Live Wheelbuilding!

By | July 9, 2015

Live Wheelbuilding!

It is easy to argue that building your own wheels is a waste of time.

  • Complete wheels sets are often available for a lower price than the individual parts.
  • Wheel building take a lot of practice
  • Wheel building is a slow tedious project.
  • The tools to build wheels are not cheap.

Despite all of this, I still feel it is a good idea to learn to build your own wheels for the following reasons:

  • Being able to build a wheel means you will be able to true a wheel.
  • Pre-built, high quality wheels, are available at a low cost, but if you want rare, uncommon components you will likely have to build the wheel yourself.
  • If you need to replace a spoke, you will know how if you are adept at wheel building.
  • Being able to repair a wheel on the fly can mean the difference between making it home and being stranded.
  • Wheel building is a dying art.  Most bike shops don’t do it anymore.  It is time consuming and takes practice, but anyone can do it.  I take a lot of satisfaction from building my own wheels.

I built the front wheel on my bike 5 or 6 years ago.  It has around 10,000 miles on it, and yet I have only trued it a couple times.  So this Thursday when I broke a spoke on my way home from work, I was shocked and saddened.

I considered just replacing a spoke.  I talked to my local bike shop about the life of the wheel.  We decided that the wheel had very high mileage with light gauge spokes.  Spoke metal fatigue was a real concern.  More spokes may beak in the near future.  We decided it would be best to rebuild the wheel.  I had a spare rim laying around with little wear.  (I always save parts from my old wheels.  Never know when they are going to come in handy.)  The hub, despite its mileage, was in great shape.  All I had to buy was spokes.  $30-$50 for a new wheel.   Score!  In this case, building my own wheel saved me money!

My wheel had the following components:

Mavic open pro rim.

Shimano Ultegra 6600 Hub

DT Swiss 295mm spokes.  (There are numerous spoke length calculators online).

So what was the process like?  Here is the play by play.



Here we have a rim, 33 spokes (I always get an extra), a Shimano Ultegra 6600 hub, nipples and some olive oil.  Olive oil?!  Sheldon Brown recommends boiled linseed oil, but any natural oil will do.   The oil gums up over time and acts like a thread locker.






Left side ‘outies’ are in place.  Notice my toes in the lower right.  That there is some classy wheelbuilding!!!



Left side ‘innies’ are in place.  If you do not have a nipple twister, (ouch! Son of a bitch!) A flat head screwdriver is a necessity!





Right side ‘innies’ are in place.  There won’t be enough room if you safe the ‘innies’ for last!



Right side ‘outies’ have been dropped unto the hub and are waiting to be laced.



One laced wheel, 32 spokes, 32 nipples, 1 hub and 1 rim.  Lacing is fun!  The real work is truing, tensioning, and stressing is the real challenge.






My new wheel in the truing stand!  Notice the spoke wrenches on the stand below.

Two hours from start to finish.  Not too bad.  I have gotten faster with practice, but pros can do it in about an hour.  So clearly I am no expert.  So far I have put about 100 miles on my new wheel and it is still nice and true.  I am pretty happy with the results!

So if after reading all that, you for some reason what to build your own wheels.  The best advice I can give is as follows:

  • Get a good truing stand.  The Park Tool truing stand is far more accurate and steady than the Performance knockoff and will last a lifetime.
  • A spoke tension gauge would be nice, but is expensive and not really necessary.
  • Read Sheldon Brown’s wheelbuilding guide.
  • If you want exciting wheelbuilding videos, I turn to the bike tube.  These videos are my go-to when I am about to lace up a wheel.  Plus I have never seen anyone so visibly excited in a youtube video!!



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