Monday, April 29, 2019

Wheelbuilding Saturday

I spent this past Saturday lacing up a new pair of wheels. I've covered wheel building here on the blog before (Here and Here) so I won't go into a ton of detail about it. But suffice it to say, wheel building is one of those jobs I enjoy. There's something methodical and maybe even meditative about it.

The funny thing about building wheels is that a lot of people express complete dismay when you say you built your own wheels. I guess to the uninitiated eye looking at a complete wheel, it just looks like an unfathomable web of wire that somehow got laced together by magic. But the part that probably strikes them as the most confusing aspect (getting all the spokes in the right places)  is actually the easiest, most unambiguous part of the job. Lots of books and many more online articles are out there that outline the steps in a straightforward manner. The harder part comes in fine-tuning the wheel so it's not only straight/true, but also perfectly round, and evenly tensioned. It takes time to get it right. That's a part that gets better and easier with more experience - but for me nowadays,  looking at that little tiny gap between the rim and the calipers on the truing stand keeps getting harder for my eyesight. I got these into the ballpark, then had someone at the local shop give them a final once-over after my head started to hurt from the eye strain. Might be time for new glasses.

This pair of wheels are my first foray into the world of 650B. Last spring I was riding with a group of vintage bike fans in Michigan, and one of the guys on that ride had a really pretty old French bike that he'd converted to 650B wheels - it was such a sweet bike that I was inspired to try something similar.

I always start by gathering all my materials. Rims, hubs, spokes and nipples, a spoke wrench, and my copy of The Bicycle Wheel by Jobst Brandt. I always do a quick review of Brandt's book before starting a set of wheels. The spokes are Sapim double butted (14/15 gauge) which are a good value. I keep my spokes separated in their own little bundles by length while building so I don't get them mixed up. There are three lengths - the longest are for the front wheel. There are two lengths for the rear wheel - the shortest ones are used on the drive-side to help get the proper wheel "dish."

The rims are Grand Bois 650B which are available from Rene Herse Cycles (formerly Compass Cycles). They are a classic-looking profile, beautifully polished, and very well made. The regular price on these is pretty high ($98 each, I believe) but they were marked down recently so they are a little more competitive price-wise with rims like those from Velo-Orange. The VO rims are probably very good, but the Grand Bois are a little lighter, and I like the rounded profile more.

My hubs are vintage SunTour Vx - made by Sansin (aka Sunshine). These have a great polish and look almost new. Even the quick release skewers could pass for new. 

To determine the proper spoke length, I use Spocalc, a Microsoft Excel-based spreadsheet program developed by Damon Rinard. It's a free download and you can find it via the Sheldon Brown website. I've always found it to be accurate - but it's important to make sure you input the proper hub and rim dimensions. Spocalc includes a pretty extensive database of hub and rim dimensions to help simplify things, but it's still a good idea to measure. In my case, the SunTour Vx hubs I chose were not listed in the database, so accurate measuring was absolutely necessary and Sheldon Brown's site has some helpful tips for measuring hubs and rims. With new rims, the main necessary dimension (ERD, or "effective rim diameter") is usually easy to find from the manufacturer, and some even print it on the label.

With the wheels now done, I can start focusing on getting the bike conversion project underway.

Readers might remember this frame from a couple of months ago - a French-made Motobecane Grand Jubilee. It seemed like a good candidate for conversion, but first I had to get the Swiss-threaded bottom bracket unstuck. More info to come. . .


  1. It looks like a really interesting project. I'd love to see progress and ride reports!

    1. Thanks Justine - updates will be coming.

  2. Nice wheels - 650b is fun to build and ride. Not sure if you are a Bike Forums user, but a member just posted pics of his Grand Jubilee rebuild. He set a very high bar!

    1. Thanks for the link - I have similar ideas for this one, though for right now I'm keeping it simple and the investment lower. If I decide it works well for me, is a good fit, etc., I might consider making a few frame mods and get new paint.

  3. Wheelbuilding Saturday? Is that a new holiday or derby of some sort?