Why build bicycle wheels… Mostly pride, some necessity, but really mostly pride. When it comes down to it, why pay a professional to do it properly when you could screw it up yourself? Basically the motto of my life.
With lots of experience fixing a pair of finicky wheels on a bike kitchen salvaged bike (The Green Monster), eventually I decided it was time to just start from scratch. Which resulted in the first pair of wheels I (re)built. The result wasn’t great, but here’s my analogy: if even the greatest carpenter (Jesus) builds a house out of balsa wood, it’s probably still going to be pretty flimsy.
Learning to build wheels is pretty fun, if not challenging and infuriating at times. Sheldon Brown describes it all, although I’ve recently gotten my hands on Jobst Brandt’s “The Bicycle Wheel”, which is also a great reference. Between the two, lacing and building a “3-cross” wheel is a piece of cake. By piece of cake, I mean you will probably insert and remove the first and/or second rounds of spokes about 5 times until you actually do it the way it’s properly described.
Since the rear wheel will take the brunt of my brunt-filled bike riding, 3-cross makes the most sense, so I won’t go into details, other than to say – pretty:
And with that, onto the fun, where all the real action is – up front. Here’s what we want the final product to look like:
Standard protocol is to start with trailing spokes on the right side of the bike. The only thing you really care about at this point is getting the oil port on the hub (opposite the logo) on the side opposite the valve hole. From what I understand, traditionally this is for pro cyclists that lube their hubs with a lighter oil when they have an important race or are trying to set best times. This alignment helps keep oil from dripping all over the valve hole.
That means you want to align the first round of spokes like so:
Where the two dots correspond to the valve stem and oil port. Or in real life
Now onto the trailing spokes on the opposite side
It took a few attempts to figure out the which spokes should be crossed, but with moments later
And the finished front wheel
(apologies for the contrast difference, but the flash really brings out the lacing pattern)
Tensioning and Truing
One of the many following aspects I didn’t do a particularly good job documenting… mostly because nothing too interesting happens. I can only stress, nothing will teach you how to true wheels better than having a useless pair that continuously needs truing. Beyond the advice in Sheldon’s article, I can’t say I have too many secrets on this. Possibly more on this if the wheels are really good or bad at staying in true.