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Wheel building: Is it worth it to learn?

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Wheel building: Is it worth it to learn?

Old 09-26-07, 07:51 AM
  #1  
Bob Loblaw
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Wheel building: Is it worth it to learn?

Hi everyone-
I'm looking into buying a new wheelset for my MTB. I understand the benefits of buying hand built wheels, and typically try to only buy such wheels.

I'm wondering- compared to buying complete hand-built wheelsets at online retailers, is there much money to save by building them myself? I typically don't buy the super-duper expensive wheelset, but rather middle-of-the-road reputable wheels.

While I consider myself above average in terms of mechanical aptitude, for whatever reason, wheels have always intimidated me. I've never really taken the time to learn how to build them on my own, and I'm wondering if it's time. Aside from the satisfaction of doing it yourself, what are the other benefits? What tools would I need to get going? Is this an art that takes years to understand/perfect?

Thanks-
Bob
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Old 09-26-07, 08:05 AM
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There is NO money to be saved in building your own wheels; you can generally get pre-builts cheaper if you shop around. Rolling your own, however, is great for the 1) pure zen and satisfaction of doing it, 2) if you want something unique you can't buy (e.g. green rims w/gold nipples). You will lose 1) time, 2) money, and 3) the person to blame when your wheels break.
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Old 09-26-07, 08:12 AM
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don't think you'll save much, if any money if you're just going to build one set of wheels. But longterm, with maintaining multiple wheelsets, and building bikes for fun, you might save some money.

At the bare minimum, the tools you'll to build a wheelset are: a properly sized spoke wrench (sized to your spoke nipples) and a trueing stand, and some lightweight oil or spoke prep (I Know, not a tool). It would also be nice to have a nipple driver for starting the nipples to the point where there's some real tension. Some guys like dishing tools and tension meters, but I've never used either and my wheels last a loong time unless I bash them with my polo mallet. I guess if you have a self centering stand, then you probably won't need the dishing tool, but if you don't have a self centering stand, then you'll probably want the dishing tool.
It doesn't take long to get the basics, but so long as you keep doing it, you'll learn something from each new project.

have fun
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Old 09-26-07, 08:14 AM
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Thanks for the reply!
I did some shopping for tools, and it looks like it's going to cost bookoo bucks to tool up with a proper stand, tension guages, etc... I am tempted to zone out in wheel building zen, but I've got so many other hobbies/things to work on/things to spend money on that I'm not sure if I can justify it based on your thoughts... Hmmm... Logical not to, but I'm so tempted to just do everything myself.

Originally Posted by jprestley@comca View Post
There is NO money to be saved in building your own wheels; you can generally get pre-builts cheaper if you shop around. Rolling your own, however, is great for the 1) pure zen and satisfaction of doing it, 2) if you want something unique you can't buy (e.g. green rims w/gold nipples). You will lose 1) time, 2) money, and 3) the person to blame when your wheels break.
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Old 09-26-07, 08:23 AM
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Originally Posted by jprestley@comca View Post
There is NO money to be saved in building your own wheels; you can generally get pre-builts cheaper if you shop around. Rolling your own, however, is great for the 1) pure zen and satisfaction of doing it, 2) if you want something unique you can't buy (e.g. green rims w/gold nipples). You will lose 1) time, 2) money, and 3) the person to blame when your wheels break.
w3rd. However, getting exactly what you want is very much worth it.

However, what i've settled on is doing everything except the final truing/tensioning. I'll collect the parts, assemble the wheel, get everything mostly tight and true, then just bring it to the LBS and have them do the final tensioning and truing for an extra $10-15.
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Old 09-26-07, 09:03 AM
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Originally Posted by jprestley@comca View Post
There is NO money to be saved in building your own wheels; you can generally get pre-builts cheaper if you shop around. Rolling your own, however, is great for the 1) pure zen and satisfaction of doing it, 2) if you want something unique you can't buy (e.g. green rims w/gold nipples). You will lose 1) time, 2) money, and 3) the person to blame when your wheels break.
Agree 100%, especially regarding no. 3!

But its still good to know how to tension and true wheels since I have yet to get a machine made (rear) wheel that had the proper tension.

My suggestion is to get a get a machine made wheel, because it will be much cheaper than buying the parts and building it, then loosen all the spokes and learn how to tension and true from scratch. You will be doing the entire wheel building process except for lacing the spokes.
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Old 09-26-07, 09:03 AM
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If you are the tinkering type you have to build your own. Fun and interesting, isn't that what this whole cycling thing is all about?
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Old 09-26-07, 09:18 AM
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I come down in the same camp as Psydotek -- lace the wheels yourself, and have the LBS do the final true/dish/round/tension. I have likewise found that the shops will charge about $10-15 to finish them if you pre-build them, as opposed to a labor charge of $30-45 to build from scratch.
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Old 09-26-07, 09:48 AM
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Yes, most of the wheels I've seen lately are machine built and have the spoke tension of a wet noodle.
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Old 09-26-07, 10:21 AM
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It's a skill not many possess and no one can take away from you, like chair caning.
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Old 09-26-07, 10:28 AM
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Originally Posted by ginsoakedboy View Post
I come down in the same camp as Psydotek -- lace the wheels yourself, and have the LBS do the final true/dish/round/tension. I have likewise found that the shops will charge about $10-15 to finish them if you pre-build them, as opposed to a labor charge of $30-45 to build from scratch.
Exactly. I really did make an honest attempt at doing it myself with just a spoke wrench and my bike turned upside down, but after about 4 or 5 hours of trial and error (well, mostly error) i said 'eff it and went to the LBS. Assembling everything only took me about 30 minutes though.

[i got the wheel laterally trued no problem, but i just couldn't get it round and had no idea what to do for the tension...]
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Old 09-26-07, 10:44 AM
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Learning a new skill is always a good thing. you don't need a tensionmeter by the way, or the top of the line park truing stand. A good book would be a great place to start though (or search the net for tips).

good luck and have fun.
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Old 09-26-07, 10:56 AM
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In case you haven't visited this site yet for additional information on building your own:

https://sheldonbrown.com/wheelbuild.html

Personally I have decided that because of time constraints, I will not build my own wheels. But I did invest in a sub $100 truing stand and spoke wrench that paid for itself in less than 1 year between only 2 bikes. I decided to buy prebuilt wheels and keep them running with my tools instead of the LBS getting money to tune periodically. Based on my experience, that was the best way for me to save money on wheels. Good luck.
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Old 09-26-07, 11:18 AM
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I don't agree with all the posters who say that it isn't worth it. I built myself a set of Record/Super champion with DT spokes for 170 bucks. I know that they are built right because I did it myself. The price was less than the cost of a comparable set on ebay, and I get the satisfaction of knowing that I made them.
At the very least, even if you only ever build one set of wheels you will know that A)you can do it, and B)you can fix one if it breaks.
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Old 09-26-07, 08:43 PM
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Way back a long time ago, I was working part time in a bike shop. The owner gave me some tubular rims, spokes, Shimano 600 hubs and The Bicycle Wheel, by Jobst Brandt. I've built just about all the wheels I've ridden since. I'm maintaining my fleet of bikes so it good to have the skills.

I save money by cruising Ebay for older NOS high end hubs and rims.

Its fun. I like building wheels
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Old 09-26-07, 09:03 PM
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Building wheels is one of the most satisfying things I have ever done and I absolutely love it. Gotta love it because it isn't a money saver if you value your time- I value my time by how much I enjoy it. But knowing how to do it CAN save you money and time as far as tuning wheels goes. Shop charges will add up.

For the past 12 years or so I've built the majority of the wheels my son and myself have used, which included those for race purposes. I have NEVER had a failure or an issue with the wheels I have built and I have 100% confidence in them.

The only wheels I have not built were Kysriums with a new road bike, and an XTR/Mavic 717 set that was too good a deal to pass up.
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Old 09-26-07, 09:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Psydotek View Post
However, what i've settled on is doing everything except the final truing/tensioning. I'll collect the parts, assemble the wheel, get everything mostly tight and true, then just bring it to the LBS and have them do the final tensioning and truing for an extra $10-15.
It seems to me you've reached the worst of all compromises. You spend more money for your components than if you bought a prebuilt wheel then pay even more to have someone else do the most satisfying and important part of the building process.
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Old 09-26-07, 09:24 PM
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Originally Posted by HillRider View Post
It seems to me you've reached the worst of all compromises. You spend more money for your components than if you bought a prebuilt wheel then pay even more to have someone else do the most satisfying and important part of the building process.
Haha.

Originally Posted by Quijibo187 View Post
you don't need a tensionmeter by the way, .
Yeah, who wants properly built wheels anyways.
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Old 09-26-07, 09:41 PM
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"Yeah, who wants properly built wheels anyways."

A tensionmeter is not essential to building good wheels. I have built many myself without an issue or failure. The mechanics I know do not use them either because they have learned proper tension by FEEL. Before tension meters were so popular and available (Wheelsmith and then Park) the majority of wheelbuilders learned to feel for the right tension.

What a tensionmeter IS good for is to learn what proper tension feels like.
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Old 09-26-07, 11:32 PM
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Originally Posted by kenhill3 View Post
"Yeah, who wants properly built wheels anyways."

A tensionmeter is not essential to building good wheels. I have built many myself without an issue or failure. The mechanics I know do not use them either because they have learned proper tension by FEEL. Before tension meters were so popular and available (Wheelsmith and then Park) the majority of wheelbuilders learned to feel for the right tension.

What a tensionmeter IS good for is to learn what proper tension feels like.

So a tensiometer is not necessary if you already know what the tension is supposed to feel like? I went back to the last wheel I built prior buying a tensiometer, and even though it was true/round, I had variation in my spoke tension by as much as 20kg-f.

Indeed neither of the mechs at my shop use a tensiometer, but they both went to Barnetts. So I guess that's an alternative option.

When I decided to finally buy one, It was after building my first wheel and taking it an LBS for final truing, but as much as I admired the mech/owners skills (Perfect Wheels in Seattle. Semi aero rim, 18 hole, lasted 1500 miles of Seattle pot-holes without need for a touch up.) it made me want to be able to do that as well. I can't imagine he still uses a tensiometer, but I'm sure he used to.

Oh and if you decide you don't want it anymore, sell it on Ebay. Don't know about other brands, but my Wheelsmith will easily resell for $90+ ( I paid $105 w/ shipping for NOS.)
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Old 09-27-07, 05:02 AM
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Stress relieve after every pass as you approach final tension. When the wheel goes out of true more then just a little bit, back off the spokes 1/2 a turn.

I got this out of Jobst's book. It works for me. I've never used a Tensiononathingy.
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Old 09-27-07, 05:21 AM
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I bought a Park TM-1 the other day, I already think it's one of the most useful tools I've ever owned. Got it for $48 with the 20% coupon Nashbar was offering. I thought I knew how to tension wheels by feel, musical pitch, etc., and it is true that I could usually get it pretty close. But it sure is nice to be able to put an actual number on it, and "pretty close" is just that. For me, it makes sense. I'd bet most of the folks who've used them have the same reaction that I did, which was, "wow, that's cool."
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Old 09-27-07, 05:48 AM
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Originally Posted by jprestley@comca View Post
There is NO money to be saved in building your own wheels; you can generally get pre-builts cheaper if you shop around. Rolling your own, however, is great for the 1) pure zen and satisfaction of doing it, 2) if you want something unique you can't buy (e.g. green rims w/gold nipples). You will lose 1) time, 2) money, and 3) the person to blame when your wheels break.
+1 to this. The experience in craftsmanship, pride, and quality are extremely rewarding. It's kind of like my other hobby, woodworking. Why would I buy a wooden armoire for $300 when I can build it for $1000, in just 6 months? The answer is that mine will be around in some antique shop in 200 years, where people can appreciate it.
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Old 09-27-07, 05:57 AM
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I built a set of wheels for my mountain bike 15 years ago.

It was a rewarding experience, and they're the toughest wheels I've ever ridden on.

I used jobst brandt's book as a guide.

The only part I might farm out on a build is the dish/tensioning of the drive-side spokes. I had a more than a few go's at that, and a busted spoke or two, before I got it dialed in right.

The front wheel was a piece of cake, though.

I'm thinking of dusting off my brandt book and tools, and building a set of wheels for my road bike this winter.
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Old 09-27-07, 06:13 AM
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I certainly recommend learning to build wheels once, especially if you go anywhere that might require you to either fix the wheel or risk a long walk. Yes you can fumble around with a spoke wrench in the field, but it's a lot easier if you've built a wheel sitting in the comfort of your home.

I first learned with with Jobst's book and my wheels have not given my any problems. Start with a non-dished wheel which is much easier, then try the dished. When I first did this, I used only a spoke wrench and the frame of my bike as the guide. I also had friends who had done it before to ask for advice who could come over and look at the wheel.

If you're looking to save money, then the earlier advice to buy a machine built wheel and tension it yourself is the best.
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