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The bearings and hubs on my bike have worn out and need replacing. The local bike shop charges $120 to have the wheel rebuilt with a new hub not including the part cost. I am considering doing this myself to save the money. I have never rebuilt a wheel before but I have done other maintenance on my bike and watched some videos on wheel rebuilding.

After considering buying the tools needed and the risk of breaking any parts, is it worth building a wheel for the first time just to save money?

I have done other repairs like chain replacements and brake pad replacements. I don't mind spending a weekend messing with it and I have other bikes I can use in the meantime.

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    To the downvoter, just because the asker is wrong and the answer is no, doesn't mean it's an unreasonable question. – whatsisname Apr 9 '19 at 5:35
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    @whatsisname To the commenter, just because you have a theory about why the question was downvoted, doesn't mean that was the actual reason. The downvote wasn't mine but this looks pretty opinion-based, to me. – David Richerby Apr 9 '19 at 10:07
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    What kind of hub is this? You can replace the bearings on many hubs. This doesn't involve rebuilding the wheel. – Artefacto Apr 9 '19 at 16:28
  • IMO, there's a point no one has raised yet: lacing a wheel is super easy if you follow a pattern, but pre-stressing it and then truing it to correct tension isn't. Considering the OP's experience, I'd say it's probably not economical as something might very well go wrong sooner with the rebuilt wheel than with a factory built new wheel. – Gabriel C. Apr 9 '19 at 17:54
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For most applications, most of the time, in the global north, if you're trying to save money then just buying a new wheel is the most economical. The main exception that comes up is if you have a premium quality hub that's built to go indefinitely and is worth re-rimming.

But, good handbuilt wheels offer the highest level of reliability and longevity, and that can have its own economy depending on your situation. In practice a major example of this is that they don't break spokes from fatigue over the course of the service life of the wheel (and really ever with properly stress relieved spokes, but that's a bigger topic) whereas the cheaper end of machine built wheels often will, pushing back against the cost savings of buying one for a bike that gets ridden. And there are also times and places where a rim with life left isn't something you'd throw away. So there is no one answer here. A person who really needs their bike to work as best as possible and also needs to spend the minimum amount of money possible might be perfectly well advised to rebuild the rim.

Another factor is that the world has an overabundance of functional cheap or free used hubs with life left from wheels where the rim died. If you can get a suitable one of those and if minimizing cost is literally the only goal and if you've definitely got a rim with life left, then you're only out the cost of spokes and rebuilding it might make all kinds of sense.

Most rim brake rims are going to be pretty haggard by the time a hub has actually worn out. (Note that 'worn out' implies a different situation than a hub that had issues or failed.) There are exceptions here too; I've rebuilt one or two Dura Ace C50 tubular rims whose hubs died by pressure washer. That's obviously kind of an extreme example, but it happened.

Disc rims that aren't being mountain biked on can have pretty easy lives, especially when paired with a fat tire that's minimizing the severity of the fatigue cycles it experiences.

When rebuilding a used rim or contemplating it, it's a good idea to check for any out of round or out of true spots that are intrinsic to the rim itself, i.e. acquired via damage. A very good way to do this is take the bare rim and lay it on top of a new, high-quality, preferably machined sidewall rim of the same size. Any radial or lateral deformation should be apparent. To be able to get a true wheel with even spoke tension, you want the bare rim to have zero perceptible radial deformation, either flat spots or ovalisation, and 1-2 mm of lateral imperfection at most. (There are methods and tools for getting rims with any of these issues back into shape or at least making them better, but that's another topic.)

When unlacing a rim you intend to rebuild, be gradual so you avoid bending the material around too much. I do half turn loosening passes until the spokes are slack, then I do the rest all at once or cut if they're not being re-used (which they usually shouldn't be).

  • Re. unlacing the spokes. After slackening them, I then replace the spokes as I remove them, that way you have a nice guide as to the correct lacing and nipple destination. Very easy to maintain the valve hole to hub logo orientation (if that matters to you). It doesn't need to be one to one, but perhaps in a group of all leading drive-side spokes for instance (rear example). – Lamar Latrell Apr 9 '19 at 21:43
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Buying a new machine-made wheel is probably more economical if you put any price on your time. However, building wheels is in my opinion quite fun, and it also teaches you more about how spoked wheels work. This knowledge can come handy when you want to trim out-of-true wheels later.

You can go cheap on the tools. The only special tool needed is a spoke wrench, which you might already have. You also need a way to attach the wheel axle to something, which could be e.g. your bike turned upside down. Everything else, such as dial indicators and tensiometers are optional - they will improve the end result and make the wheel more durable and long-lasting, but you can make a perfectly functional wheel without them.

So if I were you, I'd give it a try, but just for the experience.

  • I did it for the experience once, and have now done ~5 wheel rebuilds. Its not hard, its just a combination of many requirements followed by iterative truing. +1 for experience. – Criggie Apr 9 '19 at 19:54
  • I would add to this answer the main points that are important to a good build: 1) Even tension, 2) vertical truing, 3) even tension, 4) horizontal truing, and 5) even tension. The two truing parts are obvious, but the even tension is critical to the longevity of the resulting wheel. – cmaster - reinstate monica Apr 10 '19 at 8:56
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Given enough (free of charge) time, good instructions, and some basic tools you can rebuild the wheel by yourself, at rather small cost. If your time is not free, and / or each day bicycle is out of operation costs you (like you have to pay gas for that day, or public transportation) then it is probably more economical to let the LBS rebuild it.

I have not included "just buy a new wheel" option since I suspect it might be an e-bike wheel with included hub motor, and therefore not easily or cheaply sourced as standard wheel.

  • Its a bosch ebike with no hub motors – Qwertie Apr 10 '19 at 0:25
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No.

Even with free labor, and even if you already have the tools, a custom wheel will rarely be cheaper than factory made.

Building wheels is primarily for making unique wheels, or the satisfaction of making them / enjoyment of the craft, but virtually never for cost reasons.

Also, re-using a rim is a bad idea. If the hub is toast, the rest of the wheel is too.

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    Disagree on the rim part -- you're free to re-use a good rim but agree that it will not be economical.The part that you don't want to re-use is spokes. – Batman Apr 9 '19 at 5:48
  • The wheel has only done 5000km but apparently some dirt got in to the bearings combined with the extra force from being an ebike caused it to wear out fast. Although I don't think the rim was particularly good anyway so this seems like it might be the right answer. – Qwertie Apr 9 '19 at 6:20
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    Downvoted for "If the hub is toast, the rest of the wheel is too" – ojs Apr 9 '19 at 8:45
  • Any extra speed and mass that and e-bike will subject the hub to shouldn't wear it out that fast. Was a cheap wheel? In that case I would have thought the extra tension on the spokes from drive torque would have been more of a potential issue... – Lamar Latrell Apr 9 '19 at 21:47
  • In my experience, there's no point to swap either rim or spokes: I have rebuilt wheels with old rims and/or spokes, and they worked fine. You need a new rim if it's brake surfaces are worn out, or when it's deformed, otherwise the old rim is good. And a full set of old spokes can be reused just fine as long as you make sure that they come out with near perfect even tension, the used spokes just make it harder to get to that point of even tension. I would never throw a wheel away just because I need a new hub. – cmaster - reinstate monica Apr 10 '19 at 9:03

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