Wednesday, February 22, 2017


I had a day off from work this week and took it as a good opportunity to lace together a new set of wheels. The intent of these wheels is that they be an extra special set of lightweight, high performance tubulars - like the kind of wheels I would have oohed and ahhed over when I was younger. I've mentioned some of my components in earlier posts: Campagnolo Record Hi-Lo hubs, and Mavic Monthlery Legere rims. As far as I can tell, the hubs were new-old-stock. I opened them up to pack fresh grease into them and found no signs of use on the races and cones, and the flanges don't seem to have any of typical signs of having been built before (I was told by the seller they were NOS, but it wouldn't have been the first time an eBay seller misrepresented an auction item). My rims, likewise, were unused. I selected 36 holes for the rear wheel, and 32 for the front. That made finding a matching pair of rims a little more difficult, but I eventually got what I needed.

For my spokes, I've always built with DT, but this time I decided to try Sapim 14/15g butted spokes. I've heard good things about the Sapims, and they were a little less expensive than the corresponding DTs.

As always, before I start building wheels, I refresh my memory by reviewing Jobst Brandt's excellent book, The Bicycle WheelSheldon Brown's article on wheelbuilding is a good reference for anyone who doesn't have a copy of Brandt's book.

When I start building, I like to gather all my tools and supplies. Truing stand, spoke wrenches, flat-bladed screwdriver - and for later, a dishing tool. Since my last wheel build, I also added a spoke tension gauge to my tool collection. I keep my spokes separated or bundled and labelled while I'm building so I don't mix them up. There are three lengths: the longest spokes are for the front wheel, the second longest go on the left side of the rear wheel, while the shortest spokes go on the drive side of the rear wheel.

Jobst Brandt makes it pretty clear that there is no strength advantage to wheels built using the Hi-Lo rear hub, despite the folklore that surrounds them. He doesn't refer to any disadvantage except for one - that it makes inserting some of the spokes into the small flange more difficult. In a typical wheel build, spokes are either in-bound or out-bound in each flange. That is, they are either inserted from the outside of the flange, or they are inserted from the inside of the flange in an alternating pattern. When inserting the in-bound spokes through the small flange in a Hi-Lo hub, the builder has to bend or flex the spokes quite a bit so that they'll clear the large flange on the opposite side. Once that little hurdle is clear, the rest of the job is no more difficult than any other build. For the out-bound spokes on the small flange, it's pretty easy to feed them through the big oval-shaped cutaways in the large flange to get them through the small flange in a straight shot. If the large flange doesn't have those big cutaways (as on the old Phil Wood or Hi-E versions of the Hi-Lo hubs), then I have to admit it would be annoyingly difficult. It's worth mentioning that lacing spokes into the large flange is a breeze -- probably easier than with "normal" symmetrical hubs.

From Saint Sheldon Brown: "It is customary to orient the rim so that the label is readable from the bicycle's right side. If the hub has a label running along the barrel, it should be located so that it can be read through the valve hole. These things will not affect the performance of the wheel, but good wheelbuilders pay attention to them as a matter of pride and aesthetics." Nailed it.

I've heard of people doing crazy things like mixing patterns on the left and right sides, but that gets a bit advanced for me. I know a lot of people love to use 4-cross on large flange hubs, but that gets the spoke heads and elbows overly crowded on a small flange. A traditional, straightforward 3-cross (on both sides) was fine for me.

One thing I noticed about the butted Sapim spokes is that the butted sections are really short -- less than an inch at the elbow end, and shorter still at the nipple end. 

I still have some final tensioning and truing to do on the wheels, so I'm waiting for another day when I have the time and ability to focus my attention on the task. Then comes the (sometimes) messy task of gluing on tires. . . another time.


  1. Very pretty!
    I think a hand laced bicycle wheel using fine components is artwork, I never tire of looking at them or (even better) riding on them.
    Thanks for the post.

    Randy R

  2. Darn! I forgot what a shine my nubs should have. Still a mystery how such a thing as a wheel can be put together in a shed from a hundred and twenty or so bits...

  3. Yes, handbuilt bike wheels are a work of art. And for a nice, light set of tubulars, you can hardly do better--with current or vintage parts--than with the components you've chosen!

  4. Thanks for sharing this fittingly retrogrouch project.

    1. Not retro grouch! Hand built wheels make sense from a performance and value standpoint, today.

    2. I just prefer traditional wheels SO MUCH MORE than the pre-built wheels that are available today! It's just such a shame that so many companies have forgotten that people still want to build wheels - getting suitable components keeps getting harder (I know that rims and hubs are still out there - but not like there used to be).

  5. Nice! Those look really classy, can't wait to see what they're going on.


  6. You are right: wheelbuilding is a relaxing activity. Meditation is hard because it's difficult to stop thinking about something, but activities like lacing a wheel and truing it demands a steady focus on the task for a long time. That is a good way to get rid of other thoughts and to keep living the moment. The very definition of Zen, if you ask me.

    Since I'm a luthier, I'm used to build my own jigs. That's why I decided not to spend my (scarce) money on a truing stand and to simply make myself one. Here it is:

    What I DID bought was a set of beaten-up rims to practice my wheelbuilding skills before attempting any work on a 'real' one. I laced & dismantled them about 10 times before truing, and after I did 5 sucessfull ones I build and trued the wheels of my bike. Practicing with a 'dummy' is something I can recommend to anyone.

  7. Hi,
    Nice writing, we have very similar interests.

    I just want to comment on building wheels with mixed patterns. My modern race bike has a crazy radial on the drive side and 2x on non-drive. When I needed a new rear wheel for my old racer now fixed daily driver, I decided to do the same using my 1st gen Dura Ace low-flange to some random tubular rims I had around. About 1500 miles of commuting later, I began hear an odd click when I pushed hard. It took a while but I finally discovered that I had cracked the hub across the center, starting at the oil hole and following the Shimano engraving. A disgraceful mistreatment of a beautiful hub.

    1. Yeah - I've always been really hesitant to do radial spoking because I worried about cracking the hub flange. The force pulling straight out radially is too much for a lot of hubs. But cracking one the way you describe is a new one on me!

  8. I have a Keith Lippy tandem that I put a Dura Ace 7400 series cassette hub on when I converted it to 9-speed. I switched to a Velo Orange hub after cracking two hub shells in the same location, where the diameter changes near the center of the barrel. Obviously, there's a stress riser there that keeps the design from being suitable for the increased stresses of tandem use. The wheels were laced cross-3.

    I have wondered about the logic behind the modern practice of radial spokes on the drive side, opposite of what weight weenies were asking for back in the day. It seems that this would increase the torsional stress on the hub shell. Perhaps the bodies have been beefed up, allowing the radial spoking to help to reduce tension on the dished side. One thing that modern, large-barrel hub designs tend to ignore is that increased volume inside the hub results in more expansion and contraction of the air inside. This could be a problem if the only path to equalize pressure is through the bearings, as this can result in contaminents being sucked in.

    The Velo Orange hubs are a fantastic deal--half price at $70. Quality and features are tops, especially as a touring hub. You can remove the cassette on the road without using any tools!