Making Wheels

I bought the book and decided to rebuild the wheels that originally came with my Allez. The rear wheel is my turbo-trainer wheel and there was nothing seriously wrong with it; so I dismantled it and rebuilt it with the same spokes in the same pattern. The front wheel I never liked and it had only been used for about a week when I first got the bike; so I broke it up, measured the hub and rim, acquired the correct-length spokes to rebuild it with a better lacing pattern and started from scratch.

The rear-wheel was very easy because the spokes all kept their shape from the previous build, so they laced together like they remembered where to go. Only thing worth mentioning if you’re going to do this is to make sure that you rebuild it with each spoke doing exactly the same job; not just drive-side/non-drive-side, or inside/outside, but also leading/trailing. It’s easy to get the other two factors right because the spokes will be the correct size/shape for only one of drive/not and inside/outside but you can lace the wheel so that inside=push and outside=pull or vice versa. With new spokes it doesn’t matter, with old ones it does because your chance of fatigue failures is massively increased if you subject a spoke to the opposite load to the one it is ‘used’ to.

The front-wheel was originally laced radially with straight-gauge spokes. I wanted to rebuild it 3-cross because I have never met a cheap radially-laced wheel that was any good, while I have many cheap 3-cross wheels which are nice to ride. This meant measuring the hub and rim, calculating the correct spoke length for a 3-cross lacing patter, and acquiring the spokes and nipples.

I used DT Swiss Competition double-butted spokes and the aluminium nipples which come in the same package. The lacing experience was quite different: on the one hand there were no orientation concerns, as any new spoke can go anywhere in the front wheel; on the other hand it is harder to lace the outside spokes when they are not pre-disposed to take the correct path.

I knew, before starting, that the aluminium nipples were a bad idea in combination with the rim I was using as it has no eyelets: compressing two aluminium parts together leads to corrosion and sticking problems in the contact area. My expectation is that I will not be able to adjust this wheel in the future because of this. I greased all the threads and the parts of the rim which contact the nipples, but I doubt that this will be enough.

After lacing the spokes I went around the outside spokes and bent their shoulders a bit more so that they were taking a straight path to the rim while still at low tension. They would otherwise have acquired this bend later as the tension increased; I felt that pre-bending them probably helped to keep the spoke tension even as I continued the build, but I cannot be sure as I have never tried the other way.

If you start with a round and flat rim, a symmetrical hub, spokes of the same (correct) length, and increase the tension of all spokes evenly to the same high (correct) tension the result will be a strong and true wheel. I followed the instructions in the book I mentioned above and paid special attention to keeping the spoke tension even at all times; I found this meant minimal adjustments were needed to keep things true and centred.

The final tension of the spokes in the wheel is quite high, but frustratingly limited. The nipples do not turn easily in some of the holes in the rim, and the relatively soft aluminium flats on the nipples began to wear beyond the point of usability a little before I would have liked. The resulting wheel is at a higher tension than when I originally got it, and it should stay there for a while, but I think it would have been much better with brass nipples and an eyelet-rim.

I will test it out this weekend and, unless it’s unexpectedly brilliant, it will then spend the rest of its natural life keeping the front end of my bike off the ground while the rear is in the turbo trainer.

It may seem pointless to have spent time rebuilding two wheels I don’t really like in order to not really use them, and indeed it would be. My main motivation was to practise the art of wheel building on some wheels that don’t really matter so that I can confidently and competently build some wheels that do matter. More on these in a future post, I suspect…

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