With the proliferation of special pre-built "boutique" wheels on quality bikes today, with their low spoke counts and carbon fiber rims, hand-building wheels may be something of a dying art. But it's a job I enjoy doing every now and then. I built my first pair when I was about 18 years old, with super lightweight tubular rims and classic Campagnolo Record hubs. That first pair didn't hold up well, and needed frequent re-truing. My second pair proved to be bomb-proof. Through college, I'd build wheels for my friends in the bike club, and almost all of my bikes today have hand-built wheels. It's been a few years since the last time I built a pair, though.
This set of wheels will be used on my 1980 Mercian Strada Speciale. The wheels that came with that bike (Campagnolo Tipo hubs and Rigida 1320 rims) were pretty badly out of true when I got it and had a flat spot or two. Somebody probably nailed some pretty bad potholes. On close examination I also noticed some deeply nicked spokes on the drive side of the rear wheel that indicated that somebody must have thrown the chain into the spokes, too. That could lead to spoke breakage at some point. I did my best to bring them back into shape, but after a few rides, they'd need more truing hygiene, and then again, and again. As I recall, those old Rigida rims were lovely and very light (for clinchers) but never very durable. With this set, I plan to go with a sturdier touring rim to gain some extra durability.
|My truing stand is an Artisan Tool & Die stand from the 1970s: made in Cleveland. It looks a lot like the classic Park model seen in many bike shops today. I've seen these advertised in old issues of Bicycling magazine (the ad on the right is from 1978). I've heard the company is still in business, but I'm certain they don't make bicycle tools anymore. I got this one from Al's Bike Shop in Cleveland when they went out of business some time in the '90s. Al sold me a bunch of his old shop tools when he closed up. The dishing tool is Campagnolo - also from Al's.|
With all my materials and tools ready, I turned on the Tour on T.V. and started lacing spokes. I followed the steps for lacing and truing as they are set out in Jobst Brandt's book. Jobst lays it out clearly and concisely - and I think it's hard to go wrong following his advice. Some people refer to Sheldon Brown's site for their wheel building steps, and while Sheldon explains some things a little differently, I think his steps basically agree with Jobst's. Either way, I think a person will end up with a properly built wheel.
There are certain things I've learned to look for in a well-built set of bicycle wheels. Some of them are functional or practical, some are structural, and some are just aesthetic attention to detail.
|At the valve hole, one wants to have the spokes more or less parallel - to leave more room for a pump head and to simplify tire inflation.|
Once I got the wheels to where I was pretty satisfied with them, I took them to my local bike shop for a final check. One tool you might have noticed that I don't have in my arsenal is a spoke tension gauge, or tensiometer. Yes, I really should get one. But I don't mind letting the pro give them a final tension check to make sure they'll hold up well. As it turned out, my spoke tension was still a bit on the "loose" side, so Rich at Century Cycles brought the tension up a little.
All that's left to do now is apply some rim tape, mount some tires, and get them on the bike. Hope you enjoyed this little look at hand-built wheels.