The Bicycle Wheel
Jeff Bryson from the Bike Room is back with another tech piece, this time disassembling bicycle wheel building. Check out his last piece, Teaching the Principle, which has a look at the similarities between brake calipers no matter what the age…
“The bicycle wheel is a remarkable piece of engineering. A wheel may weigh well under 1 kilo yet is capable of carrying bike and rider thousands of miles, with little maintenance, and can be built by a competent mechanic from its basic components using simple hand tools in less than one hour.
Wire spoked wheels are a mature technology, well over one hundred years old. In the first part of the 20 the century wire spoked wheels were used on the fastest cars and motorcycles and remained common on performance road cars into the 1960’s and longer for motorcycles. Therefore spoked wheels are well understood; every conceivable spoke pattern has been tried and tested to destruction. Advances in material science has led to significant improvement in bicycle wheel properties. That is wheels can be made lighter, much more aerodynamic and yet still be adequately durable. However the basic principles which hold together a deep section 16 radial spoke carbon rim wheel, are the same as the 36 spoke 3 cross box section rim of fifty or more years ago.”
– Andy Wardman, Lynn Valley Bikes, North Vancouver, BC
I’ve been building wheels for almost 20 years; Ya! I can build a motorcycle wheel. Opening up the Bikeroom next to a motorcycle shop I’ve been asked to build a couple of wheels. Moto Concept is known for their service, I am glad they trust me to be a part of that. They gave me a dented up front and a rear wheel, two rims and two boxes of spokes. Before I walked away I quizzed them, “oil, grease or spoke prep?…tension?”. All they said was “Ya”.
After researching motorcycle wheel building on the internet I learned that it’s pretty similar to the bicycle wheel. 3 Cross, 4 sets, with different length spokes on the rear and always loosen the spokes before removing them because you can damage the hub.
Before building I always like to get my work area set up for the build making sure all parts are clean, spokes are prepped and everything is laid out in front of me. The wheel I am building is a straight pull wheel so the spokes can only go in the hub one way. If you take your time and set up, take pictures before both mentally and digitally, breath, and start slow; anybody can build a wheel from start to finish. There are lots of steps to building a wheel; I always tell people to start with small steps and fine adjustments until you understand the Art. A wise man told me once to “get good then you get fast”.
Note: Some mechanics get really specific on where the valve hole, rim stickers and hub logo line up. Me, I just ride it!
Once you have all the spokes in the rim and nipples threaded on a couple of threads you have to start bringing her up to tension. I always do this evenly, a couple of threads or a couple turns of the nipples at a time. As I do this, some spokes will seem too tight and some will seem too lose. As long as you bring the wheel up to tension evenly the wheel will eventually come to terms with being straight, even though it wants to sway from side to side. In the eye of small adjustments the wheel will come straight and all the spokes will evenly tension.
Once my wheel starts getting up to tension I find it easy to get ahead of myself truing and make too big of adjustments at one time. It’s hard to turn a spoke only a quarter of a turn when it’s out of true by so much. I have to remember that when I make an adjustment on one side of the wheel it affects the other. Always small adjustments.
Taking my time, actually, even before that; making sure I have the time. If I get frustrated I walk away and come back 10 minutes later. When I first started building wheels it was the better part of a day. Now I can build a wheel in less than 30 minutes. The first Motorcycle wheel took me lacing it 4 times before I noticed I was putting the short spokes in the wrong hub flange. But now I know for the next time and every time after that.
“Anyone who has never made a mistake, has never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein
I love working on my bike as much as I love riding my bike. I love trying new ways of doing things and seeing how it performs or lasts out in the field. It’s hard to always be finding time to hang out and maintain my bike. A lot of the time when I am riding her, I know deep down our relationship needs some personal time (just me and my bike). Over the years we have now developed a great give and take relationship. At the end of the day, the more love I give off the bike the more love I get on the bike.
Are you a seasoned wheel builder or do you leave it to the pros? Any questions for Bryson? Chime in below…