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  • winkybiker

    Great article. A few points:

    1) Why do wheelbuilders often (if not always) lace the spokes so they interfere with and press on each other and therefore have a slight bend where they cross? I get it (perhaps) if you are planning to tie and solder them, but don’t otherwise understand the benefit. Why not allow them to run direct and straight from the hub to the rim. I’m not talking about why spokes are crossed – I get that. But why do they have to touch where they cross?

    2) Setting the drive side then tensioning the wheel with the non-drive side is intuitively correct. When I’m playing with truing a rear wheel, I rarely play with the drive-side spokes as these seem very stable.

    3) Campy-Fulcrum 2:1 lacing of driveside:non-driveside makes a huge amount of sense to me in terms of getting more even tension in the rear wheel spokes.

    4) J-bend spoke heads seem a like the wheel-builders’ cruel joke. An enginereed asymmetric stress riser and embrittlement from making the bend means that it is no concidence that this where 99% of spokes fail.

    5) Does anyone else find it feakin’ hilarious that there is a pro-cyclist named Sammy Spokes?

    • Simon

      Re 5, mildly amusing perhaps but for mine I prefer the marvellously descriptive and alliterative Wouter Wippert as a better name in pro cycling.
      With regard to the topic at hand I can only refer you to Jobst Brandt’s book.

      • Dave

        Rob Power would be up there, though always sitting in the shadow of Australian motor racing driver Will Power.

    • Re 1, conventional wisdom has it that the touching spokes provide extra lateral resistance, stiffening the wheel, but this idea is being challenge. Jobst Brandt demonstrated some time ago that tying and soldering does nothing to stiffen the wheel. Interestingly, many wheels with straight pull hubs and spokes do away with interleaving the spokes and none have ever been criticised for being too flexible.

      Re 4, data comparing the life of j-bend with straight pull spokes is pretty thin but according to DT there is no difference.

      • jules

        it’s self-evident that soldering can’t stiffen a wheel. how can a joint with inherent weakness (solder) materially add to the strength of anything?

        • Pro riders in earlier eras (70s, 80s) were at one time convinced that tying and soldering stiffened the wheels. There’s a lot of tradition underlying wheelbuilding that persists today despite advances in the quality of components. Want to start a fight? Just ask wheelbuilders about whether the spoke heads should be oriented inwards or outwards for a pulling spoke…

        • Lyre_bird

          Not defending soldered and tied wheels but the general thrust of your argument is not correct.

          A soft, weak material can be used to join strong stiff materials and attain most of the the strength and stiffness of the latter if the joint is stressed in shear and the bondline is thin enough. This occurs because of the phenomenon of plastic constraint, the stiffness of the joined materials constrains the movement of the joining material, transferring the stresses into the stronger material. Two standout examples are the use of silver brazing alloy to join high strength steel tubing and using an epoxy adhesive to join carbon fibre tubing.

          • jules

            I think what you’re saying is that (part of) the stress on the joint is borne by the two materials being joined. but that’s obviously not the case with soldering 2 spokes together, where the solder will take ~100% of the load.

            • Sean Doyle

              Its the tie wire that creates the small space for the solder to be effective. Yes with just solder it wouldnt work but with the tie wire it makes for a very strong joint and then there is a bit of load sharing back and forth.

        • David Mackintosh

          Spoke materials didn’t used to be as good as they are now and there were a lot more failures. One benefit of tying and soldering spokes is that if one breaks at either end, it will be held in place by the crossing spoke. In that way the ride or race can be completed without needing to stop and remove the broken spoke. Spoke breakage should be extremely rare with a well-built wheel today.

        • Il Gregario

          Tied & soldered wheels were made this way to keep them true. it had nothing to do with stiffness. Having had the benefit of experience, I can attest that such wheels were best as spares or training wheels. Such a method was never used on say the old Mavic GEL280 or the GL330. These rims were light and relied on a bit bounce to perform. The GP4 on the other hand…
          On the same subject, I remember a time before thread lock, when the spoke threads were dipped in tubular glue. The good old days…

    • vidabreve

      Hi Winkybiker. It’s not an inheritance from the welded spokes era, spokes are “interwoven” at the last cross so the spoke under load helps the other not to get so slack by putting a lateral load on it and thus preventing the nipple to loosen. That’s all.

      • winkybiker

        That makes some sense. I’ll have to think about it.

      • Glenn Plank

        As a guy who built wheels a long time ago, I was told that the interwoven spokes prevented the nipples from loosening by applying tension. As a guy who worked in a neighborhood bike shop, it became obvious as the lower quality bikes coming through the shop without interwoven spokes notoriously has loose spokes and the interwoven one’s rarely (perhaps never) seemed to suffer from this problem. That’s just my observation from several years of being in a shop as a bike mechanic and as the primary wheel builder in that shop. Now that said, I notice my fancy new mtn bike with straight pull spokes does not have an interwoven pattern, perhaps the sealant/lube in the nipples or other design changes have negated this?

    • zerge

      re 1, (sorry, i’m not a native speaker, I don’t know the exact technical terms) imagine a straight pole that you will load with force in the direction of its lenght, it won’t bend, it won’t be flexible, but bend the same pole, and it will flex. It makes the ride more comfy, it puts less stress on every part of the wheel.

    • Ed

      Wrong my friend, most spokes fail at the nipple end, go figure… Rival wheels, not pointing a finger but hey… J bend spokes are fine so long as they are of a well known manufacture ie DTSwiss etc…

      • winkybiker

        99% of spoke failures that I’ve had have been at the J-bend (NDS rear, of course). Having said that, since changing to factory wheels I have had just one broken spoke in about 12 years (and those rims were trashed by that point anyway).

    • outerloop

      1) That enlarges the “effective flange diameter” making the wheel “stiffer” (sort of).

    • Ed Llorca

      Crossing the inside/outside spokes on their last cross can be useful on the driveside of a rear wheel build as it give a scosche more room for the derailleur cage to not hit spokes.

  • jules

    i’ve been building and truing wheels for a while. I’m no pro at it, but I have learned to do it well enough to make the wheel reliable and straight enough. I don’t own a spoke tension-meter. rather, I picked up on a tip to flick the spokes at the same point (mid-point) and gauge audible pitch. it sounds rough but it works for me.. while learning I had recurring problems with breaking and unwinding spokes on my rear wheel. the simple solution for this was getting the spoke tension even (using pitch, in my case). I have spare spokes for my wheels and when I break one (hopefully only rarely) I replace them myself – easy :)

    • velocite

      I was surprised that the use of pitch to assess spoke tension was not mentioned. I have an app on my phone which tells me the note so I can look up the actual tension.

      And I must say I don’t see wheel building as an art, more a matter of know how and diligence I think. An early bit of know I acquired was that the spoke holes on some wheels are angled alternately for the two sides of the hub. I had a 50-50 chance of it being right through luck, and I lost. Spokes had quite a bend in them!

    • Karl

      Pitch works reasonably well but remove your wheel magnet if you have one. Also, crossed spokes interfere a little if they’re pressing hard.

      • jules

        I agree. on the crossed spokes, it may help to squeeze them together – removing any binding and also pre-tensioning the spokes themselves so they don’t go out of whack as soon as you hit the road.

  • bigstu_

    I know a master wheel builder and what I can do in 2 hours he can do in 20 minutes. And what I need a dial gauge and tensionometer to produce, he can deliver to a higher standard, repeatedly, with a greasy thumb and a stubbie (and he’s a lovely chap to boot).
    Not so long ago, virtually all bikes coming out of the local shop had wheels made there and then. So yes, there is artistry involved and hard working men became artisans out of necessity. Those that couldn’t build with quality and speed had to stay back late just to stay in business, or sneakily buy wheels made at another shop then bad mouth the other guy to the customer so they wouldn’t go there by chance and find out the truth (oh the stories we could tell!).
    What is also important in wheel building is the quality of the rim. A soft (ductile) rim will be more difficult to true, and keep in true. Also important is what the customer wants out of the wheel – because there are combinations that just won’t survive under some people no matter what you do. Heavier riders need higher tensions like it or not and their wheels under a lighter rider will be uncomfortable.
    Also, its worth noting that if you are rebuilding a wheel with a second hand rim, chasing even tension will not necessarily do it for you since the rim has been subjected to all kinds of thumps (irregular cold working) already.
    What made tensionometers necessary in recent years is the shift to reduced spoke counts necessitating higher spoke tensions. Aluminium spokes increased the need further. Rims have become evermore harder and stronger (with very techy alloys in use) but the high spoke tensions are now closer to the rim safe working limit with a reduced margin for error.
    What was also missed in this article is the fun that can be had in grabbing some parts and having a crack yourself – but don’t forget to leave enough money for a few stubbies! and enjoy the ride.

  • craig

    No mention in the article of how to correct hi and low spots in the rim.
    Having straight and evenly tensioned wheels is not much use if its shaped like an egg!

    • There are a few good books that will guide you through the entire process. It’s all in the tension of the spokes!

    • jules

      increasing the tension of spokes at a given point along the rim will tend to draw the rim towards the hub (lower it) – and vice versa. you can maintain lateral alignment by making these changes evenly to spokes on both sides of the rim. you can only ever achieve small/gradual corrections in radial alignment with spoke tension adjustments – if you have a really sharp ding in the rim, you will need to replace it.

      also when you make these changes – e.g. increase tension at given point on the rim, bear in mind they will affect tension at other points (i.e. opposite side of the rim, as the hub is pulled away from the opposite side – increasing spoke tension on that side). necessitating adjustments to affected spokes.

      • Craig

        Sorry I wasn’t actually asking how to do it, just thoght I would mention that it was mostly ommitted from the article.
        I’ve been building wheels for 30 years.
        I wouldn’t say its really an art its a pretty simple process actually, what is required is attention to detail and patience.
        If you lack those two qualities don’t even bother having a go yourself.

        • jules

          sometimes I post those things to get a response, i.e. “no, here’s a better way”, rather than “i know everything” :)

  • CC

    To your conclusion.. I’ve come to see it as an art, mostly in figuring out what the rider actually needs. i.e. the art of understanding the person. Half the time, riders are cruising around on wheels that could have a few Newtons changed on tension to dramatically alter the ride. This is what sets the best apart… anyone can tension a spoke -:) Nice read.

  • Kelvin

    How long before you could say the word “nipples” without sniggering? I love people so into their thing (and so good at it) that they don’t even at least smirk…

    • jules

      when I was about 16, from memory ;)

      • Sean

        i’m still not there yet

        • jules

          you spend a lot of your online time on a cycling blog for a young teen

    • krashdavage

      I have a set of wheels in my collection (well, they’re on my wife’s cross bike) that have pink nipples…

  • taras

    As far as adding strength to a wheel, tying and soldering doesn’t help. Where it does help, and was used a lot, was on the track, when spokes broke. It kept them from flying around and getting flung into other rider’s wheels within the close confines of track racing.

  • Il Gregario

    So the spokes go through the hole in the hub thing. Well I’ll be…

  • Ok so first of all tied and soldering.. Looks nice but is quite unnessary in the modern day now that the rims and spokes are not made of cheese any more. This is an excert written by master wheel builder ( head builder for Dt swiss USA, American classic, light speed and fiarwheelbikes over the years ) and good friend of mine Troy Watson of http://www.ligerowheelworks.com

    “Wheels are structures that are supported by tensioned wires. If a spoke does not have any tension it cannot carry any load. Spokes for the most part are steel threads or wires not steel beams. So you have to think about a wheel as strung together with steel strings and not steel beams. Once you look at the wheel like that what does tying the spoke crosses do? They don’t do anything, actually they do one thing but I will get into that later. I have heard the argument that tying the spokes makes the effective flange diameter the same as where the crosses of the spokes are, that is wrong and here is why. If you take a steel wire it will stretch a certain amount as load and tension is put on it. It is crossing over another spoke at approximately the midway point between the flange and rim. If you clip those to spokes together at that point they will stretch the same amount above and below that clipped together point. So being that the spokes are still stretching the same amount how could the wheel be any stiffer? It can’t and won’t!

    Now is when someone will say “I had my wheels tied and soldered and they felt so much stiffer!” and he is right, they “felt” stiffer. Wheels are constantly hitting things, small bumps, large bumps or gigantic holes and all of those impacts are turned into vibrations that is traveling through the wheel. All of those vibrations travel through the rim, into the spokes, then into the hub and finally keep going into the frame. Those vibrations and how they are transferred or dissipated will determine how a wheel rides and “feels”. Wheels are basically round 20 to 32 string guitars that are playing a song you can’t hear but can feel. So you took your 24 string guitar wheel and attached all of the strings together at their midway point, what do you think that would do to the “feel music” that is coming up into the saddles and pedals? It will change the pitch and tone and that is what you are “feeling” after the wheel was tied and soldered. The wheel is not any stiffer, it just now resonates at a different frequency then what it did before.”

    Secondly interlacing spokes…. It’s not actually nessasary and can infact produce slightly better drive side brace angles ( and tension ratios ) as the heads in spokes actually sit out a little further, with an 11speed wheel this is where you can run into problems though as you reduce clearance between the spokes and the rear mech right at a critical place. The other problem is that it goes against common practice and a lot of shops would question the soundness of the wheels laced this way

  • Allez Rouleur

    Just had some Record hubs laced to Ambrosio Excellence rims with DT spokes. Builder punctured my Vredestein latex tube on the front on installation. When I got home I inflated the rear to what I ride at. Two hours later I heard a bursting sound. Puncture hole near the valve stem/hole. Wondering if he didn’t file the hole down? Not that happy, he was recommended and I spent good money with him.

    • jules

      poorly adjusted, or too narrow rim tape can expose the tube to the spoke or valve holes, the sharp edge of the hole will puncture them. solution isn’t to de-burr the hole, rather to ensure rim tape is doing its job.

      • I love tubless tape for this mostly the 21mm wide stuff from tesa ( stans and other company’s rebrand it ) a bit of a handful on older narrow rims though

  • Il Gregario

    There is nothing mysterious about wheel building. It may be the last of the arts, along with frame building, but the simple fact is, wheel building, like most things in life, is pure & simple math. Balance, round, and true are the sum total that makes a wheel. This is all math.
    I had a good laugh at the mention that an app’ is used. Give me a break. It was bad enough to read through the advertorial on spoke tension meters. Experience trumps tech. You can feel your way through a build. And let’s be honest, if you’re pushing your build beyond 45 minutes, you’re not making a good profit on your skills.

    • krashdavage

      Do you build Greg? If you do, you should give your services a plug.

      • Il Gregario

        I’ve built well over 1500 wheels in my time and don’t really care to make that 2000. I’ll leave the wheel building to the fly-by-nighters on Instagram with their apps and tensionometer machines.

        • jules

          i’m willing to offer my services..

          • krashdavage

            I’ll keep you in mind for my next project jules! Or if it’s as easy as il greg makes out, perhaps I should have a crack myself?

        • krashdavage

          That’s a shame. You sound like you’re a really good wheelbuilder. There’s a few good ones in Melbourne but they’re either very busy or a PITA to deal with.


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