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Your post reminds me of an experience I had. Where I used to live riding was ridiculously great. There were hundreds of miles sparsely traveled country highways with good shoulders and rarely used farm to market roads going in all directions. Once out of town the directions for most rides were something like Take FM??? for 10 miles, then take ??? for 15 miles, then ??? for 10 miles.... Because of the nature of our rides we didn't use the brakes a lot. When I heard people talk brakes wearing down several sets of rims using the same spokes I took it for hot air or hyperbole because braking enough to wear out rims was so far outside my experience it seemed impossible; most of us didn't even wear the anodizing off the sides of our rims for several years. Things changed when I started commuting to work. I rode to work in all sorts of weather including rain where my brake pads picked up grit and my route while short was quite hilly and had stop signs at the bottom of a few hills. Now I was wearing out front rims in less than a year! This first solution I thought of was a front hub brake. My beater bike was an old racing bike that rode great but cost me next to nothing and a new drum or disk brake would cost several times what my bike was worth. I called around to nearby bike shops inquiring if they had an old front drum brake they could part with, perhaps a drum brake from an old Schwinn crate bike but nobody had anything. My solution for a while was cheap rims. Then we had a repair where we replaced a steel 27" wheel because the hub bearings and races disintegrated and I saw this perfectly good steel rim in the trash staring at me. Steel? could I put a steel rim on my Gitaine? It should last but would I be able to stop when wet; steel rims are notorious for loosing braking in the rain. I decided to build the sucker up. With a steel rim, heavy 27" tire, and a Mr. Tuffy (I always use 'em for commuting) it weighed a ton! It actually worked out fine. I didn't really notice the weight when my bike was loaded down and my Dura-Ace brakes bit well enough to stop me; I just had to start braking a moment earlier than usual. I'm probably the only person around who has laced a steel rim up to a nice Bullseye hub.
Giant-Steps is right, the best built wheels start with careful prep and inspection of the components. You know your good when you can build a great tandem set of wheels.
I'm riding training wheels that are early DURA ACE, 94-95. I was a bigger guy than I am now but have never had to true them. Some day the rims might crack and I'll build them again. Should last me until I'm close to 70. I can't give them up.
There is certainly value to having the wheel touched up. My shop went over every pre-built wheel we sold.
It is still better to build from scratch. There is a step usually called "improving the spoke line." Spokes come out of the box with a slightly obtuse angle (about 100 degrees) which is pretty close to the angle for the inside spokes but without tension the outside spokes bow out. As a stressed bicycle wheel rotates each spoke loosens when it goes through the "load affected zone" (usually just the bottom several spokes, the stiffer the rim the larger the load affected zone). and then goes to slightly higher than no-load tension when it gets out of the load affected zone. The spoke loosening then retensioning will cause the spoke bow out slightly every rotation and eventually fatiguing the spoke at the elbow. This is the single largest cause of spoke breakage. Good wheelbuilders know to mash down the outside spokes so the angle of the elbow becomes more acute and points directly toward the rim so the spoke will not bow out as it slackens. The only way to be sure this step was done would be to loosen the entire whee to the point where all spokes are slackl. The reason hubs don't come with different size spoke holes is because spoke fit isn't critical since hubs are made of soft aluminum that the harder steel spokes seat into. Machine built wheels almost always use 2.0mm (14ga for us old folks) spokes. The reason for this is because wheels built from thick spokes wind up less when tightening and are easier to build. 1.8mm (15ga) spokes really are strong enough for anyone but since they wind up more they are harder to build. Once 2.0mm spokes are seated into aluminum hubs 1.8mm spokes I prefer are a loose fit. My last issue with machine built wheels is thread lock. Machine built wheels use an anaerobic adhesive like Spoke Prep to keep the nipples from loosening. This is needed when spokes in a wheel do not have high enough tension to keep the spokes in the load affected zone from getting so slack that the nipple can loosen. Spokes threads should be lubricated with oil or grease for long term serviceability and spec-ed and built such that no spoke ever goes slack enough for the nipple to turn. Actually there is an exception to this rule, radial lacing. Radial laced wheels always need some sort of thread lock to avoid loosening up. Most hubs are not designed for radial lacing it voids the warranty and the hub flange eventually cracks and fails. When customers had a hub designed for radial lacing and insisted on that pattern I used the weakest loctite (purple or 222).
The best thing is to start from scratch to be sure every step is done right.
Edited by: GIANT-STEPS at: 3/8/2011 (13:27)
Great stuff here - Thanks.
Is there any value in buying decent pre-built wheels and taking them to a wheel builder to be tweaked?
If the pre-built costs less than the sum of the parts, and the laces are already threaded, the time spent getting a great wheel will be minimized. Assembling the wheel requires minimal skill, so only the builders expertise is used.
That's the way it worked in the old days (if 80's are the old days). A rider would tell us what they wanted, what they were going to do with it, we observed how big they were and how fit they seemed. If we personally knew them we would even have an idea if they are a sprinter or a roleur, if they were hard or easy on their equipment, etc. When riders went with equipment we recommended we would provide a warranty but if they insisted in something we recommend against we would still build it for them with the understanding that there was no warranty.
Wheel building isn't that hard to learn if you are at least a little mechanically inclined and if you enjoy working with your hands. The best starting point is Jobst Brandt's book; it's more for background info and is short on instruction but it has enough to learn how to build a wheel. You can pick up some pointers to speed the process up after you built a few. Most shops charge 45min to an hour of labor for wheel builds and you will have to build several wheels before you can approach an hour and you shouldn't feel rushed while learning anyway. My record has to be the time when I built a pair of wheels in the back seat of a car using a flimsy portable truing stand on the way to a ride in a little under an hour; I cheated a little using straight 2.0mm spokes but other than that I did the whole nine yards.
When my boss bought the book I already considered myself a competent wheelbuilder and frankly was a little insulted when he insisted that I read it. It sure did teach me a lot though. DT has a wheelbuilder certification program. If you want some a way to demonstrate your competency that is an option but if I already had a gig I wouldn't bother with it. Not sure you could eck out a living just building wheels but if you also became a custom frame builder that would really be something.
I had a set of weels hand built for my Cyclo Cross bike. I did not realize I was getting top of the line in builds. I have not had issues yet. I explained to the builder what I needed and my weight and he guaranteed that I would have no issues. So far I am good.
May be I should go to my LBS shop and see if they have wheel builders? May be I can strike up a deal and go to school and learn the trade and start a niche for my LBS.
I sold my Raleigh on consignment and the place recommended their old wheel builder.
My LBS had nothing at the time.
I wonder how long it would take an ole fart like me to learn how to build wheel sets?
Time, that's a great point! Time is money and there are fewer wheel builders.
I'm not a dinosaur but I have built my own wheels.... Required a couple of weeks and some beer but they are very nice.
In fact, ALL my wheelsets are handbuilts. I have a local builder who I trust (as I'm finding it hard to find the time to train, let alone build wheels) and he's built a number of wheels to my specifications.
Handbuilt every time for me.
In God we trust, all others bring data.
- W. Edwards Demings
If God invented marathons to keep people from doing anything more stupid, the triathlon must have taken Him completely by surprise.
Specificity, specificity, specificity.
The plural of "anecdote" is not "data".
- Frank Kotsonis
The point Giant-Steps makes is 100% valid.
In most top end bicycle shops you can hardly find a tech (except a dinosaur like Giant-Steps or me) that has built a wheel. I've built 1000's in the 60's, 70's and 80's, today they just fill out a return authorization tag and send them off. I've talked to the Mavic rep and found tolerance issues with the system and got a replacement in 2 days with the same issues. Shimano, the same but I got a new wheel really fast............7800 but will it last.
Wish I had more time to go into detail.
Years ago every good bike shop prided itself of the quality of hand-built wheels it produced. Mechanics who could build a round and straight wheel that stayed that way for a long time were valued. Successful wheelbuilders passed their techniques down to new mechanics. An engineer named Jobst (pronounced Yopst by those in the know) Brandt wrote a book "The Bicycle Wheel" that explained how the spoked bicycle worked, where its strength came from, and what went into a good wheel. At first there was resistance to this book; some long-time wheelbuilders poo-pooed it and some people pointed out small technical errors in it claiming they invalidated the entire volume. Over time we all figured out that he knew what he was talking about and if we ignored his advice we did so at our own peril. While Brandt did a lot to demystify bike wheels there was still a knack to wheelbuilding and people who spent many hours lacing wheels and turning spoke nipples had a much better feel than first timers. We were still in demand but we were now considered artisans rather than artists or Zen masters.
Machine built wheels used to be demonstribly inferior to hand built wheels. Hand built wheels were tighter, truer and more durable. Over time machine built wheels improved a great deal and riders noticed that they could buy a complete machine built wheel for less than the sum of the individual parts so it was cheaper even before labor. Someone who owned a particularly nice hub might decide to have a set of hoops laced up to them but otherwise mechanics were no longer building wheels. Then pre-built wheels from Campy, Shimano, Mavic, Rolf, etc. became popular. Some low spoke count wheels can not even be hand built or rebuilt because getting the few spokes to high enough tension required a machine that compressed the rim while turning the nipple.
Last time I needed a rim to rebuild a wheel I went to my local bike shop and my salesperson went to the back of the shop and pulled out a dusty old rim. I asked if they built many wheels lately and he said almost never. None of the technicians knew how to build a wheel; the owner did so when they needed to build or rebuild a wheel he did the job himself; it wasn't worth the effort to learn to build wheels when the skill is so rarely needed. Now I notice that most component grupos do not even include hubs. Manufacturers now assume you will purchase pre-built wheels rather than building up a set.
My modest proposal is that all cyclists should have at least one pair of standard hand-built wheels. Yes they will be a little expensive at first but since they can be repaired and rebuilt they could save you a lot of money in the long run. Parts to repair most uberwheels are hard to find a few years after you buy them; standard wheels can take many different kinds of spokes and rims. Go for 36 spokes if possible. With 36 you can usually make it home if you manage to break a spoke while wheels with fewer spokes usually become unrideable after breaking a single spoke. You can go with Mavic Open Pro rims and double butted stainless steel spokes and come out lighter than most pre-builts. They will have a little more aero drag but unless you are riding against the clock you will feel no difference except perhaps slightly less cross-wind sensitivity.
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