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How hard is it to build a wheel

Old 04-27-12, 11:04 PM
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How hard is it to build a wheel

I'm considering building a wheel. I've never done it before nor have I ever trued a wheel. Though I have access to a truing stand and people who are good at truing wheels. I'm somewhat mechanically inclined.

Is this a terrible idea? Will I hurt myself? Or better yet, are these the worst questions ever?

I've got hubs but no rims or spokes, hence why I'd like to build a set.
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Old 04-27-12, 11:12 PM
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That's an impossible question to answer. Cruise this site and you'll find several people who've built wheels from scratch only using online tutorials and the occasional book - so it's obviously quite doable.
OTOH we don't know how many there are who have dumped a pretzel-looking thingy at the back of the garage, cussing loudly.
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Old 04-27-12, 11:14 PM
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It just takes practice, you can find guides on Sheldon Brown's site, and Jobst Brant book, for spoke lengths, have found this to be good https://lenni.info/edd/

It's great to be able to build you own wheels, but don't think that it will be cheaper than buying pre-built ones, as these are normally cheaper for the same specs.
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Old 04-28-12, 02:33 AM
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Not a terrible idea at all and yes, if not done correctly you can indeed hurt yourself. Having said that, if you're mechanically inclined and patient go ahead and give it a try. Assuming you can follow instructions the individual steps are simple to the point of tedium, it's all about being careful and taking it slow.

Also, I'd advise that assuming you do get one built that you take it to an experienced builder and have them check your work. It might cost you a few bucks but will give you some assurance that the wheel is safe.

Assuming you've got the hubs and they're serviceable you can save a few bucks by building your own since all you need are rims and spokes.
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Old 04-28-12, 05:53 AM
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If I can do it, anyone can. I followed Sheldon Brown's page for instructions and a reference to Spocalc to help with the math. Do good preparation so you get the right parts and good-enough tools. I learned a lot on my first wheel.

The set turned out fine and I've ridden them for a lot of miles with no problems. 'Feels great to ride on wheels you built.

Good luck!
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Old 04-28-12, 06:12 AM
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The hardest part is determining the spoke length. Then contrary to many posters, I won't build a wheel without a tensionmeter.
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Old 04-28-12, 06:12 AM
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My suggestion is get an old cheap/free wheel and take it apart. Then see you can see if make it back into a wheel again. Garage sale, garbage pickup days, behind the local bike shop are all good places to look for one. This will give you an idea of what is involved and the time it takes to do it. Roger
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Old 04-28-12, 09:40 AM
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If you decide to give it a go, be sure to get a good-quality spoke wrench which fits well on your chosen nipples, like the Park ones which grip all 4 corners. Those round multi-sized things that are sold are only good for rounding off the nipple flats. I'd also suggest using brass (NOT aluminum/alloy) nipples.
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Old 04-28-12, 11:07 AM
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Building a wheel is easy...

The kind of person you are focus-wise and the lacing method used the first few wheels is what matters:

If you like to do short 15 minute small tasks - most likely you are a general mechanic.

If you like to do long term tasks that require an hour or more of dedicated focus - most likely you are in the alley to be a wheel builder.


Most general mechanics I know can build wheels - but usually a small number and typically only when they have to.


Most wheel builders I know can do general mechanics like myself - however if they are on the skinny non-buffed side like myself - they don't do it on a regular basis. Reason basically is that switching from wheel building to changing a tire and tube or poppiing a bottom bracket loose runs the risk of getting hurt. Going from a repetitive action you do on a regular basis and then suddenly doing something new is when folks tend to pull or strain a muscle.


It has happened to me at least twice - result each time was that about a dozen wheels didn't get built over a 3-4 day period.


As to lacing method - I teach folks single-side at a time lacing first - easiest and least intimidating method there is. But it's also inflexible. So eventually I transition them to the traditional method that is the most flexible.

=8-)
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Old 04-28-12, 11:41 AM
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Originally Posted by rhnam
I'm considering building a wheel. I've never done it before nor have I ever trued a wheel.

Is this a terrible idea? Will I hurt myself? Or better yet, are these the worst questions ever?

I've got hubs but no rims or spokes, hence why I'd like to build a set.
How hard is it to bake a cake? It's easy if you know how, yet most people can't, and wouldn't even know where to start.

Likewise with building a wheel. There are lots of tutorials which will take you through it step by step, and if you follow them you'll end up with a decently workable wheel. But just as you wouldn't try a 3-tier wedding cake for your first effort, you shouldn't invest real dough in rims and spokes for your first wheel.

Do some basic aligning and get familiar with the basics before jumping in with a wheel build. Then buy a cheap (basically trashed) wheel from a friend, or a used clunker at a sidewalk sale to keep as a learner bike. Loosen all the spokes, then proceed with the second phase of the tutorials (tightening & aligning). When you're fairly OK with that, take the whole wheel apart, down to the spokes still in the hub, and lace it back up, then tighten and align.

Do that once or twice, and you're ready to work on the real thing.

Note that most new rims are easier to tension and align because they're already round and flat, so your work on junk will have you ahead of the game.
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Old 04-28-12, 06:25 PM
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Give it a try. The worst that could happen is that you take the unfinished wheel and related bits to a shop for completion. Patience and a systematic approach is all it takes to lace one up. Truing is a bit of an art that takes much practice.

-G
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Old 04-28-12, 11:40 PM
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Originally Posted by rhnam
I'm considering building a wheel. I've never done it before nor have I ever trued a wheel. Though I have access to a truing stand and people who are good at truing wheels. I'm somewhat mechanically inclined.
It's so easy that school children can do it (Jobst Brandt tested _The Bicycle Wheel_ by having his grade school sons each build a wheelset using only the book for instructions).

Is this a terrible idea?
It's a great idea. You can build wheels as nice as you can buy from a good experienced mehcanic and much better (they won't go out of true until you bend the rims in a crash) than a bad one that can cost as much as the good one . It'll just take longer and require more patience (but less time and patience when you start from scratch than when you fix the work of a bad builder).

Will I hurt myself?
Not if you wear gloves when stress relieving or use a solid object that's softer than the spokes (old left crank, plastic screw driver handle, brass drift) to bend them around each other.

Last edited by Drew Eckhardt; 05-01-12 at 08:53 PM.
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Old 04-29-12, 08:14 AM
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If you have patience, then you could do it. If you have the "feel", you will transition easily into building a wheel. I'm far from experienced, I am still a newbie but I have built several wheels.

By feel, I am referring to a natural mechanics ability to sense subtle torque and tension differences when tightening and loosening fasteners. If you don't have confidence in that ability, you can rely on external tools to mimic the feel such as tension meters and the like. I do use a tension meter towards the end of my wheel builds at my bike coop but its mainly to reinforce my confidence that I did the wheel correctly. You can use the plucking the spokes technique or even just feeling the spoke deflection.

But yes, if you like putting things together and are very anal about it and don't mind spending a couple hours or more on a single mechanical task, you could build a wheel.
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Old 04-29-12, 08:56 AM
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Wheel building is like anything else, it takes time, practice, and patience (esp. the last). Put on some good music and just hang out and enjoy. Check out which is available on youtube and/or read Brandt's The Wheelbook. You'll end up with something better than the new low spoke fancy wheels that can't be fixed.
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Old 04-29-12, 10:36 AM
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What FB said.
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Old 04-29-12, 03:39 PM
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With patience and a little mechanical skill, it's not too hard to build a usable wheel. There are some excellent guides available on the web- I used Sheldon Brown's instructions when building up a wheel for the first time. Actually lacing the wheel together is quite a simple task, it's the final trueing and tensioning that takes the time. You have to get a feel for how fine adjustments to one spoke affect the wheel. There is a skill to be learned in producing a wheel that is consistently round, straight and with even tension (I'm still not perfect) but it's one that can only be learned by practice.
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Old 04-29-12, 06:35 PM
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It's pretty easy. I built my first around 2002-2003. Never did it before, I didn't even know how to lace a wheel,
but I wore thru my brake surfaces so I needed new wheels and I am cheap.

I simply bought NOS 32 spoke Ritchey vantage rims on Ebay, $27 for 2 if I remember, to replace the old ones so I wouldn't need new spokes. I just transferred
1 spoke at a time and used my upside down bike as a truing stand. Of course I didn't have a dish tool or a spoke tension meter.

I just took my time and did 3-4 turns on the nipples around the wheel and then a few more times with less turns until it was true.
These wheels have been used on my winter beater the last 5 years going over washboard frozen footprints hardened snow
and salt and sand on 20+ mile rides in -15C to -25C, and I have been as heavy as 270. I am now commuting 20 miles a day
to work and think the back one needs a little truing (2nd time since the build)

I have built 5 more since then and can do them pretty fast.
especially with neat videos like (there are better ones with more explanation if you want to see the label thru the spoke hole):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPyWj...eature=related

One trick I learned (if you have the right length spokes) is to turn all the nipples until there are only 1 or 2
threads showing, then you are almost there. really speeds up the few turns at a time around the wheel.

I was worried about building up a low spoke wheel because I thought it would be harder, but a guy I know
that works for an LBS says it is easier. The low spoke count wheels have much stronger rims so it is
easier to true than 32 spokers.

Last edited by gbg; 04-29-12 at 07:24 PM.
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Old 04-30-12, 07:27 AM
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Originally Posted by Monster Pete
Actually lacing the wheel together is quite a simple task
Yes and no; there are a few mistakes it's easy for a beginner to make, but if they're working from any decent sort of guide, I guess that shouldn't be an issue. It does get hugely easier to understand with experience; I think it's likely we tend to underestimate how much we didn't see when we looked at a wheel before we'd spent more than a decent chunk of time contemplating them.

Experienced guys can still make silly mistakes too, when it comes to weird spoke patterns like you get with different-holed rim/hub combos that require you really understand the offset between the left and right flanges, not to mention your times tables and so on...

Originally Posted by gbg
One trick I learned (if you have the right length spokes) is to turn all the nipples until there are only 1 or 2
threads showing, then you are almost there. really speeds up the few turns at a time around the wheel.
Yeah, that's a good one. When I lace a wheel, I unscrew the nipple at first while pressing it onto the spoke to feel when the thread starts, and give each nipple two turns. Then with experience, I have a good idea how much more spoke I need to pull through each nipple, and often get quite close to final tension on the first shot.

A bit of tortoise v hare strategy - it takes a little while to pay off, but it's win. Not much time to invest at all either, couple of minutes a wheel max. Just pay attention to how those spokes feel before you tighten em. It's a good opportunity to bed in the outer elbows, and get spoke pairs acquainted with each other too.

Last edited by Kimmo; 04-30-12 at 07:38 AM.
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Old 04-30-12, 08:44 AM
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A local shop is advertising for a mechanic (who has to double in sales). One of the requirements is being able to build a wheel in a "reasonable length of time" which they say is 1 hour.

This is why I'd never be a real working mechanic - everything today is a rush. Every repair job has a "book" time.
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Old 04-30-12, 09:25 AM
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How hard is it to build a wheel ??

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Old 04-30-12, 09:55 AM
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Interesting little story about a wheel I built last week. I rebuilt another old wheel with a freehub instead of a freewheel hub (27"). I had grabbed a badly damaged Nishiki road bike frame (bent fork, bent top and down tube) last week and dragged it home. I cut off the downtube and top tube and kept the rear triangle. I was lazy and just used my thumb as a placement marker for a truing indicator. Tightened up all the spokes 1/2 a turn until I had what felt to me to be fairly decent tension. Trued it up quickly just to get a rough starting point using my thumb as the truing indicator. The dish looked fairly okay to me as well when I flipped the wheel around in the frame.

I then brought it to my bike coop yesterday to do the finishing of the wheel-lateral, radial, dish, tension. I didn't have time to work on it but threw it in the expensive park stand. The lateral true was off by about 2mm at most. The radial was off by 1mm at most. And the dish was just about perfect, off by about 1/2mm. i was amazed at what you can accomplish with nothing more than the Park truing tool $10 (the triangle one, NOT the awful round one), a free junked bike frame rear triangle, a $20 digital micrometer, and my time.

I figure when I go back to the shop on Thursday, I will only have to do the final truing and finish up the tension. The shop manager was pleased how close I came with doing it with just the ultra basic tools at home.

This week I am going to build a simple wooden base for the rear Nishiki triangle and I am going to cut off the steerer on the bent fork. I will then mount the fork to another wooden base and I will then make some truing indicators using random parts. Cheap usable homemade truing stand for front and rear wheels. One thing I am going to do is cut off the stay bridges on the seat and chain stays. That should allow me to spread the triangle easier when I insert various sized hubs into the home made stand.
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Old 05-01-12, 08:59 AM
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Originally Posted by jim hughes
A local shop is advertising for a mechanic (who has to double in sales). One of the requirements is being able to build a wheel in a "reasonable length of time" which they say is 1 hour.
No problem.
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Old 05-01-12, 09:24 AM
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When lacing a wheel, I have to give it full attention. When truing, my best method involves several hours, a beer and a baseball game on TV. Sure, I could knock it out in less than an hour if I wanted, but having a secondary task going on helps me to take my time. And the beer calms my nerves.

My first wheel build went into extra innings and took 5 hours to true up.


As a practice exercise before doing the new wheel, try taking an older wheel you have laying around, loosen all the spoke nipples about three turns to make the wheel totally slack, then true it up.
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Old 05-01-12, 11:42 AM
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IMO the key to a quick build is to start from a point where each nipple is as equally screwed onto the spoke as you can make it.

Then when you've added the same amount of tension to each spoke, you're almost done.

At least when you're starting with a straight rim.
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Old 05-02-12, 03:58 AM
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Originally Posted by rhnam
Will I hurt myself?
Do you mean during the building process or while riding it afterwards? Both are unlikely! I don't think I've ever seen a bicycle wheel, even on the cheapest most neglected bike, fail catastrophically while riding. The worst that is likely to happen if you build a wheel poorly is it will go out of true quickly and frequently or maybe break a spoke.
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