I recently finished building my first ever bicycle wheel, and now I'm planning to test ride it. Since this is my first wheel build I want to safely test it to ensure that the wheel won't fail catastrophically while I'm mountain biking or riding in busy traffic. The wheel is both laterally and radially true, dished right, and with spokes that appears to be evenly tensioned. It looks and feels like a real bicycle wheel, in other words. But looks can be deceiving. How do I safely test a new bicycle wheel to get a reasonable assurance that it is safe for heavier useage such as mountain biking?
You said that it is laterally and radially true, dished correctly and properly tensioned. Sounds like its ready to ride! As far as i know there is no real true test method other than riding. I would just take an easy ride around the block or on a tame trail. You may find that after riding for a bit you will need to re-tension some of the spokes after they have settled in. This is pretty normal with use.
It sounds like it is in all likelihood good to go. But, in terms of the less fortunate possible scenarios, there are two main types of bad things you could experience:
- You have a lot of spoke windup and the wheel goes way out of true very quickly. You will probably hear pinging when you ride it for the first time if this is the case, but it can be silent too. Side-loading the wheel off the bike a little can alleviate some windup, but not necessarily all of it. Test riding in a manner that heavily side-loads the wheel, like riding out of the saddle with the bike canted over, can have the same effect, and is a way to get additional windup worked out before you really start riding it. The difference is that off the bike, the common methods of sideloading contact the rim at two or more points, whereas on the bike the load is concentrated at one. Most new wheelbuilders will experience a greater or lesser degree of this problem before you master getting windup out with spoke wrench technique alone, which involves overshooting and backturning the wrench on each nipple and being sensitive to the feel of the spokes trying to twist.
- You have way too much tension on the rim, and at the first significant side load on the wheel, which could be turning or standing out of the saddle, the wheel fails in a column buckling mode. In other words, the rim was just barely able to handle the static load on it from spoke tension, and the addition of a little side load causes it to collapse, like an overloaded column. This can also happen when sideloading the wheel out of the bike. While not common per se, most mechanics and wheelbuilders experience or observe this sooner or later. This is more potentially dangerous if it happens on the bike because it does involve a sudden loss of structural integrity. Like the above, if you want to test for it before riding for wheel, then riding the bike in a manner that heavily but realistically sideloads the wheel in a safe, controlled, low-speed way is how to do it.