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Does rim quality make a big difference in the ease of building a wheel?

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Does rim quality make a big difference in the ease of building a wheel?

Old 02-02-15, 01:09 PM
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Does rim quality make a big difference in the ease of building a wheel?

I'm an amateur wheel builder, having built only three wheelsets-- all three pretty conventional builds, 3X, either 32 or 36H. The first set took me countless re-iterative tweaks to tension before I was comfortable with both the true-ness and the tension uniformity. Neither were perfect (acceptable trueness being less than 1mm lateral, and tension being called good if any spoke was no more than 10% off from the wheel average), and it took me forever to get there. These two wheel builds (my first ones) were on a NOS pair of MAVIC MA2s.

The next set was with a new pair of VO PBP rims. The story was similar-- took me many re-iterative adjustments before the build was acceptable to me.

I thought this was normal, and that pros must just be able to do the re-iterative aspect faster and better.

Then, the last set was with a new pair of Pacenti SL23s, which are heat treated and have an aero V shape. I was amazed at how quickly and easily these tensioned up. I had been expecting a similar process as the first two sets of wheels I built up. But rather, it took only two-three iterations, and the tensions were PERFECT-- no measurable variation between any spokes (using a Park TM-1, which I'm pretty sure isn't the most accurate instrument, but still better than nothing). When I looked at the the trueness after tensioning, it was also nearly perfect, needing only two or three minor adjustments to remove slight wobble. I was done so quickly, I had a hard time believing they could be that good. But they were. Lateral wobble was far less than 1mm, which I had considered acceptable on my previous builds.

So my question is-- do rims make a big difference in the ease of building? Are some rims (better ones?) manufactured more true and/or more rigid, leading to easier builds?
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Old 02-02-15, 01:19 PM
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I've got the feeling that it's practice makes perfect, or at least better.
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Old 02-02-15, 01:31 PM
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Old 02-02-15, 02:35 PM
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Rim quality per se isn't a factor, but rim rigidity is. Heavier, stiffer, or deeper, welded and machined rims keep their shape and resist local distortions caused by uneven tension. (if the rim starts out round). These need only the hub to be brought to the center, and the rim squared up. You can get them perfectly true even with terrible tension evenness.

OTOH older, lighter rims with punned joints can be squirrelly and go out of true with little provocation while building. Newbies are frustrated because they'll adjust one spoke, and the rim will move out of true on the opposite side. With experience, one gets a feel for these and can build them quickly and easily. One fringe benifit, is that it's nearly impossible to end up with a true wheel that has uneven tension.

IME- the biggest factor in ease of build isn't the rim, but the uniformity of spoke lengths. If you take a bunch of the same length spokes (from the same package) and hang them over a straight edge by their elbows, some brands will look like newly cut bangs on a child, and others will be uneven and look like they're due for a hair cut. That makes a big difference, since most builders pre-tighten using a depth stop in the nipple, or by gauging the first thread. Small variations in length mean that some spokes aor off from others by as much as 2 full turns, which has to be worked out during the build.
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Old 02-02-15, 03:26 PM
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FB is right on the money. With ultralight modern bikes most people don't realize that the rims are actually heavier and much stiffer than race wheels from the 60's-70's. Being a Master wheel builder back then took real skill and patience. Today it is much easier to pump out ride-able wheels.
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Old 02-02-15, 03:42 PM
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My 3rd & 4th wheels were much faster, basically using equal quality rims for all of them.

I got faster by working slower, in smaller increments when turning the nipples.
I think you probably kept on cranking 1/4 turn increments when you should have been cranking 1/8 turn increments.

My last few wheels didn't result in me backing off any spokes. Only adding tension slowly and checking.
To me that was the "secret".
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Old 02-02-15, 03:55 PM
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Yes.

If the rim is round and flat before you start, AND as noted above, your spokes are the same length; the wheel build is fast.

If any of the three items above is out, it takes a LOT longer.

Because of my limited patience, I have settled Velocity Dyad for 622 and Velocity Aerohead for 559. I have also built Sun CR18 (much slower than Dyad/Aerohead); Alex R19, and Alex Adventurer. The Velocity rims are rounder and flatter.

I use Wheelsmith spokes, all come out of the package the same length within my measurement capability.

My wheels have a axial runout (side to side) of ±.003" (±0.075mm) and radial runout of ±.005" (±0.013mm).

Tension consistency check is by pinging. Tone generator for comparison and frequency measurement apps help - and are far more accurate in determining tension than mechanically attached gauges.
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Old 02-02-15, 04:19 PM
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I agree with nfmisso's approach - smaller increments as tension gets higher, and judge tension uniformity by sound. I've been building wheels for myself, family and friends for a few decades using that method and no tension gauge other than my ear and good quality wheels nearby to compare against. I've got one of those frequency measuring apps that Nigel mentioned, and it says that my wheels are pretty consistent in tension, but I don't rely on it.

Only one (out of 30 or so) has failed (on the truing stand), and that was due to a really bad pothole-caused ding that refused to be trued out. All are 32/36 spoke 3X with higher end rims (Velocity, Campagnolo, Mavic, and lately, H+Son - listed in ascending order of my perception of relative quality) and double-butted DT spokes.

One of my earlier wheels needed a re-tensioning from a mild tacoing after being broad-sided by a kid when I was mid-tour. That one is still going strong about 8,000 miles later.

To southpawboston's question: the wheels with the better rims seem to go together smoother and faster, and FB, perceptive as always, makes a very good point about the significance of accurate spoke lengths. The more I try to hurry the final truing, the more I seem to go back and forth. And keep the music mellow and the beverages moderate!
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Old 02-02-15, 05:20 PM
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i have found my most recent carbon tubular rims provided the most trouble-free build ever. they were very true. i suppose they have to be, otherwise uniform tensioning on all front spokes and uniform tensioning on respective sides of rear wheel would be almost impossible. BITD the rims were veritable noodles. try to straighten a noodle sometime using only guy-wires and turnbuckles.

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Old 02-02-15, 05:50 PM
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Originally Posted by FBinNY
IME- the biggest factor in ease of build isn't the rim, but the uniformity of spoke lengths.
Pre-build Quality Control is a hold over from "back when" roundness/flatness in rims was haphazard at best and the length of spokes from the same un-opened box was variable.
A careful examination (and possible rejection) of components before lacing prevents a self inflicted waste of time at tensioning/truing.

A lopsided/flat spotted rim and a set of mismatched spokes may be less likely today but I still check each and every component.
Measure once, build easy.

-Bandera
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Old 02-02-15, 05:56 PM
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Originally Posted by Bandera
Pre-build Quality Control is a hold over from "back when" roundness/flatness in rims was haphazard at best and the length of spokes from the same un-opened box was variable. ...
One benefit of learning when stuff wasn't perfect is that you learned how to compensate for it easily. I don't fret imperfect rims, unless they're very stiff and I know that no amount of spoke work can compensate. Fortunately I generally build with lighter rims, so it's rare than I run into too stiff for the spokes.

As for uneven spokes, that's pretty rare these days with the better brands, but even so, it's easy enough to spot and correct early in the build. In any case, the ejector pin in the nipple driver isn't bulletproof consistent, so there's always some compensation for nipples that started out uneven. Just part of the process.
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Old 02-02-15, 06:55 PM
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I actually do notice a difference between rims and how easily the wheel goes together. That, and modern rims are generally much nicer than old ones.
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Old 02-02-15, 07:20 PM
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Spoke uniformity counts for a lot. Boxed sets of DT and Wheelsmith are worlds better that that Robergel spokes of 35 years ago. I can now start each nipple with say three full turns and have a wheel that is reasonably true and has rather uniform spoke tensions. Doing the same thing with the old Robergels and I would spend much of an hour just getting to where those three turns get me now. I could build just as good a wheel, it just took a lot longer. (Oh, and out of every box, there would be 3 or 4 spokes that would just break. Probably never built a wheel that didn't shed a spoke or two until I started using DT and Wheelsmith. I never built wheels out of the Japanese spokes of the day just because I saw 14 ga only, never the lighter butted spokes I used exclusively. They were probably quality spokes.)

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Old 02-03-15, 01:56 PM
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I hadn't thought about spoke length uniformity, but I suppose it would play a big role. For all three wheelsets, I used Wheelsmith DB14, and each set of wheels was made from one lot of spokes.

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Old 02-03-15, 02:07 PM
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Originally Posted by southpawboston
I hadn't thought about spoke length uniformity, but I suppose it plays a role. For all three wheelsets, I used Wheelsmith DB14, and each set of wheels was made from one lot of spokes.
Wheelsmith spokes have always been pretty uniform, unless things have changed within the last few years. So you can rule out the spokes, but there may still be variation in how uniformly you did the initial pretension. It's very easy to have variations of as much as one full turn or more, so it's still necessary to make adjustments early in the process before you tighten enough for them to become issues.

Also, keep in mind that while the wheel is fairly loose, the set of the elbows can throw things off a bit. If you try to align before there's some tension, you'll be introducing errors, not eliminating them. I make it a point to set the outer elbows once the wheel has a bit of tension, then add a bit more and see where I am before trying to actually align anything.
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Old 02-03-15, 03:31 PM
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What concerns me is that as I'm lacing up the first few sets of eight spokes (in a 32 spoke wheel) and the spokes are sliding all over the place, the nipples on those can easily turn from all the rattling around and lose or gain a thread. By the time I have the last set of spoke in, this no longer happens. Does using a product like spoke prep introduce some resistance to unloaded turning of the nipple? I have only ever used oil.

For the elbows, I've been bending them after the first round of tensioning-- when the wheel 'looks' like a wheel but before there's any significant tension.

Originally Posted by FBinNY
Wheelsmith spokes have always been pretty uniform, unless things have changed within the last few years. So you can rule out the spokes, but there may still be variation in how uniformly you did the initial pretension. It's very easy to have variations of as much as one full turn or more, so it's still necessary to make adjustments early in the process before you tighten enough for them to become issues.

Also, keep in mind that while the wheel is fairly loose, the set of the elbows can throw things off a bit. If you try to align before there's some tension, you'll be introducing errors, not eliminating them. I make it a point to set the outer elbows once the wheel has a bit of tension, then add a bit more and see where I am before trying to actually align anything.
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Old 02-03-15, 03:58 PM
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Originally Posted by southpawboston
By the time I have the last set of spoke in, this no longer happens. Does using a product like spoke prep introduce some resistance to unloaded turning of the nipple? I have only ever used oil.

.
Yes, the nipples do go all over the place, until there's a bit of load. It shouldn't during lacing, because the Pre-tighten phase is where you bring them to uniform depth, either with an ejector screwdriver, or putting your thumbnail against the 1st thread as a stop gauge. Usually, there's enough tension by then to keep them stationary, though you might wait for one round of tightening before setting elbows, so you don't slacken the spokes.

A spoke prep of some kind also helps. I use a very sticky grease that's like glue until I turn the nipples, then is like ice and prevents spoke twist. But spoke prep is like chain oil in that everybody thinks he has a better idea than everybody else, so whatever works for you is fine.
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