Wheel building – the myth!

You will never get it straight, you won’t get the correct tension, you will get the wrong offset, you will make it oval, it will ride bad, it will come loose, YOU WILL DIE!

All of these are tools of fear employed by the cycle industry when it comes to basic bicycle wheel building. My response? Don’t succumb to the fear!

Now don’t get me wrong there are some really tricky elements to building wheels, especially high performance wheels with low spoke counts or wheels with high demand placed on them but a wheel for a clunker or basic bike is actually fairly easy to put together.

This is by no means a walk through, just my experience of putting a wheel together for my latest Rotrax build.

So what do you need?

  1. hub
  2. Spokes
  3. Nipples
  4. Spoke wrench
  5. Flat bladed screwdriver
  6. Bike or wheel building stand to true it in.

That’s a pretty simple list I admit but hardware wise it really is that short. The most expensive part (depending on you rims and hubs of choice… Chris kings may overstep this!) is the wheel building stand but for cheap and reliable general use wheels it’s not necessary, chucking it in the bike it’s intended for is fine. Don’t forget that shops don’t often have the bike the wheel is going into, hence the invention of the wheel building stand.

There is a little more science in wheel building than just getting some parts though. You need to find out the specifics of the individual components, how they relate to each other, and how you want to build the wheel. Ie what size and distance the hub flanges are away from each other, what the rim dimensions are, and finally what spoke lacing pattern you want to use. Ie how many time the spokes cross over each other. This is the most difficult part.

There are a few good guides on the net for both stages of wheel homebrew, the pre build science, and then the assembly.

For the pre build info I suggest looking into the following:

For calculating your spokes you can head to THIS SITE (Leonard) or THIS SITE (ProWheelBuilder).

Then for actual assembly instructions I recommend THIS SITE (Sheldon Brown) or THIS SITE (Patric Taylor).

Personal preference for sites used were the Leonard for spec and info and the Patric Taylor for wheel build instructions. They are both very easy to use and were perfect for what I was putting together.

All you need to do is practice. Why not try getting an old wheel, dismantling it and then rebuilding it? What’s the worst that could happen? It’s not a loss if it goes wrong and you may end up learning a pretty cool skill. Something that may come in handy or you’ll find pretty fun. I enjoy it, it’s very satisfying knowing that you can assemble pretty much anything on a bike from complete component parts. Therapeutic in some circumstances!

Anyway here’s a few pics of how I got on:

First I had to dismantle the old wheel for its donor hub.

Hub removed pretty easy, left the spoke nipples soaking in some oil the night before.

Parts together and time to build.

Then it’s a simple job of going round and tightening the spokes until you have even tension and a straight wheel. This steps easiest in the bike and using a pair of zip ties around the seat stays cut to the same length as a guide. Use the instructions in the guides above and you’ll be rolling in no time!

Realistically what’s the worst that can happen? Use that calculator to figure out the spoke lengths, lace it all up. If you struggle with the last step take it to a cycle shop and they will finish it off. Go on, have a go!


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