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Wheel Building for Beginners

To many people wheel-building is a mystical art best left to experts. Actually it’s fairly straightforward and requires following a few simple rules and plenty of practice.

Here are a few tips.

Spokes stretch with usage, therefore if one breaks it’s best to rebuild the wheel with a fresh set. A single spoke replacement is likely to result in the wheel going slightly out of true as the new spoke stretches

Make sure you have a rim and hub in good condition. A rim with even a slight buckle can be difficult or impossible to build. A hub with even slightly loose bearings will cause problems. Cheap hubs are often difficult to adjust perfectly, so slightly over tighten the bearings while you build the wheel, then slacken them again before use.

Make sure you have the right length of spoke, and check ALL the spokes are the same length! Seems obvious, but there’s nothing more annoying than getting to the final stage of truing, and discovering you’ve fitted the incorrect length. There are various resources for providing details of spoke length for all combinations of hub and rim. If you’re dismantling an old wheel for respoking, make a note of the “cross pattern”.

Make sure the hub and rim have the same number of holes! A beginner’s mistake which we’ve all made once!

When “lacing” the wheel (loosely fitting all the spokes) pay attention to the position of the holes in the rim. Many rims have holes alternately staggered either side of a central line to better align spokes from each hub flange.

Lightly dip each spoke thread in oil prior to lacing. This helps avoid spoke “twist” when final truing. If spokes become loose in a wheel when ridden, it’s because they weren’t tightened sufficiently in the first place!

Use a good quality spoke key which won’t damage the nipples.

A cheap wheel jig is fine for an occasional wheel build. It’s only worth spending more for those who build wheels frequently.

It’s quickest to remove old spokes by cutting them with sharp pliers 3-4inches from the hub.

Once the wheel is loosely laced, the trick is to gradually tighten all the spokes while keeping an eye on the up and down movement of the rim. The side to side movement is less important at this stage, and needs adjusting only if the wobble is extreme.

The best way of centering the rim using a cheap wheel jig is to keep reversing the wheel to ensure the rim remains central in the jig. This applies also to the rear wheel, which needs “dishing”, as well as the front.