Feb 10, 2011

Building wheels

I do pretty much all of my own wrenching when it comes to bike repair, with the possible exception of pressing headsets, for the simple reason that I don’t have a headset press. Otherwise, there’s really no repair that I’m unwilling or unable to undertake. However, as I learned on Monday, building bike wheels can be as much art as it is science.

So the story goes something like this. Keith wanted new wheels (and I’m guessing didn’t feel like paying retail for them – who can blame him), so Mark decided to combine the pleasure of building wheels for Keith with the pleasure of teaching some willing attendees about the art of wheel building.

Mission Cycling sponsor Timbuk2 was gracious enough to provide the space where we could all gather and observe. Keith was also nice enough to provide some Delfina’s Pizza (another Mission sponsor) and a few beverages to lubricate the event.

The process of wheel building has been fascinating me personally for a while. Mainly because if I’m able to learn how to build a set of wheels, I gain a whole new independence from the wheel retail market. I have already broken away from the bike repair market, so this would definitely be a step I’d like to take. However, it’s a scary step! The solidity of the wheel dictates the quality of the ride and its safety. Mark somehow made it all sound very doable, with proper tools, that is.

I won’t attempt to recount everything he tried to teach us the hour and a half, mainly because I don’t remember a lot of the details (thanks, beer!), and we all know that’s where the devil is, and because I don’t want anyone to assume I actually learned how to make a wheel. Don’t get me wrong, I learned A LOT, and definitely came away knowing 1000% more than I came in with, but to be able to build my own wheel, I will probably have to do some reading. Mark recommended The Bicycle Wheel as a good read to get familiar with the process.

Here are some images from the night and my vague recollections of what was happening. (I brought my SLR, but realized that the battery was dead – fail! So the iPhone had to do)

Mark is talking about the importance of the first spoke and the process of alternating spokes, some in, some out.
The second spoke is also very important. Remember to skip the appropriate number of spaces before threading the second one. Mark decided to install all the spokes with the heads on the outside first.
In many rims, the holes are drilled at an angle to accommodate the spokes.  Don't screw up the direction. Proper spoke to proper hole.
It's hard to thread spokes upright. Keith decided to help the process (his wheels to be, after all) along by acting as a wheel stand. It's important to skip the proper number of holes when threading each additional spoke.
And so the first 7 spokes have been installed. Time to 
Mark took some time away from building to explain the different lacing patterns and why they do and don't make a difference. 
Ta-da! Well, not really. The wheel has been laced, but not trued and destressed because we ran out of time, but I'm sure once Mark had a chance, he completed that process. 
I don't know about you, but seeing this process has definitely inspired me to read that book I mentioned above and build some wheels. The only question is, do I really need any more wheels?

[Edit] As was appropriately pointed out to me, I forgot to mention that Mark is one super fast dude on a bike. I mean seriously fast.

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