disk rotor mount.  The rear wheel has very little dish since the freewheel and the disc rotor take up about the same amount space.

Now that the wheels are pretty much done, I hope to be able to complete building up the remainder of the bike this weekend.  Hopefully, I will have photos of the complete bike up soon too.

Building wheels

I have a serious bias towards hand built wheels.  I’ve developed this bias from a handful of bad experiences I’ve had with mass-produced bike wheels.  The worst of these was the first time I raced in the VT 50; all the spokes in my rear wheel became loose almost half way into the race.  They were so loose that I could “rotate” the wheel three to four inches with the disc brake locked up.  I ended up riding over 25 miles with this loose wheel and went from 7th place to 35th by the finish.  Thanks.   I’ve also had problems with broken spokes or wheels that wouldn’t stay true without frequent attention with other manufactured wheels I’ve owned.

Wheel PartsOn the other hand, the hand built wheels I’ve owned have been notably trouble-free.  Generally, they  haven’t even required truing over their lives other than to repair damage done from sticks or rim damage from hitting a rock.  I was able to ride several of these wheels for years without touching them with a spoke wrench.  I think there is still some subjective aspect to building a good bicycle wheel that the automated processes doesn’t seem to address.  Regardless of the reasons, I love a good hand built wheel, and doing it myself is even more enjoyable.

I built my first wheel from scratch when I was 12 years old.  I was replacing the rear wheel on a bmx bike that I had trashed.  I bought the parts from a shop and then studied the wheel on another bicycle to see how it was all supposed to go together.  It came out okay but it had a slight hop in it that I never did correct.  Still, it wasn’t bad considering my inexperience and not having any tools other than a cheap K-mart spoke wrench.

Since then, I’ve built up a few sets of wheels with significantly better results.  I’ve also done a lot of repair work and replacing rims that I wore out (the big down side to rim brakes).  I’m far from being a master of this skill, but I can get the job done adequately for my needs.

I finally have all the parts together to build up the wheels for my current project.  The rims are Salsa’s Semi which I got a really great deal on from Five Hills Bike Shop.  I like wide rims and these fit the bill perfectly.  I’m building up the wheels with a set of White Industries disc hubs.  This will be the second time I’ve had an ENO hub.  The hubs are exceptionally well made and spin smooth as butter through years of hard use.  They make an amazing freewheel too.  I’ll be tying it all together with some double-butted (14/15/14) spokes.

Lacing up the rear wheel
Way too much concentration here.

I will be lacing up the wheels using a cross-3 pattern. I see no need for anything more.  There are other spoke patterns:  cross-2, twisted or radial lacing; but I don’t believe that any of them offer any real advantage, although they do look really nice sometimes.  With cross-2 or radial lacing you actually end up with a wheel that is structurally weaker.  In most cases, the weight savings of these other patterns is roughly what you would get from taking the change out of your pockets at the end of the day.   The same technical advantages can be experienced by closing your eyes and pretending that you’re winning the Tour de France – that too, will be in your imagination.  Cross-3 is strong, light enough and extremely well proven.  Okay, I’m a Luddite on this one but I know it works.

I will post photos of the build process in a few days depending on how much time I am able to put into these wheels.