Wheel-building seems to intimidate most people. However, it is actually relatively simple, and will increase your enjoyment of the sport. With the right tools, plus a little preparation and patience, you can build a wheel as well as the pros.
- Assemble your tools and materials. You'll need a rim, a hub, and the proper length spokes and spoke nipples. You'll also need a wheel truing stand, a spoke wrench, a flat screwdriver, and some medium weight oil. A spoke tensiometer, a dishing tool and a nipple driver are optional.
- Orient yourself. Place the rim in your lap with the valve stem hole directly across from you. Hold the hub in the middle of the rim with it axle vertical. These instructions assume you are building a front wheel 3x. For notes on rear wheels and other lacing patterns, see Tips, below.
- Drop one spoke though every other hole in the upper flange of the hub. Then insert one spoke in the hole which is immediately to the left of the valve stem - this hole should be offset upward. Thread on the spoke nipple a few turns. Continue to insert one spoke in every fourth hole, threading on spoke nipples as you go.
- Flip the wheel over. Insert the next set of spokes. Each spoke should fall just to the right of the spoke on the opposite flange. Insert the spokes into the rim holes which are to the immediate right of each spoke in the first set. Thread on the spoke nipples a few turns.
- Leave the wheel where it is, and drop the third set of spokes through the remaining holes in the bottom flange. They should hang down, away from the rim.
- Turn the wheel back over, being careful not to let the third set of spokes fall out.
- Cross the spokes. You need to twist the hub so that the spokes pull away from the valve stem hole. Then cross the third set of spokes over the first spoke and under the last. Insert them in the appropriate holes (those which are offset to the same side as the flange you are working from) threading on the spoke nipples as you go.
- Repeat for the fourth set.
- Inspect the wheel before going any farther. Did you lace it up correctly? You may want to compare it to a wheel that is already built to make sure. The spokes on either side of the valve stem should be nearly parallel.
- Seat the spokes against the hub. This is best done with a flat screwdriver. Use it as a lever to press the inside spokes against the flange. Be gentle.
- Place the wheel in the stand. Drop one drop of lube where each spoke threads into the nipple, and another drop where each nipple seats against the rim.
- Tighten all the spokes until only one or two threads are showing (this is where the nipple driver speeds things up).
- Bring up the tension buy giving each spoke a 1/2 turn. Go slowly. You'll probably work all the way around the wheel several times. Ease off when the wheel begins to approach the tension of a finished wheel.
- True the wheel. Most of your work now will involve getting the wheel true both laterally and radially.
- Set the truing stand with the arms closer to the rim. Dial them in so that the side of the rim scrapes in places. True the wheel laterally by tightening the two spokes that pull the rim in the opposite direction, and loosening the one spoke between those two spokes.
- Set the truing stand so that the arms are underneath the rim and scrape the top of the rim in various places. To true the wheel laterally, tighten four or six spokes along the area where the rim scrapes. When you true a wheel laterally, always work in pairs of spokes - one spoke from each side of the hub.
- Note that the wheel should be coming into shape now. If you have a dishing tool, remove the wheel from the stand and check the dish. If you don't, flip the wheel around in the stand. It should be the same distance from each arm as it was before. To adjust the dish, tighten all the spokes on one side of the wheel in 1/2 turn increments.
- Stress relieve the spokes from time to time by squeezing sets of parallel spokes with your hands. This is very important if you want a durable wheel.
- Tension the wheel until the spokes are as tight as a finished wheel. If you have a tensiometer, tension the wheel until the spokes are the prescribed tension. If not, you will have to tension your wheel by feel or by tone. With the components that are available today, you can built a wheel with quite a bit of spoke tension.
- Ride your new wheel. If you have built the wheel carefully and stress relieved it properly, you will hear minimal pinging on your first ride. However, it is always a good idea to re-true your new wheel after its first time out.
Tips & Warnings
- Brass nipples are cheaper and more durable than alloy nipples.
- Many builders like Spoke Prep. Others prefer anti-seize, while some traditionalists prefer to use linseed oil. Regular medium weight oil works great, too.
- Double butted spokes are lighter but will actually make for a more durable wheel - when the wheel hits a bump, a double butted spoke will compress, while a straight-gauge spoke will tend to twist.
- Choose a rim with eyelets. These tend to make for more durable wheels.
- Front wheels can be built 2x, or even radial laced. This will save a small amount of weight but has no other benefits, besides looks.