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December 15, 2017
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  • Nice work Matt

  • velocite

    If I were a wheel builder I’d have all the best tools, but I’m not, I’m just a chap who has rebuilt a few wheels with just a spoke wrench, a finger and my bike frame – and a lot of patience. I reckon I can get to within about 0.5 mm radial and lateral runout – and they have stayed that way. It interested me that the pros say that a tension meter is a must. It’s worked for me to pluck the spokes and listen to the note. I have an app on my phone which tells me what it is.

    First wheel I did had 32 spokes, so took a while. After I finished an expert pointed out to me that the spoke holes were angled to one or the other side of the hub, and that I’d picked the wrong side – so had to start again. Modern rims don’t seem to be like that.

    • If your charging money for the wheels then a good tension meter is a must.. round, true and well tensioned are not mutually exclusive

      • velocite

        I’m sure you’re right, and I will never be charging money for what I do, but I thought uneven spoke tensions would mean that the wheel would go out of true more quickly? And what about the musical note approach? Too time consuming or too inaccurate do you think?

        • Stewie Griffin

          I’m in a bike’s mechanics course, and wheel building is around 60 hours of the course. We have to learn how to spoke a wheel by ear and feel. After it is trued and dished, we check for spoke tension. Most of the time we are 1/4th or 1/8th of the required tension. For high end racing wheels, spoke tension meters are def a must. For recreational or city bike use, feel and ear are good enough, however some things, like welds, can influence the resonating sound of a spoke

      • Morten Reippuert Knudsen

        Parktool TM-1 tension meter is quite cheap, for amateur builders it will ease building rearwheels. My recomendations is: get a decent spoke key and and TM-1 – You can do without dishing tool and especially wheelstand.
        (and yes i agree the multi-spoke keys increases the chance of rounding your nipples unless you really conecentrate).

      • winkybiker

        As long as the rim you start with is round and true.

        • The reason there are only 2 brands of alloy rims I will sell. Out of interest winky this is a hub I had a hand in http://weightweenies.starbike.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=113&t=148127

          Also re previous discussions on hub and spokes, I’ll have to find it but Ric one of the cofounders of wheelsmith has done a piece on straight pulls Vs J bends and surprisingly J bends are no weaker than straight pull spokes.. I have seen my share of spoke failures and the only time they fail at the bend is when the chain has had a go at them or in Te very rare occasion that the spoke had a MFG defect. I love straight pulls as there is no way to make a durable 130g rear hub that is strong with out them but the only real advantage and the reason they are popular in factory wheels is they are much easier to machine lace. The biggest draw back of an sp spoke is if your in Central Europe on an expensive cycling holiday and you break a spoke your totally on your own. You stand little to no chance of walking into a small shop in the French alps and getting one. I use them a lot and like them and yet I could only provide a replacement straight pull for a wheelset I regularly build.. with a J bend though I can have you back on the road in 10 mins no problem…

          • winkybiker

            Interesting about the rims. My j-bend experience was that they almost always broke on the NDS due to fatigue. A properly tensioned wheel would help there, for sure. I’m suspecting mine were mostly crappy. I’d like to see the test results on straight Vs J. I can’t see how the J would be as good under cyclic loading. All that tension on the inside of the bend, trying to open cracks, Vs it being all the way around the circumference on a well-engineered straight-pull. Admittedly, if the seat wasn’t perfectly square to the pull, it could be even worse than a good J-bend with nicely shaped holes. The other factor may be the way the metallurgy responds to the forging of the flared end on a straight-pull Vs the simple bending of the spoke on a J-bend (where the flared end itself isn’t actually under much load, really just there to stop the spoke becoming “unhooked”).

            It’s all fascinating to me.

          • winkybiker

            Nice looking hubs. They seem similar in concept to the i9s I have on my new bike. They’re 2:1 lacing on the back right? I love that.

            • Yeah they are and the 2:1 firms up the Older versions only weakness.
              Breaking NSD spokes is pretty much always caused by inadequate and uneven tension. Basically when only a few of the NDS spokes are carrying the dish the others are subject to multiple cycles of 0 tension which quickly chews though their fatigue life cycle. It’s basically a slow and certain death for a wheelset. I’d say it’s a driving factor in the wide spread use of 2:1 lacing with modern factory wheelsets

              • winkybiker

                Yep. 2:1 makes so much sense in terms of keeping all the spokes in their “sweet spot” in terms of tension through the cycles of rotation, rocking and pedaling forces.

                • In custom building it does have draw backs though.. one of the comments on WW was that the flanges were not as wide as they could be.. the problem with that is of they were then you would need custom drilled rims every time and that would basically make Te product out side of OEM builds useless even the Extralites are not much use once you go deeper than 45-50mm. Any way at 180g for the pair they are a waste of money on any thing but the lightest rims

          • winkybiker

            As for being “on your own” in Europe, it’s usually possible to just buy a wheel as a last resort, I guess. You wouldn’t let it spoil your “holiday of a lifetime”! Touch wood, I’ve never broken a spoke on a trip to Europe or anywhere else, for that matter. 1 spoke in 15 years is a pretty good record, I think.

            • If it’s an important ride I take a set of spares.. I’ve not broken a single spoke on wheelsets I’ve built for my self. Total number of broken spokes on wheelsets since I went ‘pro’ is 5 which is less than 0.5% and they were all random bad spoke type situations..

              • winkybiker

                I take spares on unsupported touring, but on a supported ride, I take my chances.

    • Adrian Cyclesaurus

      @velocite:disqus it really depends on the type of wheels that your working with. Some wheels are more forgiving than others. If for example you are working with a Zipp carbon rear wheel, there is a max spoke tension of 100kgf. Push over this and you could risk component failure (i.e. rim or hub). If the wheel is undertensioned, the reliability of the wheel is going to be greatly compromised plus the likelihood of accelerated spoke fatigue. Listening to the spoke tension by plucking the spokes is a great way to hear the relative spoke tension balance within the wheel, however at some point you need a good measure of absolute spoke tension.

    • Zozzie98765

      Velocite, I built all my own wheels for 50 years with just frame, fork, spoke wrench, screwdriver, grease and my ear. Tension was by subjective feel, equal tension was by ear. I don’t remember ever building a bad wheel. Of course they were all 36, 32 and more lately 28 and 24 spokes. I think 32 & 36 spoke wheels were more forgiving but it wouldn’t bother me do 24 & 28 the old way.
      In recent years I got a stand and a tension meter. Of course it’s no quicker (how would a “real” stand make it faster anyway?). My newer wheels aren’t staying together any better than my older ones because the old ones never fell apart.
      But if I was building for money (I never have and never will) I’d have the fancy tools.

      • velocite

        I think we might be on the same page. I enjoy caring for my bike and rebuilding the odd wheel adds to my connection to it. First time just getting the lacing right on a 32 spoke wheel was therapeutic!

      • Geoff

        I think we are fortunate that modern rims are extremely strong. Where you previously would have used 32 or 36 spokes, the rims you would have used at the time were not nearly as strong as the ones that are commonly used today. With the extremely rigid rims available these days, it is probably much easier to build with lower spoke counts.
        The wheels I have built for myself are 20, 24 and 28 spoke lacings, which I have build using tools (including nipple driver, truing stand and dishing tool) which I have made myself. The only tool that I had to buy was a spoke wrench.

    • Fedeciapi

      yes modern rims are still drilled like that, so pay more attention. and no, the tension meter is not a must.

      • velocite

        I do pay attention now Fedeciapi, but the last wheel I did was a 50mm carbon wheel with internal nipples, and the spoke holes all looked straight down the middle to me. I’m thinking the nipple seats must have been spherical.

        • Fedeciapi

          use a spoke to examine the holes. you will find they are angled. especially on a 50mm carbon rim.

          • velocite

            It was a year ago, and since then I destroyed one wheel on a nasty sharp-edged pothole, and my 6 month old wheels were cactus. But I’ve still got the wreckage, so I’ll double check.

  • disqus_U85waxYyKN

    Great photos too.
    Tip for myself. Dont do it. Pay a professional. My Wheelworks road tubeless wheels are still straight after 6 years!!
    My diy mtb rebuild lasted 6 minutes( slight exaggeration)

  • MadBlack

    Great read. Good summary Matt. Just pondering one thing… When I apprenticed as a mechanic in the ninties manually threading and cutting spokes was a last resort when only minor quantities were required or exact length wasn’t commecially available. The reason for this is that the quality spoke suppliers like DT, Sapim, etc. all would roll the thread instead of cutting (for which large machines are required). Cutting thread increases the tendency for the spoke to break under tension. Back then we stocked every common spoke lengths in 1mm increments and 2mm for uncommen length? But I haven’t come across the Morizumi machine prior to reading this article. Is this a fairly recently invented tool? And is the quality of the thread 100% comparable to the commericially available spokes?

    • Dave Rome

      Matt may be able to offer more insight, but I can confirm that tools like the Morizumi and Phil Wood (not shown) both roll, not cut, the thread onto the spokes. Due to this, they should be pretty equal in strength and durability to a factory-cut spoke. The Morizumi tool is a relatively new option, at least compared to the Phil Wood spoke machine (which sizes and rolls the spoke in a single motion).

      One point not mentioned is that butted and bladed spokes present issues for spoke cutting machines as they have limited threaded length to play with (the round, 2.0 or 1.8mm diameter threaded part). So no doubt, pro builders will still have extensive stock of expensive spokes in multiple lengths.

    • Mark Kirby

      @ Craftworx we use both the Morizumi and Phil Wood machines, although Phil’s machine doesn’t see a lot of use these days. Both perform the same function but the Morizumi is the better (and more modern) of the two. Separating the two steps of cutting and rolling the thread is more accurate and gives you more control. The thread rolling process of both machines is equally as good as what Sapim and DT Swiss can achieve in their factory. It is important to maintain the equipment and regularly adjust and replace the dies to ensure the thread is clean and of the correct depth. The rolling process essentially cold forges the spoke, making the material denser and stronger which is why it is better. We typically carry a wide range of sizes in CX-Ray and Aerolite spokes, in part because of the fact that you have a limited amount of spoke length you can cut but also because it takes a lot of time if you have to cut every spoke in every wheel we build. That said, spoke lengths are in 2mm increments which means the length is (at best) correct only half of the time. We typically have in the vicinity of 60,000 to 90,000 spokes in stock at any given time.

    • MadBlack

      Thanks Dave and Mark for the insight and background. Appreciate you responding.

  • Frank

    “The importance of even spoke tension to a wheel cannot be [overestimated]”
    Very interesting article, thanks!

  • Adrian Cyclesaurus

    “there are some tools, like patience, diligence, and experience, that can’t be bought at any price.”
    Nice one Matt.

  • Larry @CycleItalia

    Great piece! Jobst Brandt’s THE BICYCLE WHEEL and Rik Hjertberg’s wonderful advice – that wheels WANT to be round and true, it’s just the wheelbuilder’s job to help them, were key to my modest wheel building success. I believe stress-relieving is the most crucial step – something that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Having just sold off all of my wheelbuilding equipment to prepare for a move to the other side of the world, the photos and discussion about tools was kind of bittersweet, but thanks!

  • Eric Hjertberg

    A real holiday treat — thorough, even-handed, and wonderfully decorated. Now many readers can better understand this traditional and, let’s face it, hard to pursue craft. I recognize your well-chosen collaborators, hi to all. BTW, next time around I hope to see a female builder and, believe me, they are many. Huge thanks and kudos!

    • Thanks for your kind words, Ric. I know each collaborator had to make time to help me with my questions and provide images despite their busy schedules, but the effort they made is clear to see in the final product.

      For those that are interested, we published a profile of Jude Gerace and her wheel building business earlier this year:
      She provides some interesting insight on the challenges that wheel builders face when growing a business out of their passion for the craft.

  • Raffer

    Great article! Compelling and rich…

    • hlvd

      They’ve done studies, you know. 60% of the time, it works every time.

  • binotto

    Really interesting article. Thanks Matt!

  • Mark Kirby

    Hi Matt. Feel free to drop into our wheel building workshop if you are ever in Brisbane, we’d love to show you around!

    • Thanks for the offer @disqus_mDpXy3ud2F:disqus I’ll keep it in mind.

  • Whothe

    Great read, purchased a pair of Wheelworks wheels about 7 years ago and still going strong. Its totally worth spending money on hand-built/custom/bespoke wheels.

    • winkybiker

      You perhaps don’t ride them through Vancouver winters, then. Many wheels here fail because the rims wear out from braking. 7 years for a main set of wheels would be somewhat unheard of. I’ve heard anecdotes of trashing a pair of rims in one winter.

      (My personal experience with factory wheels is that they are totally fuss-free. I’ve broken one spoke in the 15+ years I’ve been riding nothing but factory wheels – and those wheels were worn out by then and not worth repairing.)

  • Geoff

    Probably the most useful reference I found, regarding wheel building, is Roger Musson’s ebook “Professional Guide to Wheel Building”. The book even covers how to build every tool you will need to build wheels, except for a spoke wrench and tensiometer. On tensiometers, Musson has the following to say:
    “If you build your wheels without a tensiometer and they are working and do everything expected of them then you don’t need a tensiometer. If your wheels are not working as intended then a tensiometer is not a magic cure for obtaining good wheels.” – If you are not charging money for wheels, you can probably get away without a tensiometer.

    • Ray Green

      Yes, the Musson book takes a totally different approach to wheelbuilding tools!

      • Adrian Cyclesaurus

        I love his dishing tool :-)

      • Geoff

        I also like his approach of focusing on building a solid wheel, rather than a “fancy” wheel. His view is that a fast wheel is one that you can ride hard without any concern about it failing, rather than one that has all the latest bells and whistles.

  • Casey Ford

    Nice article. I prefer the Unior/Sapim spoke wrench and was surprised it wasn’t mentioned.

    • Adrian Cyclesaurus

      @disqus_y92c8vvcWQ:disqus Yes Sapim/Unior make a great 4 sided spoke wrench. I have a full set of them.

  • Steve-O

    Nicely written and researched piece. It took me back to the first person to show me how to adjust/true a wheel. He sat me down at the old Park stand in his shop (in Madison, WI), described the process and got me started with a spoke wrench. After a few adjustments, I asked him, “So how long do I do this?” He smiled as he walked into the back and said, “As long as you want.” I still enjoy building wheels as the attention to detail requires me to be in the present moment. I don’t think of anything else while doing it. While I love music, that is one of the only times I like complete quiet. Also, I’ve found the old Cyclus “Spokey” to be my favorite spoke wrench – my fingers move around it quite easily. I believe the Wheel Fanatyk still sells the original ones. Thanks again for the nice article.

  • Rob Smallman

    Tongue in cheek, but I was hoping for something about tying and soldering.

    • Adrian Cyclesaurus

      @robsmallman:disqus haha, tie and solder is still a shibboleth within the wheel building community :-)

      • winkybiker

        Once a shibboleth, always a shibboleth I guess ;).

  • Paul O’Connell

    Next time you’re in Wellington New Zealand, go and see Wheelworks. What they’re doing is the next level compared to all of these wheelbuilders. They make great coffee too.

  • Charles Dostale

    Many a Tours de France was won on wheels built without a device to measure spoke tension. From that perspective, when building wheels with aluminum rims for most applications, a tension meter is optional. Also, quality wheels can be built with modest tools. It was common for me to push a hub into a used bike box for support rather than the fancy lacing jig pictured. For preventing bladed / oval spokes from twisting, I cut a slot with a hacksaw in a kickstand top bracket, then filed finger holds and rounded all the edges. Worked great in 1983 before there were production tools for that available. I still use it ;)

  • HamishM

    Anyone know any courses coming up in 2018 in Melbourne?

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