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Does anyone build their own wheels anymore?

Old 06-03-20, 03:33 AM
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Chrisp72
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Does anyone build their own wheels anymore?

Hello all!

I know that wheel building is a dying art and to do it well you need to use the proper tools which is a bit of an investment. Does anyone build their own wheels in their own set up space? If you work in a bike shop I figure learning to build wheels is part of the training and it's easier with all the tools at your disposal. I feel that wheel building is part art and part science and would like to learn but I don't have the space and I can't justify wheel building one wheel every ten years or so. The cost of investing in the equipment is prohibitive for me...Thoughts?
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Old 06-03-20, 05:10 AM
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I've built most of my wheels in the past using a bike frame in a work stand or just hanging by ropes before I owned a work stand. Brake blocks or thumbnails are adequate to indicate side play. The only special tool I have is a dishing gauge to center the rear wheel. Even that can be achieved by eyeball. I've built several wheels in campgrounds for ACA tour group members on picnic tables and bikes hanging from tree limbs.

I roll my eyes when I hear the phrase "art of wheel building". Lacing a wheel is basket making 101 as long as you have the correct spoke length. Tensioning is a bit trickier but is not rocket science.
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Old 06-03-20, 05:17 AM
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Originally Posted by Chrisp72 View Post
Hello all!

I know that wheel building is a dying art and to do it well you need to use the proper tools which is a bit of an investment. Does anyone build their own wheels in their own set up space? If you work in a bike shop I figure learning to build wheels is part of the training and it's easier with all the tools at your disposal. I feel that wheel building is part art and part science and would like to learn but I don't have the space and I can't justify wheel building one wheel every ten years or so. The cost of investing in the equipment is prohibitive for me...Thoughts?
A spoke key expensive?
That's pretty well all you actually need to build a wheel, and you could even use a small shifting spanner if you were very patient.
The frame or forks can be used to true. Dishing = 3 cans on a flat table with some coins as a height gauge. Little spanner to tap spokes check for even tension, or if you want to be fancy, a phone app.
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Old 06-03-20, 05:51 AM
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Ditto. I splurged on a nipple driver, about $5 twenty five years ago. And I made a "fancy" dishing tool out of a piece of old angle iron, some wood blocks, and a bolt and nuts.
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Old 06-03-20, 05:59 AM
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I have built the wheels fora number of our bikes. But I must admit that I need to be alone with a quiet room not even music! Otherwise I mess up the lacing!
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Old 06-03-20, 06:53 AM
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You don't need expensive tools to build a wheel. I find the lacing part the most difficult but mainly because it's a bit cumbersome at the beginning. I find the tensioning part easy and fun. To a large degree, I use sound (plucking the spokes) to true a wheel. That was more difficult for the last 2 wheels I built, which were for 20 inch rims which obviously have shorter spokes and therefore a higher pitch. I dish the rear wheel by sight and have never had a problem.
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Old 06-03-20, 07:08 AM
  #7  
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Originally Posted by Chrisp72 View Post
Does anyone build their own wheels in their own set up space?
Yes, I have had to do that and would prefer building up wheel sets myself as there is more flexibility in parts, unless you pick the parts and have someone else build the wheel set (bike shop, or if you know someone with the gear).

Long story short, I had my bike and truck packed in a garage and the bike shifted when I was getting the truck out. I ended up running over the front wheel. So I got a new rim for cheap and some spokes.

The only tool that is rather important is a truing stand. You can get OK results with the wheel on your bike, but it is a lot easier on a bench with a truing stand. And if you don't have a good gauge for spoke tension by feel or a wheel to compare to a tension gauge is handy. Other than that you should already have a spoke wrench in your tool set for your bikes.

I wouldn't hesitate building wheel sets. The "art" part of it comes down to lacing patterns. Before you get going even you need to know how to size the spokes. There is an online tool (can't recall what it is or where it is off the top of my head) that helps determine the spoke length. There are several factors you need to know - lacing pattern, hole/spoke count, inside rim diameter (where the nipples seat on the inside of the rim), hub width, drive side/non-drive side, etc. And with spokes varying in lengths to mm's it helps to be as accurate as possible.

The flexibility of knowing how to build wheels helps, also, should you choose to upgrade to a hub dynamo later also.

On another note - I like doing things myself and am willing to learn new things. So working on my own stuff always interests me. I like figuring things out and making things work. So if you have the same mindset there isn't any obstacle you can't overcome with thought, time, and resources. Sometimes a bit of helpful guidance along the way can help as well if you get stuck. Just don't stop learning.
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Old 06-03-20, 08:38 AM
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I've build my own. In my case all I need was a spoke key and Youtube. I remember being told by a person in a local bike shop that my wheel would "explode" is not done to (their) perfection. I'm happy to report that I experienced to such explosions.
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Old 06-03-20, 10:29 AM
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I've probably spent $150 on tools (truing stand, tensiometer, spoke wrenches) and Brandt's book.

I've probably saved at least twice that doing my own wheels, both in savings for replacing broken spokes ($20-35 each and they add up), and catching problems early and fixing them before a break.

It's not hard. The key ingredient to building, rebuilding, or fixing a bike wheel is patience.

Not my problem has become, I'm running out of broken spokes. They're quite handy for stiff/strong wires to have around the house for various projects.
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Old 06-03-20, 12:04 PM
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I build all my own wheels. I am not a great wheel builder but it doesnt take a lot to be better than machine. Also i love using the parts i want to use. All my front wheels are with dynamo hubs.
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Old 06-03-20, 12:08 PM
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just follow the directions on sheldon brown's website, plug in the numbers for your hubs and rims to one of many online spoke calculators. a nice $5 spoke wrench is nice, but you can do it with a $1 one-size-fits-all spoke wrench from wally world. aspirin bottles or old film canisters with some coins or metal rulers, and a pair of disposable chopsticks complete your tool kit.


but ya know, building a set of wheels doesn't have to be a solitary past-time. maybe you know a new friend, and your mutual future dog, that would enjoy doing this with you. tell her you're practicing making baby buggie wheels. that's the ticket!
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Old 06-03-20, 12:13 PM
  #12  
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Originally Posted by Chrisp72 View Post
Hello all!

I know that wheel building is a dying art and to do it well you need to use the proper tools which is a bit of an investment. Does anyone build their own wheels in their own set up space? If you work in a bike shop I figure learning to build wheels is part of the training and it's easier with all the tools at your disposal. I feel that wheel building is part art and part science and would like to learn but I don't have the space and I can't justify wheel building one wheel every ten years or so. The cost of investing in the equipment is prohibitive for me...Thoughts?
I am not sure how many wheels I have built, at least a dozen. I built up most of my bikes from the frame. I only regularly ride two bikes that I bought as complete bikes, my road bike (2018) and my errand bike (garage sale find for $5). I built the wheels for the rest of my fleet.

Worked in a bike shop in the 70s but only a few mechanics built wheels, I learned on my own. That was pre-internet. Now there are good places to go with info on wheel building that were unavailable when I was trying to learn. I think Sheldons piece is very good. About 16 years ago I had not built any wheels for a few decades so before I tried to build another pair, I did a internet search and found that article, it taught me stuff that I wished I had learned decades earlier. I told a friend of mine about that article, he followed it to build some wheels. He also volunteers time at a bike charity and became their chief wheel builder.
https://www.sheldonbrown.com/wheelbuild.html

I do not have a truing stand, i use the bike frame and brake pads as my truing stand. I do not have a dishing tool, instead I flip the wheel back and forth to make sure I get the dish the same on both sides.

You need good spoke wrenches that fit the nipples well, otherwise you can round off the nipples. But they are quite affordable. Some of my bikes use the black wrench, some use the green.

Only two of my wheels are disc, thus I have plenty of frames that have brake pads to use as truing stands. I have seen truing stands that have dial gauges, etc. I use my thumb which is pressed on a brake pad instead.

I do not have a spoke tension gauge. On a couple pairs of wheels a friend of mine that volunteers time at a bike charity checked them for me. I just make sure my other wheels feel about the same as those. Most of my wheels use the same gauge spokes.

All of my wheels are conventional quick release, I have no knowledge of through axle hubs, so do not ask me about that.
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Old 06-03-20, 02:29 PM
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I built my first wheelset in '76. As bike store owner/ mechanic. I have built up plenty of wheels. The problem is that I became addicted to wholesale pricing/ blow out/ unbelievable blow out deals on wheels. Now the price on spokes (alone) seems really expensive, now that I am out of the business.
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Old 06-03-20, 04:28 PM
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Yea, I used to use hacks such as a stack of books for a dishing tool and a bolt taped to brake pads or frame to help true but once you use a real truing stand, dishing tool and a spoke tension meter, you won't go back.
Now don't hate on me, but for those that think they can pluck a spoke and come up with a consistent quantitative value, find someone with a good spoke tension meter and be prepared to see how poorly you'll do. That being said, you don't need that type of accuracy to produce a decent wheel set and I'm sure there are those that have built a thousand wheel sets that might be able to achieve reasonable accuracy by plucking, but when Mavic recommends spoke tension between 70-90 kgf or 90-110 kgf to be used with their rims, you'll know you did it right.
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Old 06-03-20, 07:23 PM
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Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
I've probably spent $150 on tools (truing stand, tensiometer, spoke wrenches) and Brandt's book.

I've probably saved at least twice that doing my own wheels, both in savings for replacing broken spokes ($20-35 each and they add up), and catching problems early and fixing them before a break.

It's not hard. The key ingredient to building, rebuilding, or fixing a bike wheel is patience.

Not my problem has become, I'm running out of broken spokes. They're quite handy for stiff/strong wires to have around the house for various projects.
Decades ago I splurged on a pro Park truing stand, was kind of fun to build wheels & I suppose I saved a bit of money. Lately I've bought machine-built wheels with good results so I haven't built wheels in a long time. Building own wheels might be fun & practical esp if using primo hubs etc. Truing stand isn't a must but I found it very helpful esp for rim-brake wheels, also can help if one needs to re-tension machine-built wheels. With Park pro stands one can use their brake rotor gauge, I'm thinking about trying that since truing rotors can be a bit fiddly.
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Old 06-03-20, 07:32 PM
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Yes. It's not hard, just time consuming. However, it's also the only way to know they're built right. For special tools I use only:
https://www.bikehubstore.com/Unior-N...p/unior-nw.htm
https://www.bikehubstore.com/product-p/mulfing.htm
https://www.amazon.com/Park-Tool-Spo...dp/B000OZDIGY/

I put anti-seize on the spoke threads and only use brass nipples. If I'm using round spokes, I put a bit of tape near their outer ends right after the nipples have been started, so that I can make sure there's no wind-up as I tighten the nipples.

The TM-1 is expensive, but very durable and accurate. Maybe some don't need it for their 100th wheel but for sure for the first. I don't use a dishing tool or a building stand. Your bike dropouts are plenty good enough, though you need a work stand to put the bike in, should have one anyway by now. To dish the rear, you just flip the wheel. It'll come out close to start with if you get the correct spoke lengths.
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Old 06-03-20, 08:02 PM
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I've built nearly all the wheels I've ridden in 200,000 miles and have more up and running now than I ever bought. Tools? Park spoke wrenches, a cheap stand from bent flatbar that I paid $30 for long before Al Gore invented the internet. An equally crude dishing tool I modified to not require pulling off the QR or nuts. The big money for a Park tensioner. Relatively recently. Nice for new spoking patterns, For the trusty old ones, I just pinged a good wheel and copied it. Like a previous poster, maybe $150 worth of tools. But half money was spent (on the tensioner) after I built my longest lasting wheelset. Early '80s Mavic GP4s. I rode them until the brake pads wore through the sidewalls, 17,000 miles. I probably tweaked a couple of spokes twice. Built all my racing years wheels with just my bike and a spoke wrench (except one that got trashed by a car. Driver didn't want to ding his insurance so he said "fix it and I'll pay you". Took a half day off my bike shop job, rebuilt it on the work stand and charged him my cost and that half day's pay. He had no issues with that!)

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Old 06-04-20, 07:53 AM
  #18  
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The last wheel I bought cost $8 at the Performance Bike closeout. Before that, I paid around $20 each for three wheels. Hard to justify building your own at that price. Should be set with wheels for the next decade or so.
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Old 06-04-20, 08:06 AM
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Originally Posted by alan s View Post
The last wheel I bought cost $8 at the Performance Bike closeout. Before that, I paid around $20 each for three wheels. Hard to justify building your own at that price. Should be set with wheels for the next decade or so.
Depends on the wheels and the rider. As a clyde, I've had spokes start breaking in as little as 500 miles' use. IIRC it cost $20 labor plus the replacement spoke to get it replaced, by the best wheel man in town. Then another one broke within a couple weeks. Shortly after that, I bought the tensiometer and discovered the entire wheel was significantly undertensioned. As @Carbonfiberboy said, building your own is the only way to be sure it's done right.
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Old 06-04-20, 09:01 AM
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Originally Posted by alan s View Post
The last wheel I bought cost $8 at the Performance Bike closeout. Before that, I paid around $20 each for three wheels. Hard to justify building your own at that price. Should be set with wheels for the next decade or so.
Yep, you can do that if you only need basic wheels, but the chances of finding a new dynohub wheel or a Rohloff wheel or even a decent touring wheel for 20 bucks is as close to zero as you'd get.
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Old 06-04-20, 09:30 AM
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Yes. Itís the only way that I can get the wheels I want. But thatís the key. If you build something you can buy, just buy it. If you canít buy something off the peg, build it. Want purple hubs, you probably have to build them

Untitled by Stuart Black, on Flickr

Want Phil Wood hubs, youíll probably have to build them

Untitled by Stuart Black, on Flickr
Untitled by Stuart Black, on Flickr

I also build all my wheels with spokes that are heavier and stronger at the head, usually DT Alpine III. It cuts down on broken spokes...like down to zero.

I also teach wheel building. Many people who take my course never build another wheel but many of them say that the course helps them with truing wheels as it lets them understand the process better.
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Old 06-04-20, 09:43 AM
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Originally Posted by Trevtassie View Post
Yep, you can do that if you only need basic wheels, but the chances of finding a new dynohub wheel or a Rohloff wheel or even a decent touring wheel for 20 bucks is as close to zero as you'd get.
I did also spend around $1,800 on a Rohloff wheel in the last couple years, and that was on a nice rim and built by someone who knows their trade.
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Old 06-04-20, 10:47 AM
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Originally Posted by robow View Post
Yea, I used to use hacks such as a stack of books for a dishing tool and a bolt taped to brake pads or frame to help true but once you use a real truing stand, dishing tool and a spoke tension meter, you won't go back.
Now don't hate on me, but for those that think they can pluck a spoke and come up with a consistent quantitative value, find someone with a good spoke tension meter and be prepared to see how poorly you'll do. That being said, you don't need that type of accuracy to produce a decent wheel set and I'm sure there are those that have built a thousand wheel sets that might be able to achieve reasonable accuracy by plucking, but when Mavic recommends spoke tension between 70-90 kgf or 90-110 kgf to be used with their rims, you'll know you did it right.
When I was making a purchase in a shop, a certified bike mechanic offered to check the tension on a wheel I had just built using spoke plucking, as I always had. I did a fine job, he said. So don't hate on me.

I think I've built about 8 wheels in my life and I've never had a broken spoke on any of them and I've toured on all of them. I've also trued wheels on the side of the road for other touring cyclists I've encountered who were having issues. By sheer coincidence, I ran into one of them a few months later in another country and his wheel that I had trued had remained true. There are lots of bike repair stuff that I dislike doing or avoid doing myself, but wheel building and wheel truing are not among them.
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Old 06-04-20, 07:21 PM
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Invest in a good spoke wrench. I used a stack of quarters and three cans of beer for dishing. Make sure they are nice and cold as reward beverages when doing the final truing and tensioning on the bike.
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Old 06-04-20, 08:46 PM
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The last - and only - wheelset that I had ever built myself was over 43 years ago! That wheelset lasted somewhere close to 30k miles before I was stupidly inattentive while riding and inadvertently dropped 7" sideways off the edge of the pavement surface and tacoed the rear wheel. Narrow 19mm 27" clincher rims (Mavic, Wolber, or ???), butted stainless spokes (rare at that time) and Phil hubs, along with a then-new six-speed Ultra-spaced freewheel and bulged-sideplate Uniglide chain.... Those wheels cost me a whopping ~$100 to build back then - and my Fuji S-10S only cost me $195 brand new!

This was back when I was attending Ohio State and was a member of the OSU cyclling club. We had a budget surplus from our inaugural '77 Club-sponsored ride (TGRR - The Great Reservoir Ride) towards the end of the school year, and rather than turn in the surplus to the college, I suggested that the club invest in the future (for future years' members) and buy a repair stand, truing stand and dish tool for club use. WOW, was that a popular suggestion. We individual students had our own hand tools, but fixtures like that we didn't. From what I know now I would have also suggestion a spoke tension meter, but I'm not sure that those existed back then. We 'plucked' the spokes for an even sound...
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