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I'm in the planning stage of building a new bike. This will be a light road bike for city runs and transport. For racing I have other bikes.

I'd like to build the bike from ground up by assembling everything myself. Not sure wether to go for gears or single speed yet, but that isn't relevant to this question:

What parameters would I need to consider when building a set of wheels? I will probably go for steel rims to get a classic look. I've already found out how to calculate spoke length, and I'll try to find an old fork to mount the wheel on while building it. The wheel consists of four parts:

  • Rim
  • Spokes
  • Spoke nipples
  • Hub

Protips on good parts? I guess specially the hub is important. Are there any real difference to cheap and expensive spokes as long as they are not carbon fibre?

  • What spoke arrangement should I go for; cross-laced or straight. Pros and cons?
  • In what order do I assemble the wheel?
  • What is the best spoke tension (given I can measure the torque)?
  • What tools do I need?

Any general good advice when building a wheel is appreciated as I'm totally unexperienced doing this.

A lot of questions that is. If anything is unclear, just ask and I'll elaborate on it. Thanks in advance.

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6 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The best suggestion I can make is to read "The Art of Wheelbuilding, by Gerd Schraner".

As for materials:

Use aluminum, double walled rims. They are stronger, lighter, and believe it or not easier for a new wheel builder to get true and round than steel rims will be. In addition, steel rims for a road bike will be difficult to come by in new condition.

Spokes:

There are major differences in the strength and pliability in steel spokes. Even if you ignore spokes from other materials, which you should, look at double butted (usually 2/1.8/2mm) steel spokes from DT Swiss, or if you want really high quality, use the ones from Sapim. Read the Art of Wheelbuilding for more detail on why.

Use a high quality hub, something with a forged hub shell, and good quality bearings. Shimano Ultegra or Dura Ace, if you want good, loose ball bearings. Hope, Phil Wood, or any number of others for good quality sealed bearings.

Use brass spokes nipples.

You will need the following tools:

  1. A good quality truing stand
  2. A set of good spoke wrenches
  3. A nipple driver
  4. A quality tensiometer
  5. Spoke Freeze or similar
  6. Method of determining spoke length
  7. The components listed above
  8. Time and practice.

I hope that helps.

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Thanks. Weel structured and generally a useful answer. I ordered the book, so I'll read it before ordering parts. As bike components and tools are very expensive where I live, I'll probably won't go for Dura Ace and Park Tool, but it's a good reference. –  jurgemaister Feb 19 '12 at 9:26
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I'd suggest you get a book on bicycle maintenance that includes a chapter on wheel building. I refer to "The All New Complete Book of Bicycling" by Eugene A Sloane (1980) (but there may be something newer ;) ). The procedure is far from simple and straight-forward, especially for a cross-laced wheel (which you probably should do unless you fully understand the short-comings of radial), so having a step-by-step guide is important.

You don't measure spoke tension by torque, but instead (if you think you must) you use a spoke tension gauge. (I've never used one.)

For tools you need a board with a hole in it (to hold the hub upright) and a screwdriver that fits the slot in the tail of the nipples well. A spoke wrench is also sometimes handy, as are a few rubber bands.

You should also get some nipple grease. A small jar of the stuff will last a lifetime.

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+1 for answering the spoke layout and the nipple grease pro tip :) –  jurgemaister Feb 19 '12 at 9:28
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Steel rims are contradictory to your "light road bike" statement. Check out the Sun MK13 or CR18 if you want a classic looking rim that's aluminum double wall. There are a lot of quality hubs that aren't made by Shimano or the other big guys. I personally would get hubs with sealed bearings. DT Swiss spokes are the standard, 2.0 is single gauge and is just fine. I would go with a standard 3x pattern. Get a nipple driver. Dip spoke threads in latex paint to keep wheels true longer, acts as a very low strength loctite. Sheldon Brown provides a very useful tutorial: http://sheldonbrown.com/wheelbuild.html

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Another book recommendation: The Bicycle Wheel by Jobst Brandt. He covers a lot of engineering detail (forces acting on wheel components, failure modes, etc) but also includes practical step-by-step instructions for wheel assembly.

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Ok this is probably getting a bit much now, but I also have a Book suggestion: 'The Professional Guide to Wheel Building' by Roger Musson.

I used this book and some plans on his site when building my first 26" single-speed wheel, and again for a bomb-proof 24" with cassette hub.

I realise there are a lot of online resources out there, but I found that having a book that could be wedged open under my vice (make-shift truing stand at the time) was invaluable - especially when trying to get lacing right for the first time!

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Yep, like I said, you need a book, or some other written description of the procedure. It's just too complicated to "wing it" the first 2-3-30 times. –  Daniel R Hicks Feb 23 '12 at 12:56
    
Not sure if I'm of substandard intelligence but I had to repleatedly refer back to the lacing pattern diagram! I think it's cus you work (assuming it's not radial) at a 90deg angle from the final thing at first and it threw me right off. –  Mere Development Feb 23 '12 at 23:10
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A good resource for wheel building is wheelspoking.com. It lets you enter all the variables and then outputs spoke lengths and lacing patterns for each side of the wheel.

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