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  1. #1
    Senior Member BayBruin's Avatar
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    Questions on Wheel Truing

    My biggest issue with my bike (2008 Trek Portland...custom built wheels with 32 spoke count) ) is not really with my bike but what I put it through. I'm a heavy guy and I ride to work (16 miles each way) with full panniers including my clothes and laptop. The front wheel stays very true but the back wheel, even when being super careful to avoid bumps, gets out of true after a few rides. It's a drag to bring it back into the LBS each time. Previously I did the "do it yourself" route and really screwed up my prior rims (way too much tension, cracked eyelits, etc.). I want to get really good at truing so I have watched a dozen you tube videos on the subect but still have some comments/questions:

    1) I know you are supposed to tighten in small increments (1/4 turn preferred...half turn max) but what if the spoke is REALLY loose? Is it still just a matter of tightening the loose spoke a half turn then loosening the surrounding spokes to ease it back in?
    2) I've ben told on rear wheels that the chain side needs somewhat more or less tension. Is that true and if so how much and why?
    3) When do you decide to completely re-tension your wheels and how best do you do that?
    4) When and how do you use a tension meter?
    5) I carry my laptop on the chain side pannier. Is that the right call or does that even matter as far as where the load gets placed?
    6) It appears from the videos that you loosen spokes by turning clockwise, and tighten counter clockwise...this has kind of thrown me off a little since I always thought "righty tighty, lefty loosey." Guess I need to retrain the brain.

    Sorry...lots of questions and the videos I have watched only tell part of the story. I continue to use my LBS for most repairs...but given my frequent need for wheel truing I have to get this down because this is becomming a hassle for me and them as well. Thanks.
    "Knowledge is Good" - Emile Faber

  2. #2
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    Senior Member AEO's Avatar
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    1, 4: If you can get your hands on a tensionmeter, that would aid you a lot. It's very simple to use as if you read the instructions it comes with.
    4a: Use the tensionmeter as a guide to get your spokes into a good tension range of about 100~115kg/f (depending on rim) and make sure the spokes are all within 15% of that range. For a dished rear wheel, get the drive side to desired tension and have the non-drive side spoke tension high enough that the rim is roughly centered in the frame.

    2: Usually the non-drive side spoke tension is about 65~75% of the drive side.
    3: only when you've completely lost track of what you're doing, since starting off from scratch is unnecessary once the wheel is properly built.

    6: the nipples are nuts and the spokes are screws. They have the same thread direction as normal screws, BUT you're looking at them from the back side so they have to be spun in reverse in order to get the desired tightening/loosening.


    since a trek portland is a disc brake equipped bike, I'd only worry about getting the tension even on the spokes. Not very important to have the rim perfectly straight or round when compared to even tension.
    Food for thought: if you aren't dead by 2050, you and your entire family will be within a few years from starvation. Now that is a cruel gift to leave for your offspring. ;)
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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by BayBruin View Post
    1) I know you are supposed to tighten in small increments .. but what if the spoke is REALLY loose?
    In a perfect world, that shouldn't happen. IRL you get that either b/c the rim has taken lasting damage while being ridden, or b/c some manufacturing defect. If it's close by the joint its usually the latter.

    Quote Originally Posted by BayBruin View Post
    Is it still just a matter of tightening the loose spoke a half turn then loosening the surrounding spokes to ease it back in?
    w/o a tensiometer this is a hopeless question. Language alone just won't cut it when trying to describe how loose the loose one is, and how tight the other ones are. When you have a rim that's been marked by reality in one way or another you pretty much always end up with a compromise between trueness and balanced spoke tension. I'd give priority to tension, as long as ride characteristics, frame clearance and braking isn't affected.

    Quote Originally Posted by BayBruin View Post
    2) I've ben told on rear wheels that the chain side needs somewhat more or less tension. Is that true and if so how much and why?
    True, rears need more tension on the drive side. How much depends on the specific components used, AEO gave some ballpark values. Why? because rear hubs with external gears aren't symmetrical. Drive side flange is closer to axle middle than NDS.
    Quote Originally Posted by BayBruin View Post
    3) When do you decide to completely re-tension your wheels ...
    When there's no other way to straigthen out the mess of varying spoke tensions, maybe a bit of radial hop as well, and when you have a wheel that just seems to go more out of true the harder you try.

    Quote Originally Posted by BayBruin View Post
    3) .. and how best do you do that?
    Slacken each spoke in maybe 1 turn increments until all spokes go loose, preferably this would also coincide with having equal amounts of threads showing for each side of the wheel. If you haven't, that's your first equalizing task right there.

    Quote Originally Posted by BayBruin View Post
    4) When and how do you use a tension meter?
    a) whenever you want to discuss your wheels with a better degree of accuracy than "kinda tight/ sort of loose"
    b) I use mine a lot. Without it I find it very hard to determine if a spoke is 5 or 20% off its neighbor in tension.

    Quote Originally Posted by BayBruin View Post
    5) I carry my laptop on the chain side pannier. Is that the right call or does that even matter as far as where the load gets placed?
    As long as the bike is upright when ridden it doesn't matter which side you hang your pannier. If you only use one pannier, haing it opposite the side where you usually walk/mount the bike.

    Quote Originally Posted by BayBruin View Post
    6) It appears from the videos that you loosen spokes by turning clockwise, and tighten counter clockwise...this has kind of thrown me off a little since I always thought "righty tighty, lefty loosey."
    AEO covered that. I "always" work facing the rim strip, which handles that issue.

  4. #4
    Senior Member BayBruin's Avatar
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    Very helpful answers. Thanks much. BTW- a friend of mine said that different wheels require different spoke tension ranges. True?

    My wheels:

    Rear - Velocity Dyad 36 spoke count
    Front- Salsa Delgado Cross 36 cnt

    Not that you guys would have a lot of experience with this because guys my size don't usually commute so much with as much gear....but is it unreasonable that my rear wheel gets out of true within 3-4 commutes? I figure the load on the bike between rider, rack, dual paniers, laptop, clothes/gear, full water bottle, lights etc. etc. is probably 350 pounds.

    And when I mentioned above that sometimes the spokes get loose....I'm talking really loose...like I'm surprised it's not detached. Takes several turns to get the tension (through plucking) to even come close to the surrounding spokes. This doesn't happen often but sometimes.

    Thanks again.
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  5. #5
    In beaurocratic limbo urbanknight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BayBruin View Post
    Very helpful answers. Thanks much. BTW- a friend of mine said that different wheels require different spoke tension ranges. True?
    True. It's usually what the manufacturer recommends for the rim, but Park Tools also has a general range and a rule of thumb I go by if I can't find manufacturer specs is 100-110 kgf for non-eyeleted rims and 100-120 kgf for eyeleted rims, with the non-drive side being about 60-100% of that depending on dish.
    "Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want... Sooner or later, these kids aren't going to have anything to read or write about." (Richard Dreyfus as Glenn Holland)

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    You need at least 36 double butted spokes on the rear. The drive side should see at least 100 to 110k of tension. The left side will be at about 60% of the right.

  7. #7
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    This should not be happening at all. Your wheels were not properly tensioned and/or stress relieved when they were built. Did you build them yourself? If so - live and learn - get a tensiometer and retension them properly.
    Did you have a professional build them? If so, shame on him/her. Take the wheels back and and ask how much tension the spokes were brought to during the build... I'll guess they say "as tight as we put every wheel we build - tight enough but not too tight!" (this is not an acceptable response, imho)

    Becauser you are a bigger guy, your spokes need to be a little tighter than the average joe. I do not know what sort of tightness this equates to in kgf, but others here do. Listen to them, and you should probably learn to build your own wheels, or call around and see if anyone else in your town has a more experienced wheel builder.

    FWIW, I am 270 lbs and my 32 spoke wheels hold up fine for my 14km loaded commute on a dirt road - because I laced them myself and put the spokes goddamn tight!

  8. #8
    Senior Member BayBruin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LarDasse74 View Post
    This should not be happening at all. Your wheels were not properly tensioned and/or stress relieved when they were built. Did you build them yourself? If so - live and learn - get a tensiometer and retension them properly.
    Did you have a professional build them? If so, shame on him/her. Take the wheels back and and ask how much tension the spokes were brought to during the build... I'll guess they say "as tight as we put every wheel we build - tight enough but not too tight!" (this is not an acceptable response, imho)

    Becauser you are a bigger guy, your spokes need to be a little tighter than the average joe. I do not know what sort of tightness this equates to in kgf, but others here do. Listen to them, and you should probably learn to build your own wheels, or call around and see if anyone else in your town has a more experienced wheel builder.

    FWIW, I am 270 lbs and my 32 spoke wheels hold up fine for my 14km loaded commute on a dirt road - because I laced them myself and put the spokes goddamn tight!
    Great advice. The wheels were "professionally" built by my LBS. They get a lot of turn over but the guy who built these is their lead mechanic who has been there for years. I'll take the wheel back there tomorrow and see what they say. Thanks.
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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
    True. It's usually what the manufacturer recommends for the rim, but Park Tools also has a general range and a rule of thumb I go by if I can't find manufacturer specs is 100-110 kgf for non-eyeleted rims and 100-120 kgf for eyeleted rims, with the non-drive side being about 60-100% of that depending on dish.
    As an addendum - the left side tension is whatever it is once the wheel is in dish and the drive side is up to 'spec'. As long as it's even and the drive is up to spec then it's fine.
    Mes compaingnons cui j'amoie et cui j'aim,... Me di, chanson.

  10. #10
    Bicycle Repair Man !!! Sixty Fiver's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by davidad View Post
    You need at least 36 double butted spokes on the rear.
    Not true.

    A wheel is the sum of it's parts and the quality of the build... some rims are so strong that a lower spoke count can be used and you will have a wheel that is just as strong or stronger than a more highly spoked wheel with a lesser rim.

    I build mtb wheels for some big dudes... we're talking about 240 pound guys doing 6 and ten foot drops.

    32 spoke rear wheels serve them just fine when the parts are properly selected.

    Same thing applies to road and touring wheels... a stronger rim can use less spokes which can also be straight gauge and not cause any issues.

    I'm a lightweight but I build my own wheels so that a 240 pound person could borrow my bike if they had to and I would not worry about those wheels a single bit... some have 32 spokes and some have 36 and a few have 40.

  11. #11
    Banned. Mr. Beanz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BayBruin View Post
    Great advice. The wheels were "professionally" built by my LBS. They get a lot of turn over but the guy who built these is their lead mechanic who has been there for years. I'll take the wheel back there tomorrow and see what they say. Thanks.
    I started building my own wheels, why? The professional builder at the professional road race shop built a Velocity Deep V 32 hole wheel that didn't survive the first 40 mile ride under my 240 lb body.

    The first wheel I built lasted over 20,000 miles with one minor truing after 200 miles (initial tension readjustment) and one small adjustment at 13,000 miles!

    I'm sure some of the others will agree, a lead mechanic does not a competent wheel builder make!

    Seems to me that if you've had to make several trips to the shop for retruing and retensioning, somebody doesn't know what they're doing! I'd find another wheel guy!

  12. #12
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    I agree that the guy who built your wheel isn't doing the job right. He might not be bringing the wheel up to adequate tension. Or he might have let you out the door without noticing your tires are too light or soft. What tires are you riding, and what pressure do you maintain?
    You don't read my signature anyway, do you?

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  13. #13
    Type 1 Racer rydaddy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sixty Fiver View Post
    Not true.

    A wheel is the sum of it's parts and the quality of the build... some rims are so strong that a lower spoke count can be used and you will have a wheel that is just as strong or stronger than a more highly spoked wheel with a lesser rim.
    +1 - Spoke count is only part of the equation.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Beanz View Post
    I'm sure some of the others will agree, a lead mechanic does not a competent wheel builder make!
    +1 - It's what got me into wheel building.

  14. #14
    In beaurocratic limbo urbanknight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Beanz View Post
    I'm sure some of the others will agree, a lead mechanic does not a competent wheel builder make!

    Seems to me that if you've had to make several trips to the shop for retruing and retensioning, somebody doesn't know what they're doing! I'd find another wheel guy!
    Agreed, or the wheel has been damaged to the point that it can not be serviced properly (i.e. bent rim). Then again, that goes back to a competent wheel guy telling you so. I recently replaced a spoke for a heavy rider who was getting his wheels trued or spokes replaced at the shop every 2 weeks. Upon inspection, I realized that they had used different brand and thickness of spokes, different length nipples, and different length spokes. There was one hop in the wheel that was almost 1/4" deviation and it left the spokes with no tension in that area, even if the nipples were out of threads. I informed him that the wheel was not serviceable anymore and recommend a new wheel or at least a new rim and spokes.
    "Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want... Sooner or later, these kids aren't going to have anything to read or write about." (Richard Dreyfus as Glenn Holland)

  15. #15
    bike whisperer Kimmo's Avatar
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    The reason some of your spokes get so loose is because they were too loose in the first place.

    If for whatever reason you still can't make your rear wheel durable despite it being built properly (unlikely, but possible if you're quite heavy), it can be made dramatically stronger by reducing the dish. If it has a 130mm spacing you may be able to push it to 135 by spreading the dropouts (my old Giant CFR1 was apparently actually made to take a 135mm spindle, which was nice - makes me wonder why road bikes don't adopt yet another MTB standard), or by installing a shorter cassette body and losing a cog or two.

    You should never again be confused about which way to turn a nut or bolt unless you don't know whether it's a right or left-handed thread, once you've seen this:



    Given the familiarity people tend to have with their hands, you shouldn't even need to actually point your thumb and curl your fingers; just do it in your head. Use your left hand for left-handed threads.

  16. #16
    Senior Member BayBruin's Avatar
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    Some of you are from other parts of the country so this reference may not make sense.....but this place is like ARCO...."Too much good stuff!" Mr. Beanz....I need your shipping address please. One minor true up in 200 miles and rims lasting well over 20K??? I would LOVE That. I ride my bike like it's made out of crystal. I try really hard to avoid every bump, pothole, twig, squirrel (unless it pisses me off), etc. by moving out of the way and if it can't be avoided getting off the saddle. I jump over sidewalk inlets....all in the name of extending the life of my wheels. But no matter how much care I take my back wheel just starts getting untrue. Just checked my bike again to see where the problem spoke is and it's really pretty loose. A buddy of mine is coming over tomorrow to help me true it as best we can and to help me practice this stuff. I'd really love a clinic on wheel truing, building, maintenance....I had one of my LBS guys come over to my house for a BBQ a couple summers ago when a bunch of folks from work really started to get into cycling (and bike commuting). They covered some general topics: Bike maintenance, flat repair, brake adjustment, etc. etc. It was a nice gig for them....good eats...drinks....and I got about 15 people to pony up $20+ a head for the guy. He didn't go over wheel truing in depth...just some very basic stuff about "minor adjustments"..."don't over tighten." I was going to host another one of those just for wheel truing but it sounds like I don't have guys who would be worth the price of admission here.

    I know back wheels take the brunt of the business but my front wheel has been rock SOLID. Hasn't needed any truing in probably over 600-800 miles.
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  17. #17
    Banned. Mr. Beanz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BayBruin View Post
    Mr. Beanz....I need your shipping address please. One minor true up in 200 miles and rims lasting well over 20K???
    Haha! You don't need me, yo uneed a good builder. Seriously as mentioned. Once you have more than a problem or two, the pro mechanic should realize that something isn't right. Before I built my first wheel, I knew enough to know that something was wrong if I had to visit the shop more than once...now you know!

    Too many shop dudes think they know about wheels but none will ever retension at the FREE TUNEUP. Either they try to fool you with the "your wheel is straight, it's good now" comment or they flat out don''t know. Might even be scared to try and hope you don't know better!

    In the Bay area, you should have a good selection of shops, look for one with a proven builder or hook up with one of these guys. Urbanknight or psimet!

  18. #18
    bike whisperer Kimmo's Avatar
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    Here's a thought: once you get your rim true, you could try cranking your drive side spokes up 1/2 a turn, and your NDS spokes about 3/8 a turn, or whatever preserves your dish (you can double-check this by putting the wheel in backwards).

  19. #19
    In beaurocratic limbo urbanknight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BayBruin View Post
    I'd really love a clinic on wheel truing, building, maintenance....
    We actually had a wheel building/truing clinic at a forum member's house last month. Only five of us showed up, but it was fun for all.
    "Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want... Sooner or later, these kids aren't going to have anything to read or write about." (Richard Dreyfus as Glenn Holland)

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    Quote Originally Posted by BayBruin View Post
    Great advice. The wheels were "professionally" built by my LBS.
    For a shop mechanic there's little extra payoff connected to building the best wheels, good enough and as fast as possible is where the money is.

    An average looking wheel used for average(That's real-life average = low mileage, not BF average...) riding by an average guy has a whopping huge safety margin in its design. For such a rider you can get away with a lot of things w/o having any issues with the wheel. Poor tension, broken spoke, manually straightened rim etc - not a problem. What this means is that it's easy to lull a wheel builder into a false sense of skill, as he's simply not seeing enough failures to get him to question his build and hone his skills.

    Then someone like you comes along, and things begin to go wrong. There are plenty of tricks that can be used to build a stronger-than-average wheel, but you need to ask for it, and the builder needs to be skilled enough to deliver.

  21. #21
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    Kimmo, great picture demonstrating the right-hand-rule! Works for electromagnetism as well as spoke-tension!!!

    On the OP's problem, custom-built wheels aren't a very good profit-area for shop and they tend to not devote sufficient time to do high-quality builds. Unfortunately, a lot of folks, including shop personnel, think that "customizing" a wheel, as in choosing just the hub, spokes and rims that you want, is somehow "better" than stock. But, it's really the build-process and even spoke-tensioning towards the high-end that will generate the quality. Most shops will gladly sell you the parts, but skimp on the labour.

    Unfortunately, in this case, it's may be too little, and perhaps even too late. If your wheels have been re-trued numerous times, the nipple-threads may be worn to the point where they will tend to loosen gradually, even IF brought up to proper tension. If your spokes are loosening regularly to the point where you have to spin the nipples several turns to build up tension, there's a major problem here. Perhaps, the only solution might be to rebuild with new nipples and get it up to the high-end of the tension-range the 1st time.

    Reducing dish as much as possible will give you the strongest wheel possible due to evening out the left-right tension-imbalance:

    1. use 135mm OLD spacing on the rear, the bike should already have rear-end at that spacing

    2. optimize hub for 135mm OLD. Depending upon the rear-hub you choose, it may have come with 130mm spacing for a road-hub. In which case, the quick & dirty way to adapt it to 135mm spacing is to put 2.5mm spacers on each end of the axle. This does NOTHING to take advantage of the wider spacing (by reducing dish). In order to do it right, one places the extra 5mm all on the left non-drive side. I go an extra step and move an additional 1-3mm of washers to the left to place the smallest cog only 4mm away from the dropout surface. This reduces dish as much as possible and makes for a stronger wheel by minimzing left-right side spoke-tensions.

    3. use laterally-stiff rims. For the same weight, box-section rims are stronger laterally than aero rims. They tend to keep spoke-tensions even all around better by resisting lateral bending and staying true longer.

    4. use larger tyres at lower-pressures. For your 350lb load, I'd recommend at least 28mm tyres, 32-35mm would be best at 85-90psi. The lower pressure absorbs more road-shock with better damping, thus reducing peak-G forces on the wheel when hitting any kind of road irregularity.
    Last edited by DannoXYZ; 02-23-10 at 04:35 AM.

  22. #22
    Senior Member BayBruin's Avatar
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    I have 700x 32mm tires now. I run them at around 110 PSI. I was told the firmer the better and it even helps reduce the number of flats. The tires are rated for 110 max psi. (Bontrager Race Lites hard case). I am concerned as well with what Danno said about the threads becoming worn. Bottomline is that I have to find an expert wheel guy and let him do his thing. Looks like I am a day late and a dollar short on the wheel truing/maintenance class. Man...that would have been great. Oh well....next time. But...hmmm....then again....I have a group of friends who are really into biking but not mechanics by any stretch. I know they would be interested in coming. I can host and provide the vittles/refreshments. Any really knoweldegable wheel guy on here in the SF bay area want to do one of those again in the next month or so? I could pull in probably another 6-10 folks on my own who would be interested.
    "Knowledge is Good" - Emile Faber

  23. #23
    Bicycle Repair Man !!! Sixty Fiver's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BayBruin View Post
    I know back wheels take the brunt of the business but my front wheel has been rock SOLID. Hasn't needed any truing in probably over 600-800 miles.
    Front wheels are 0 dish and are not subjected to drive forces and should last until their rims wear out... if they were built right.

    The front wheel on this bike came stock on a 1979 Raleigh Super Grand Prix and is a Normandy high flange hub laced 36/3 to a single walled Weinmann rim with 1.4 mm butted spokes... it is a really lightweight vintage wheel.

    It has more than 10,000 km / 6000 miles on it (these are my miles) and has never needed to see a spoke wrench since the day I tuned it up and the rim is still in excellent shape because most of it's life it has been mounted to my fixed gear road bike (less braking wear) and has only seen nicer weather and very little rain.

    It's bearings are still as smooth as silk too.


  24. #24
    bike whisperer Kimmo's Avatar
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    copy/paste links: http://velospace.org/node/36949 http://velospace.org/node/47746 http://velospace.org/node/47747
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    Quote Originally Posted by DannoXYZ View Post
    Kimmo, great picture demonstrating the right-hand-rule! Works for electromagnetism as well as spoke-tension!!!
    I think that's actually what it was for... every other pic I was able to google up was labelled with current, etc...

    BTW, ever notice how left-hand threads appear steeper? Funny things, brains...

    use laterally-stiff rims. For the same weight, box-section rims are stronger laterally than aero rims.
    Oh yeah, another way to strengthen the wheel by using a certain sort of rim occurs to me - use an OCR to reduce dish. Prolly more effective... although a box-section rim on the rear would also improve comfort a bit over an aero one...

  25. #25
    Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by DannoXYZ View Post
    4. use larger tyres at lower-pressures. For your 350lb load, I'd recommend at least 28mm tyres, 32-35mm would be best at 85-90psi. The lower pressure absorbs more road-shock with better damping, thus reducing peak-G forces on the wheel when hitting any kind of road irregularity.
    Actually larger higher pressure tires are better for weight bearing.

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