Some people dream of building their own bike from scratch. From selecting the all important components to learning about how they all fit together can be a truly rewarding process. It can be tricky and/or expensive to finish some parts of the build and often anything involving bearings, hydraulic brakes or telescopic forks is best left to a professional mechanic, but most things can be learned when you invest a little time and money into the project. As a professional mechanic I know that there is still one craft in the world of bikes that cannot be picked up so easily and that’s why I’m so proud of each and every hand built wheel that leaves my workshop.
Wheelbuilding is something of a black art in cycling. Whereas other jobs like gear adjustment, brake adjustment or headset adjustment can be learned from books or the internet, wheelbuilding is something that you need a true understanding for. You need to have a feel for it, for the spoke tension, for the effect that one spoke will have on its twin, and the other two spokes that surround them, and for the other 28 spokes in the wheel – every action has 32 re-actions!
The beautiful thing about building wheels for someone is how configurable they can be – hubs, rims, tyres, tubes, spokes and nipples should all be seriously considered when building a set of wheels for someone and how everything will work together with the bike and the rider alike
I believe that wheels are the missing piece of magic whenever a rider doesn’t feel comfortable on the bike – stock/budget wheels provide a barrier between the bike/rider and the ground. Many things should be considered when choosing how your wheels should be built for you.
Like the bike, there is no point making a super stiff, lightweight wheelset for a bike that you hope to comfortably clock up the winter miles on – Likewise a compliant, strong set of wheels will hold you back in a crit race. The wheels have to be matched to the rider, to the bike and to the style of riding that they shall be used for.
A simple example of this would be if a light team rider, with a stiff frame was wanting a set of wheels for race day I would build wheels with a high spoke tension, with very little flexibility and would be radial at the front and 2x/3x at the back. What is always of amusement for me is that the vast majority of stock wheels on customer bikes are built like this and I can’t think of anything worse for the average rider (I include myself here) – even for a lightweight racer this kind of wheel would be harsh for training on, uncomfortable at best!
Far better would be a 3 cross spoke pattern front and back with 32 evenly spaced spokes. This way, for a very small weight penalty you get a wheel that easily maintains an even spoke tension, therefore staying true for longer, but more importantly the wheel benefits from a slight amount of flex.
The wheel must behave like a leaf spring or a bow – it must allow a small amount of flex and it must return to it’s shape smoothly. If this happens the wheel will absorb all of the small vibrations from the road and create a much more comfortable ride. A happy side effect of this is that because the tyre is therefore in contact with the ground a lot more you benefit from more grip and the ability to run the tyre at a higher pressure, thus avoiding punctures and travelling faster.
It might all sound very technical, and it is, but as you’ve probably heard, bike riding/racing is a sport of marginal gains. That’s why I think that when you (or your mechanic) spend hours researching the best groupsets and components for you custom bike, you should take time to include your wheel choice in the mix – don’t build a barrier between you and the road, let me help you build a connection with it!
Glen runs THE.TRIBECA.SPORT.WØRKSHOP which is based at 28 London Road, Southborough, TN4 0QB – 01892 533 339 – firstname.lastname@example.org . The shop specialises in precision servicing, race prepping, 3D bike fitting and high quality bikes and equipment. Drop in, give us a call, visit our Facebook page or browse our website for more details. He also runs the shop race team and club as well as racing ‘cross, road and cross-country nationally.
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