Wednesday, January 13, 2016

An Adventure in Wheelbuilding

Building a wheel is something I've been interested in trying for a long time. It's one of those things that always held some "mysticism" to me when it came to bicycles. The problem has been... it's tough to find a reason to build a wheel when 99% of your riding is on a Trispoke and a disc.

Well, the cyclocross bike gave me an excellent excuse. It came equipped with some fine (if bland) clinchers but I was a little more interested in tubulars, being the snob that I sometimes am. My first inclination was to go with what I know...which is to say buy a used set of tubular 303's and be done with it... but then, where's the adventure in that. So, after some time scouring the internet I decided that I *might* be able to build my own wheels successfully. The first step was purchasing Roger Musson's book, and then reading up on what kind of wheel would be good for my needs. After narrowing it down I settled on the Velocity Major Tom's. They fit all of my needs, aluminum braking, strong, wide, tubular and although it wasn't a major concern they were also fairly cheap. I lucked up in hub selection as well, as an ebay vendor was clearing out Shimano sets so I picked up an Ultegra 6800 combo for $100, which seemed about as reliable as I could get without dipping into the "over budget" selection.

Measuring ERD gave me some initial concern... as does basically anything that requires precise measurements, so I waited to measure myself as opposed to just trusting Velocity's published ERD. It turned out to be a wash as using Musson's method I ended up with 598, the same as the website. At least that gave me some peace of mind moving forward. With a correct ERD and the necessary values of my Hub (which I found online) it was time to pick spokes.

The first thing that caught my eye of course was a nice bladed CX-Ray... the next thing that caught my eye was the price tag of them. After some quick addition I realized at $3+/ea I was going to have a fortune in spokes for my 32hole rims. Common sense took hold and I "settled" for Sapim Lasers in black, which was much more reasonable from a bulk standpoint.

But no job is easy to finish without the right tools... and wheelbuilding tools were a spot in my toolbox that was quite slim... a cheap Parktool spoke wrench being the extent of it.

Jenny's father happens to be a master when it comes to wood working and a lover of anything that involves a plan or diagrams, so I passed off Musson's book/plans to build a truing stand and was floored with what he delivered just a couple days later.

The Wheel building corner

I was able to craft a nipple driver using Musson's instruction out of an old flathead screwdriver, but failed (somewhat miserably) at making a competent dishing tool. In the end I sucked it up and ended up buying two Spokey's, a set of Park Tool Spoke Keys, a Park Tool dishing tool and a Park tension meter... hopefully everything I'll ever need in the future to build wheels.

As far as the building is going... I'd say so far successfully. It's far more time consuming than I had imagined, but there is something soothing about the methodical work. I'm still new enough that a spoke being slightly less tensioned than the others still freaks me out, as does a slight bit of wobble (under a mm) but I have confidence I'll get everything pretty well sorted and get quicker.

So far I've only "finished" the front wheel, but here it is.

So begins the tubular stretching

I'll probably go back over it one more time using Park Tools app before I begin gluing the tire, but I'm happy with how far I've got now!

Thanks for reading, I really appreciate it!

- Christopher Morelock

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