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Wheel building

Old 12-06-14, 05:20 PM
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Captlink
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Wheel building

I'm a disabled vet with mobility issues.I am used to precision mechanical devices and very good with the tedious.With the boom in fat tire bikes and being a Clyde myself I thought I might be good at building wheel sets for the demanding user.I have a full machine shop and could probably build my own truing stand with some guidance.Do you think there is room in the market place for a guy like me building bomb proof wheels and possibly other items.
I would also like to learn more about bicycles in general but can't do a school program.A list of top must have books would be welcome as I love to learn.
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Old 12-06-14, 05:56 PM
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A wheel builder does not just assemble a wheel but also functions as consultant. You would have to learn A LOT about wheels before putting yourself out there in a way that can differentiate you from others. Start with Wheelbuilding, including the references at the bottom of the page.
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Old 12-06-14, 06:33 PM
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Wheelbuilding and working on existing wheels requires concentration, patience, and dexterity. In your place I would go down to the Goodwill or Salvation Army thrift stores or local bike shops and get some old trash wheels and tear them down and then rebuild them to see if you have aptitude for it and it suits you. It is definitely not for everybody--it's not complicated, but it is tedious.

Sure you can probably jury-rig a truing stand and a dishing tool, but as you advance you will eventually need a good set of equipment. I just recently moved to the Park TS2.2 truing stand. I also bought the dial gauge set (against my better judgement) and I am pleasantly surprised to find that I love it and it is infinitely easier and faster than trying to true by eye or feel.
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Old 12-06-14, 06:49 PM
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For somebody starting out, I recommend the following, which is what I used when I was starting out:
TACX truing stand
Minoura dishing tool
Avenir spoke wrench set of 3 (looks just like the Park set, only cheaper)

Minimum investment. Together with the junk wheels mentioned above, it's all you need to try wheel work out.

Next item will be the Park tension meter TM-1, unless you can do it by ear (twangin' on the spokes like a git-tar).
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Old 12-06-14, 06:52 PM
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+1 for @ClarkinHawaii who gives good advice, IMHO about buying a truing stand. The initial cost will be a good investment if you want to build wheels. I use the one at the local bike co-op, but I don't plan on being a commercial wheel builder either.

There will always be a market for custom wheels, so I'd think that you'd have some potential work there. But I also agree with @cny-bikeman that you need to be able to sell not just wheels but also advice. Your expertise and recommendations will be of equal value to your customers as the wheels themselves. So, in short, educate yourself in depth before marketing your wheels. Working with a local bike shop might be advantageous to both of you.

Best of luck!
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Old 12-06-14, 06:53 PM
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I haven't built a lot of wheels, But I really enjoy doing it.
IF I had to do it, it'd become tedious by day 2.

Build a couple wheels for yourself before even thinking about building for others.

You want to have an understanding of WHY you might want to use different gauge spokes on the same wheel.

Do you want to deal with customers? Can you afford to "eat" your mistakes?
Do you want customers "checking out" your "full machine shop"?

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Old 12-06-14, 10:01 PM
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It's hard to explain how life has changed for me post service but dealing with the public would be almost impossible for me.My current position while still in demand is becoming a hassle dealing with federal and state agency's so I'm looking for other opportunities.Thank you all for the enlightening answers.I may just pursue this as a hobby.Look forward to seeing every one on the boards.
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Old 12-06-14, 10:36 PM
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I'll take a different view on the Op's question. I suspect that the fat bike market isn't the same as the high end road bike one. What I see in the fat market is the drive to lower prices so the main stream buys in and gets one. I don't see the competitive aspect driving the performance of fat bikes like it does with road and mountain. Maybe in a bunch of years it will But for now the fat market reminds me of the early mountain one.

So seeking a path in wheel building in the fat market just isn't what I see as the next thing.

Now becoming a wheel builder of merit regardless of the size is something to aspire to. But as cny-bikeman said it takes more then a true wheel to stand out above other builders.

And I'll go further at the risk of being flamed. One thing I've seen many times over the years is the narrow-mindedness of the customer. Men won't respect female staff in the LBS. Women don't trust the guys. The young think us "experienced" guys are out of the loop. The self focused racers feel that some one who doesn't put in heavy miles or isn't in the front of the group don't have the credentials to service their bike. And the staff who are over weight have their challenge to get respect from their customers many times.

So the OP has to understand that he has an up hill battle to convince potential customers that he has the credibility to build their wheels and add to their riding experience. The bike business isn't like the civil services or the armed services. The pay check isn't protected by many regs and rules. The buying public can and will be bigoted, sexist, self centered, and more. They will spend their money as they see it benefiting them, ONLY.

I wish the OP all the success in the world in his ultimate path. I just suspect he has a steeper hill to climb then some and it needs to be said. Andy.
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Old 12-07-14, 12:49 AM
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^^ +1 for Andy's advice!

And wheel building, unlike some things in life, isn't a "necessity" for the customer. The customer will want not only top work but also the best price. And there will ALWAYS be some new kid on the block with a "Wheel Building For Dummies" book and a truing stand who is willing to undercut the price to get started. Since he's working in his parents' basement, he has no overhead and can work really cheaply.

So to summarize: It's already a crowded market. There are already many well-known builders. The overhead to enter the market is minimal. The competition is tough.

Is this something one REALLY wants to do, or are there better ways to go? Knowing how tough it is to earn a living in the bike world, I generously tip the bike shop kids when they do service for me. But I can tell you that I'm in the SMALL minority...

Last edited by FarHorizon; 12-07-14 at 12:55 AM.
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Old 12-07-14, 07:09 AM
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How about another different take on the question. Could OP approach this as a cottage industry thing, assembling wheels at home for an established wheelsmith like Psimet (just an example, there are many) or a local bike shop? Maybe he could get some training in the builder's shop, if he has the mobility to allow that. Then assemble wheels that have been sold by the builder or LBS to the established specs and ship them out from home. Bye and bye OP may have the expertise to go out on his own. Baby steps.
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Old 12-07-14, 07:22 AM
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Originally Posted by Captlink View Post
Do you think there is room in the market place for a guy like me building bomb proof wheels and possibly other items.
Honestly, not likely.

Work it backward.
1. Figure out how much money you'd need to net in order to make the project worth doing.
2. Now price out components and figure how many wheelsets you'll have to build and at what price. I think that you're going to find that it's really a tight market.
3. Finally, how are you going to market your wheels so that you have a chance at selling that many sets?
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Old 12-07-14, 07:35 AM
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Originally Posted by Captlink View Post
I'm a disabled vet with mobility issues.I am used to precision mechanical devices and very good with the tedious.With the boom in fat tire bikes and being a Clyde myself I thought I might be good at building wheel sets for the demanding user.I have a full machine shop and could probably build my own truing stand with some guidance.Do you think there is room in the market place for a guy like me building bomb proof wheels and possibly other items.
I would also like to learn more about bicycles in general but can't do a school program.A list of top must have books would be welcome as I love to learn.
Wheelbuilding book for building bicycle wheels I'd start here for his E-book, best $15.00 you will ever spend IMO. He also has diagrams/specs for a truing stand and dishing gauge. If you have a full machine shop I am sure you build them out of AL or steel instead of wood.

Last edited by Fred Smedley; 12-07-14 at 08:03 AM.
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Old 12-07-14, 07:40 AM
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You mentioned fat tire bikes. If that is one of your interests, make sure that your truing stand will handle fat wheels. If you can build a good fat wheel truing stand, that might be another market you could tap as not all truing stands will handle fat wheels. Another niche market might be wheels for recumbents, trikes, and adaptive cycles.

If there is a bicycle co-op in your area, a great way to get practice is to repair and rebuild wheels for them. They may even have a truing stand and other wheel tools you can try out before you make the investment. I started out truing wheels and replacing the occasional spoke at a bike co-op and now build all of my own wheels. Co-ops are also a great place to learn about bikes in general. Also check with your local bike shops, some sponsor clinics on bike maintenance and repair for the general public.

Being a machinist who is good at tedious tasks will definitely work in you favor building wheels. In all honesty, it is going to be hard to come out ahead of some of the mass produced wheels currently on the market. I build wheels because I have very specific ideas of what I want and I like doing it. Often the cost is about the same as if I had purchased a similar pre-built wheel and, if I was to sell them, my profit margin wouldn't keep beer in the shop fridge, much less give me a respectable per hour earning. I'd make more pushing a broom for minimum wage in the back of a bike shop.

If you are looking at a self-supporting hobby, maybe. If you are looking at a reliable source of income, it's going to be difficult (I didn't say impossible) to do starting on a shoe-string budget with retail components. Those independent wheel shops you see like Sugar Wheel Works Sugar Wheel on Vimeo don't buy their components one at a time at retail, they stock many supplies in bulk and have dealership wholesale agreements with component manufacturers. As a disabled veteran, are you able to tap into any small business entrepreneurship programs?

Good luck in whatever you decide to do

Last edited by GravelMN; 12-07-14 at 07:59 AM.
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Old 12-07-14, 10:27 AM
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With a full machine shop, perhaps you could find a niche fabricating out of production parts for vintage bikes and custom builds. Things like unusual sized chainguards, fenders, racks, cable guides, etc.
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Old 12-07-14, 10:38 AM
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Originally Posted by cny-bikeman View Post
A wheel builder does not just assemble a wheel but also functions as consultant. You would have to learn A LOT about wheels before putting yourself out there in a way that can differentiate you from others.
There is A LOT of truth here. Building a great wheel is really not difficult if you are patient but what takes a lot of experience and research is not only figuring out what works well together what does not, but also what the rims you build with like as far as tension, some like higher tensions, others will crack around the eyelets if you use heavy gauge spokes and anything above 100kgf. There is also the extremely difficult task of learning to read your customer to get them set up with the best components for their needs, some 250lb riders are incredibly easy on wheels while some 130lb riders ride like they are 300lbs and will break all but the strongest equipment.

For fat bikes specifically, the market is growing insanely fast. That does mean there is a lot of demand for gear but it also means there is A LOT of stuff to keep up with as the market is constantly changing. Are you familiar with when 65,80,100 mm rims would be ideal and others not, along with what tires work well and what does not? The countless hub "standards", everyone wants to know what rims will work well with tubeless and what will not even though most are not meant to be tubeless. My full time job is head wheel builder for a fat bike manufacturer, I build on average 10 wheels a day and have to keep up with what all of the competition is doing, even though it is my full time job and I have access to info before it is made public, it can still be tough to stay on top with how fast things are growing. If I am not sleeping, I am either reading about what is new or thinking about how to make things better, there really is no "time off" if you want to stay on top of everything.

I am not trying to discourage you but rather give you a fair warning that it is a very tough market to break into. To build any type of name for yourself you have got to be very good at what you do, not just being able to build a solid wheel but be able to recommend parts that work really well together and provide advise on what will last, what will not.

If you want to go for it, I would suggest trying to find a shop close to you that has a reputation for building good wheels and ask to volunteer there, tell them what you are interested in doing and go from there. You can certainly learn everything on your own but I would not want to charge labor for wheels until I know how well they will hold up and again, building a good wheel is not terribly difficult but there are a lot of little details that go into it and it is helpful to have someone who already knows what they are doing. The other perk to this is if you will need access to wholesale pricing and you may be able to work out a mutually beneficial deal with the shop to get parts wholesale, and while discussing that it would be worth asking about minimum pricing guidelines from various manufacturers as some are very very lax, others will drop you as a dealer if they catch you selling things too cheap.
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