Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Wheelbuilding: For Health and Recreation



Ladies! Have you always dreamed of your man becoming a wheelbuider, but were never quite sure how to nudge him in that direction? Well, you can now follow these simple steps:

1. Bring home a set of handbuilt wheels made by somebody else.
2. Talk endlessly about how great they are - how light, how quick, how exquisite.
3. Soon he'll wonder out loud whether he ought to try it too.
4. And to this you reply: "Oh, I don't know... it seems so difficult."

Now, sit back and enjoy as he pores over spoke length charts, youtube videos, and memorises Sheldon Brown passages in their entirely (difficult you say?!).

You are very welcome.



Ah, relax everyone. I am only joking. Regardless of gender, obviously we do not "need" a spouse to build us wheels any more than we need them to make us cups of tea (...although of course it's always a lovely gesture when they do. Unless we truly prefer to make our own cups of tea, because like we make it a certain way or super strong or whatever and they do it all wrong. Okay, enough with analogies!).

But anyway. The situation is, we've both been lured into wheelbuilding. By a fellow whom I shall call St. Wheelson, who made me that first set of wheels. For those wheels turned out to be a trojan horse of sorts. They were everything I wanted, before I even knew I wanted it: Lightweight, fast, crosswind-resistant, vintagey-looking, and tubular. After the first ride I was in love. After the first week, I knew that I could never buy factory wheels again.

"And the good news is, you don't have to," said the subversive St. Wheelson helpfully. "They are easy to build yourself."

Encouraged, I had a browse at the literature. After which I was promptly discouraged: It was gibberish.

Luckily, Gary didn't think so, and spent the next two weeks reading seemingly every snippet of text available on the topic. He then decided to give it a try.

It was only as I watched him that the process came alive for me. I guess (ironically?) I am bad at "book learning," and need hands-on experience to properly understand how things work.

So here are my initial impressions of wheelbuilding, as I reflect on Gary's first build and begin to embark on my own...



Wheelbuilding: Is it really "easy?"

Yes and no. And of course it depends on where your aptitudes lie. Personally, I found it easier than expected in the sense that it doesn't require nearly as much physical strength or dexterity as I thought. The spokes are flexible until they are tensioned, so lacing them requires only a light touch. It is easier than weaving a wicker basket for sure.

Also, it turns out I just love using the spoke wrench. I find it one of the easiest bicycle tools to work with. No awkwardness, no upper body strength required, no broken fingernails. Just grip widely and twist gently - pure meditative bliss.

What I do find difficult is the precision of all the measuring and calculating. And later, the endlessness of the truing. It helps to be exacting, and patient. And I possess neither of these qualities.


What is involved?

Firstly, lots of decision making. Unless you are building wheels purely for the building experience (in the sense that you don't care how they ride), you will need to carefully select rims, hubs and spokes, to ensure the final result possesses the properties you want. You will also need to decide in advance how many spokes the wheels will have and what lacing pattern you will use (there are a few to choose from), as the selection of parts will depend on this.

Next, some careful measuring. When you start gathering parts, you make sure you have the rims and hubs first. You will then need to measure them and make some calculations to determine the length of spokes you need. Once you know, order the spokes. The way it works is the seller cuts them to size and threads them (although you can also do it yourself, if you have the equipment).

Finally, the building commences. Assuming you are starting from scratch and not taking an existing wheel apart first, you lace the wheel - which is to say you weave the spokes into their slots in the rim and hub, using whichever pattern you decided on. You do not need any tools at this stage; you use your hands and it is much like weaving a wicker basket or braiding a holiday wreath - only easier.

You then use a spoke wrench to tension the spokes.

And finally (and this is the most time consuming part), you true and dish the wheel. Until it's perfectly round and straight.


What tools do you need?

Well. Ideally, you need: a truing stand, a dishing tool, a spoke tension meter, and a spoke wrench.

However {nervous chuckle} we sort of went rogue and made do with just the spoke wrench ...using the rear triangle of the bike in leu of a truing stand, and judging the spoke tension subjectively. And honestly, it was grand!

Now before a professional builder yells at me for promoting this: We do plan to invest in the proper tools down the road (maybe), and don't try this at home, and so on. But I'm just saying, it's not impossible to do it without all of that stuff. After 100 miles on bad roads, Gary's wheels are holding perfectly true.


Is it worth it?

Again, it depends on what you are after. For me,  it is worth it, because really it is the only way to get a wheel with the exact ride characteristics and weight I want, plus have complete control of the process. There are also those who enjoy the process in of itself, the way I enjoy knitting.

From a financial standpoint, it is worth it compared to factory wheels and boutique wheels. But not really compared to getting the wheels custom made by a small-time, reputable wheelbuilder. I am not sure what the situation is in the US now, but in the UK and Ireland there are reputable guys who will build anything you like fairly cheaply. You will probably not save much doing it yourself, especially if you have to buy all the parts and do not already own the tools.



In Gary's case, he not only did not buy any new tools, but used mostly parts he already owned. Namely: Campagnolo Chorus hubs, extracted from a pair of older, heavy-duty wheels he acquired last year, and a set of delicious Campagnolo Omega tubular rims, NOS.



He decided to go for a 32 spoke wheel, but to use lightweight double-butted Sapim spokes and aluminium nipples (Oh yeah - get used to saying the word "nipples" without giggling, if you plan to get into this stuff. Admittedly, it's tough.).


The complete wheelset came in at 1,500g (not including skewers, cassette or tyres of course). This is respectable, and on par with many modern racing wheels. For example, the Mavic Ksyrium Elites which these wheels replaced come in at 1,550g. Like the Ksyrium Elites, Gary's handbuilt wheels are quite stiff. Unlike the Ksyrium Elites though, they are crosswind-resistant and cushy, and tubular.

When building the wheels and selecting the parts for them yourself, all of these factors can be tailored to one's liking.


I would describe my role in Gary's build as mostly observational, and participatory only in an educational sense. However, I have since also started on my own build.

For a while now, I've been dreaming of getting the 650B wheels on my DIY bike "redone" to be a bit lighter and livelier. Of course I never in my wildest dreams imagined tackling that myself, but it looks like that's exactly what is happening. I will write about that process in a more concrete, step-by-step fashion, with pictures of every stage in case it might be helpful to others.


77 comments:

  1. The Bicycle Wheel by Jobst Brandt, 1981, a bible. As always, a good read

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    1. Jobst gets first post. Again. That book sucks all the air out of any room. I am so glad I learned to build wheels before that book was published. Reading that book would convince any but the greatest egoist building a wheel was impossible. And so much of it is flat wrong. Was that book a prank? A gullibility test?

      Consider for just a moment that most of his argument is based on very flat section rims, lightweight rims, and how they deflect under load. Some vintage rims were something like that. Most current rims do not deflect at all. Yet wheels still work pretty much as they always have.

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  2. Great blog, thank you. I'm not a road cyclist in the sport sense, more a custom built cruiser type and a little older, more interested in "comfort" bikes but I was thinking about buying a magneto wheel for my ride and now after reading your blog, I think I'll build it myself! Thanks for the inspiration!

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  3. I built a few wheels. Never completely happy with them. I'm happy to continue to pay a good wheelbuilder to make my touring wheels. But! Once you have built a wheel from scratch re-trueing a wheel or replacing a spoke on tour becomes a trivial matter. A useful skill to have even if you rarely build a wheel.

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  4. Fun post, and it's great that they turned out so well! My first and only experience building a wheel, I laced a 3 speed hub to a 650b wheel for townie bike. Something with my calculations was off, so I bought spokes that were all 2mm short. So, when I was lacing them, it was actually kinda physically challenging because all the spokes had quite a bit of tension at the end! This is more often than not the way my bicycle diy projects go... I research and dive in enthusiastically, eventually coming up against something that doesn't seem to be working, at which point I troubleshoot until I hit a dead end. Then I walk the bike and some parts to the lovely bike shop around the corner, and they graciously take it from me and fix it. Usually, the missing piece is just know-how, and it ends up that I got 90% of the way to the end. When talking about performance bikes, I am much less inclined to try and put things togetger myself, as I feel that the amount if things i could get wrong are hugely amplified by the technology and precision of the bikes. Alas, at least I can still knit if I run out of things to pass time.

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    1. Calculating the spoke length is the scariest part. I wouldn't feel confident without asking somebody more exacting than me double/triple check it. With knitting, you get the size wrong and can start again using the same yarn; with spokes not so much. Glad your build worked out despite the 2mm discrepancy.

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  5. I'm a big fan of the wing-it-and-see-how-it-goes approach, let the experts say what they will. I've built only three wheels, but I did them all with just a spoke wrench, a bike, some stacks of books for dishing, and the evergreen words of Sheldon Brown. The first pair were ultralight tubulars, done in the 80s when I was a kid. (The recent one was a 26 inch with a Sturmey-Archer drum brake, so my evolution on the speed-utility continuum has been the opposite of yours.) Someone gave me the rims and I disassembled some steel 27 inch wheels and recycled the hubs and spokes. Totally shouldn't have worked, since as I learned recently there was never any such thing as 27 inch tubulars. They had to be 700C, so the spokes should have been too long. But it was fine. The only bad part was learning how to glue tubulars, which involved my first and last experience of smacking my head on the road without a helmet.

    I'm getting ready to build two more. Old ebay rims, salvaged hubs, just waiting for the spokes to arrive in the mail. I bought a cheap box of 75 to do both wheels, so I had to fudge the length a little so they would work for both even though the hubs are mismatched. Should just work if I do cross 3 in the back and cross 2 in the front. I have faith in my methods!

    Keep the posts coming fast. I'm still depending on you to avoid the news post-election.

    Walter

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    1. Do you mean that your tubulars came off the rim after your first attempt to glue them?

      I was terrified about this when I first started riding mine and kept stopping to check every few miles. They are actually pretty hard to budge, and the gluing instructions from today's tyre & cement manufacturers are ultra-conservative ("Use all the glue!... Yes, a liter of glue. Now let it dry 24 hours and do it again. And again!").

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    2. Dude! We're like, brothers or something! I also use the "Just-wing-it-and-see-how-it-goes-approach" to both building wheels AND smacking my head on the road without a helmet! If you're like me I think you'll find that the more you do it the less you even notice the little imperfections...

      It's a "Win-Win"!

      Spindizzy

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    3. To be clear, I DON'T have faith in my tubular-gluing methods, and I gave up on tubulars after selling those wheels as part of a Colnago Super in like 1989. I followed the directions back then, but the glue did not come in liters. It came in little tubes like toothpaste. The tires stayed on after my second try, but I was always nervous on them. I did like the way they rode, though.

      People will say I'm ignorant and paranoid, but I'm not sure those things are ever really safe. If you google "Henry Shibata crash Encino" you can find accounts of TWO rolled-tire crashes, one with broken bones, by a 60-something retired keirin racer who teaches track racing at the velodrome in Encino and knows what he's doing.

      I had a helmet starting when I was 14 or so, but I wasn't wearing it the day of my first tubular try-out. No unprotected head-smacks since.

      Walter

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    4. Walter

      The first crash found under that search was a carbon rim plus expired but unremoved gluing tape plus glue. The expired tape prevented the glue from bonding tire to rim. Yes, it is possible to build a house of cards. The takeaway is not 'Omigosh, unfamiliar things are unsafe. Stranger Danger!'. The takeaway is avoid shortcuts, avoid carbon rims, avoid glue tape. Track riding does require a good glue job and testing it.

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    5. Hey, you can snark at me all you like, but it's tubular riders who have a funny choice to explain! They aren't faster anymore. They're radically inconvenient, and while it may always be possible to blame gluer error, they have a dramatic failure mode all their own. They have a special quality, though. So do absinthe, clove cigarettes and limburger cheese. People who don't use those are not necessarily guilty of timorousness.

      W.

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    6. "They're radically inconvenient..."

      Granted I am probably in the minority here! But one reason I like tubulars is that I feel otherwise. It takes me a ridiculously long time to change a clincher and I usually end up with nicks and bruises in the process trying to get it off/on the rim. A tubular is a godsent in comparison.

      I guess some find having to carry a spare tyre instead of a tube inconvenient. I get that, though personally I don't mind... and don't even bother carrying one on short rides, as I know from prior experience I can get home on a deflated tubular just fine.

      Admittedly, having to buy a new tyre if you get a flat is not an exciting prospect. However, some years ago I watched a friend repair a batch of tubulars, quite casually, and frankly it didn't strike me as something I couldn't handle myself (anyone has a cheap, punctured tubular they'd care to donate for practice?).

      I have no problem admitting I'm timorous when it comes to difficult or dangerous-seeming bicycle equipment. I just don't see tubulars as being in that category.

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    7. I was under the impression that you've had fantastic luck with regard to flats and having to change or repair tubes. That you've gone thousands of miles on them w/o issues. So I'm getting the sense that your change to tubulars has to do with something other than convenience. I, too, gave up tubulars b/c of the inconvenience. Not only did I have to have many tires sitting around the house in various states of use but they were also expensive and hard to find. I'd have different sets of wheels sitting around also so I could switch them out. Each wheel had to be hand built. The glue was messy and hard to keep away from the spokes which became problematic and the safety thing bothered me, too. I never had a accident but even though I was a safe and timid rider the worries on corners never left me, I had seen too many others take spills because of their tires. Any difference in ride quality was just not worth the hassles.

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    8. Generally yes I am pretty lucky with flats. But not 100% lucky. I am only saying that if I do need to change a tyre, I find the tubulars easier.

      I would never want to convince anyone that riding tubulars is safe or convenient; it is something everyone needs to decide on their own.

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    9. I ride Tubulars and Clinchers and can say that in my experience I have fewer flats with tubulars than clinchers, and I ride like a fool(I do ALOT of stuff like a fool, so I, like, know what I'm talking about).

      Tubulars don't pinch-flat unless you're stair-jumping or something stupid like it and if you run some sealant in them they just don't flat anymore than any other modern tire with some Orange Seal or one of the other latex compatible sealers. And like any skill, mounting, changing, and repairing only gets easy once you get some help from someone who knows whats up and you do it a few times. Once you decide it's worth it you'll probably get to the point you don't think twice about any of it.

      Another thing I'd like to wave my arms and shout about while I've gotten all worked up and blotchy, Tubulars that roll off the rim are either being mounted by people who don't know how to do it right or ridden by people who are pushing the hell out of the tire in an inappropriate way. If you're riding your brakes all the way down a mountain then dive into a turn with the rim shimmering like a skillet you have no one to blame but yourself when the glue finally lets go and you HURL YOURSELF at the scenery. There's quicker ways down the mountain anyway. I run my Cyclo Cross tires at 28psi and CANNOT roll them off the rim ON THE ROAD and I weigh like 16 stone after breakfast.

      And lastly (pant pant pant), I've been working in shops, racing and going to the races and riding the shit out of some bikes since the Carter administration and I've seen just about as many catastrophic clincher RIM failure crashes as I've seen tubulars come off and cause a crash. And if you are worried about crashing, worry more about a sudden complete loss of pressure in your clincher than a flat Tubular. A clincher with a big ass hole in it is just going any way it wants with ZERO steering or braking ability where as a tubular still steers and stops even with it's guts ripped out.

      By God this just isn't a safe blog for Old Men to hang out in anymore, I'm going to go have me a nice cup of Gin and a stroke...

      SpinDAMNdizzy

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    10. Dr Spin. Seriously. Why is it you don't have a wee blog of your own for those of us who enjoy our Spindizzy fix? Oh, wait ....
      Why is it you don't have a wee blog that gets regular updates for those of us ...?

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    11. My Blog, sigh. Let me get through the next couple of months and if I'm not homeless or moving to Ireland there should be all sorts of Dumb going on there again...

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    12. I'd read it! Sometimes the rapid and hoarse breathing gets in the way of syntax, but it's always interesting.

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    13. Spin, I yield to your superior old-man-rantiness. My cracked clincher rims and blown-out clincher tires haven't made me crash, though. And inadequacy of the mechanic (me) had its role with those, too. Better maintenance and inspection habits would have prevented. W.

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    14. W @ 6:14

      Tubulars were designed by John Palmer and first manufactured by B F Goodrich, July 1892. A design that has lasted 124 years is not a funny choice and does not require any explanation. Incidentally what we call 700c is 28" Palmer and 590 ISO/26 x 1-3/8 is 26" Palmer.

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    15. Anon. @ 1:09

      The origin of absinthe is disputed, but it has been claimed to have been introduced by Dr. Pierre Ordinaire as a patent medicine in 1792 in Switzerland. Its bad reputation may be undeserved, but its age is not a reason for drinking it.

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  6. Your statement "obviously we do not "need" a spouse to build us wheels any more than we need them to make us cups of tea" reminds me of another I first saw several decades ago... "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle." Not that men and women don't "need" each other, but to recognize both are perfectly capable.
    Cheers,
    GAJett

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    1. I have always been uncomfortable with the "fish without a bicycle" analogy...

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    2. Nobody,,,,not even a fish should be without a bicycle.

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  7. Built one set of wheels years ago on an original set of Phil hubs. Still going strong. Never felt confident about building a second set, but as Ted says, helps when truing during a ride. However, a chipped wheel on another bike was beyond my capability. Ended up buying another.

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  8. I use "Professional Guide to Wheelbuilding" by Roger Musson. I believe he's from the UK. You order the manual online and he sends you a .pdf file. The price is very reasonable, and it's very thorough. After building my first few wheels with a screwdriver and spoke wrench, I invested in a nipple driver from Park Tool. That speeds up the process quite a bit. I also scored a used professional Park truing stand on ebay. I find wheelbuilding quite relaxing. Careful measurements aid the process. Roger includes directions for a couple of measuring devices made from old spokes. A set of digital calipers also helps to measure hubs. I don't think the spoke tensioner is that necessary. With practice, you can tell when the spokes are properly tensioned. It's also important to make sure the bearings in your hubs are properly adjusted. Nice wheels!

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    1. I also found this book quite helpful.

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    2. Another vote for Musson's book. It's much more practically oriented than Brandt. I reviewed it a while back on my blog: Part 1 and Part 2

      My main reason for building (and rebuilding) my own wheels is that I can use used parts, which does save quite a bit of money in most cases.

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    3. And I failed to mention: The manual even has plans for a home-built dishing tool and a home-built truing stand.

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    4. Thanks, I will have a look at that one. And thanks for the review, Hobbes vs Boyle.

      I was given the book by Jobst Brandt some years ago and did not find it accessible; gave it away to someone else before leaving Boston.

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    5. Another vote for Roger Musson's book. Such a lovely guide, written with the zen of a master handcrafter.

      My advice is to start with a front wheel or a single speed rear, it will be an easier build due to not having do deal with dishing.

      In terms of tools I made a few at home that definitely made the job easier:
      (Roger's book has some great suggestions regarding DIY tools)

      - A nipple driver (just took a file to a regular flat head screw driver)
      - A wood made dishing checker (see Roger's book for this)
      - A wood contraption with a through screw that attaches to the rear brake area of the frame and provides a movable truing gauge

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  9. I get so much satisfaction from building wheels. It really and truly makes me feel connected to this long skein of cycling tradition and history. To build just what you need, just how you want it, for just what you want to spend makes me feel like a member of a club who's membership stretches unbroken all the way to the beginning of this thing that means so much to me. I also like that when you ride a bike with nice lightweight, super durable wheels you built yourself, you have a more intimate perspective on all that swirly twirly magic that sends you gliding down the road.

    Great Wheelbuilders and Framebuilders seem to me to be some of the deepest thinkers and the most creative problem solvers of any of the Hacking/Chopping/Tool-Wielding people I've ever been around, which includes Airplane People, Racecar People, Wooden Boatbuilders and on and on. I'm not a great Wheelbuilder but I wouldn't be as in love with bicycles if I hadn't learned enough to get on with making my own. I've fallen so far into it I've built my own Spoke Wrenches, Dishing Tools, Tensiometer, and Nipple Shuffler(Heheheh, "nipple shuffler"). I'm halfway done with building my own Trueing Stand. I've used so much Brass, Aluminum, Oak and Walnut building those things to have furnished a Yacht.

    Lately I've been modifying good quality but mundane looking old hubs, drilling the flanges out like those old French and British hubs from the 50s, adding oiler holes in the barrels and making polished brass or stainless oiler clips, then polishing the hell out of them just to make the wheels I build for my favorite bikes even more special. Just because it makes me happy. Buying wheels never does that for me...

    Spindizzy the Bike Dork

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  10. My first wheel build was a front touring wheel with a dynamo hub and it carried me 3000 miles across the USA, it was a lesson in patience for sure but I was glad to learn the skill

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  11. Bravo! Being taught how to build wheels 44 years ago gave me access to a level of confidence in mechanical matters that has served me well. I find few things as satisfying as turning a pile of parts into a true, round wheel that I get to ride for years. I've just built a set for a vintage build that are a joy to look at as well as to ride.

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  12. Just getting started on making wheels myself. I wanted very badly to buy wheels someone else made, but I just couldn't find quite the right combination of rims and hubs to get me all the way.

    I'll be working with just a spoke wrench myself, but based on my reading a set of heavy, reliable commuter wheels with 32 spokes apiece should be much less sensitive to perfect spoke tension than anything watching its grams. I expect its trueness and dish will be "good enough," if not impressive.

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    1. One thing we were surprised to discover, is that even off the shelf wheels are not always true. Being able to get a wheel in the "good enough" zone is a useful skill to have.

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  13. Some time ago I went on a weekend course with a local wheelbuilder and built myself a pair of wheels which I'm very pleased with. The building process I found very enjoyable, I think "therapeutic" might be a suitable word (or perhaps an unsuitable one as I've no idea what it might be therapy for). However, I don't intend to build my own wheels on a regular basis as, while I enjoy the knitting part, I don't have the accuracy for the measurements and perhaps not the patience for all the truing on a regular basis; though it's great to be able to true wheels when necessary and feel you know what you're doing. Also, a wheel jig is a bulky tool in a small flat.

    Interested in your choice of tubs for road wheels...

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  14. I built the wheels on the first bike I ever built from a frame. Using the utilities at the local bike co-op, which (perhaps surprisingly, given it is an anarchic place where everything is free and everything goes missing) had both a truing stand and a dish stick. In part I had to do it because of the rear hub I wanted to use (a front mountain bike hub, respaced for the rear with a cog bolted to the disc mounts) and in part also because I located my front hub from one of the coop's parts bins. I practised the truing aspect beforehand by completely loosening the spokes on one the wheels of one of my other bikes to get the technique down, and then I laced them up and went for it. The coop is very much about self-teaching, so my friend there refused to tell me if I had done a good job - but they rode very well and it didn't take too many tweaking sessions to get them on point.

    If nothing else, it was a really useful experience in that I am now generally comfortable maintaining wheels myself. That said, when I came to build my next bike, I just bought a pair of handbuilt wheels because I didn't have the 6+ hours it took me to build them the first time round...

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  15. I have been building my own wheels for 35 years, the main advantage to me is getting exactly the hub I want and the rim I want/need, but it does also save money, if for no other reason you can bargain shop components. That said I have on several occasions, bought pre built wheels when I've stumbled on them at incredibly low prices. I find these days most pre-made or even Machine made wheels are pretty darn good vs. what they were like 30 years ago! Most machine made wheels back then did not have laced spokes. Having built/laced wheels it's amazing to me that they can get a machine to do it!!!
    My first custom wheel was built by the shop owner at the shop I worked in, so I got it done for free. I think he could see it might be an ongoing issue of building me wheels, I don't think he wanted to be bothered so he gave me a little book, a kick in the pants and off I went.
    I enjoy it, but only occasionally, I don't want to be doing it all the time. I've built about 30 wheels myself over the years with about a third of those over the course of the last year as I convert many of my bikes to dynamo hubs. Recently I actually built a wheel for someone else, that made me think I should consider getting a tension gauge.

    It is quite gratifying to ride good wheels that you've made yourself and you always get looks of astonishment from non biking types! LOL
    -masmojo

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    1. The cycling crowd here is divided pretty sharply between the old timers and those who started within the past few years. It's fun to see the former react with eyes nostalgically glazed over, and the later with a look of blank bewilderment when we've mentioned the hand built wheels.

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    2. I'm curious as to how big the 'cycling crowd' there is and what you mean by that term? Is this a group of riders you regularly hang out with or go on group rides with? Which category are you, an old timer or a newbie? I'm very surprised in meeting people in my cycling experience over the years and in various localities the amazing numbers who have done things on their bikes or with their bikes which simply blew me away. I would not have pegged them, either because of age or gender or experience, to do what they did. Since you're talking about wheel building I'm thinking of all who have done just so, for all kinds of reasons, in all kinds of places, and I thought I was the only one cool enough to ride on my own hand built wheels. I've really never found a sharp divide when it comes to such things but maybe I'm not understanding your crowd and what that means. I've ridden with older gentlemen who never touch or adjust anything on their bikes and younger folks who prefer building things up from scratch. Young or old, male or female, everything is a surprising and wonderful blur when it comes to bikes and bike people.

      I'm getting a sense that in your neck of the woods there are terrible cross winds which keep all but the most hardy riders indoors, those who do ride are animals, and when one is out there they are part of one of two categories.

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    3. I am talking about the local cyclists you'd see out and about, most of whom are road cyclists and most of whom go out with one of the local clubs. I am not really either category, or maybe in between categories, but then I am not from here.

      In other places I have lived and visited, there was a lot more diversity, as you describe. But where I now live the cycling "culture" is mostly limited to the sport of roadcycling. And within that there really is a sharp divide between 2 specific eras.

      The harsh weather and terrain here could very well be the reason for all this. Then again, I hear stories from folks about their parents/ grandparents cycling on 3-speeds with baskets for transport and fun, along the same terrain and with the same weather patterns. So it can't be just that. In any case, I do not have an answer. I describe it as I see it. There are signs of things starting to change, but it's very slow.

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  16. As always, I wish you'd mention the costs of your projects and I'd be curious to hear others report on their costs, too. Of course there are variations and considerations but I really don't care….What did this cost to refit you bike with these wheels? Are you selling all your old parts in order to defray the expenses or are you keeping them for possible later use? This is not a cheap hobby, especially the degree to which you take it.

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    1. Sorry, I thought I explained that Gary mostly re-used existing parts. The only things he bought for this project were spokes, which I believe were around 30euro.

      I am doing much the same with my own first build.

      Overall, this was not meant as a practical how-to/ how much will it cost guide, but as a general commentary on wheelbuilding. When I document my own build, however, I will make it a point to go into those details.

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  17. Steve from WestchesterNovember 17, 2016 at 1:47 PM

    I've been building wheels for more than 40 years. So no fear here. One of my regular riding companions is still riding on wheels I built for him 30 years ago. On my vintage Colnago, I have wheels very similar to the ones Gary just built; same Campy rims but with Super Record hubs. I've been riding them about 25 years, although I did not build them.

    I just wanted to pass on one wheel truing tip for getting REALLY precise results without a truing stand. Use one of these:

    https://www.amazon.com/Central-Tools-6450-Rotor-Joint/dp/B0002SQV2G/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1479407329&sr=8-8&keywords=central+tools+clamp+on+dial+indicator

    They can be had used on eBay for about $60-70 or so, and are designed for setting up car differentials and measuring brake disk runout. Clamp it to the bike stand or to the bike, and set up the dial indicator against the rim. This really speeds up the process of getting the wheel absolutely perfect. Actually, it's not a bad tool to add even if you have a truing stand, (one without a dial indicator anyway).

    Here's an example:

    http://s443.photobucket.com/user/JeepZJDriver/media/IMG_2398_zpsffiuxsq6.jpg.html

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    1. Oh cool. Those rims seem to be pretty uncommon, so it's nice to "meet" someone else has used them.

      Be right back as I try to wrap my mind around that tool suggestion!

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    2. Steve from WestchesterNovember 18, 2016 at 2:38 PM

      Perhaps this video will help by seeing the clamp on dial indicator in action:

      http://s443.photobucket.com/user/JeepZJDriver/media/IMG_2397_zpswvjpey7i.mp4.html

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  18. For a first try at wheel building it wouldn't hurt to just unlace an old wheel (one that is reasonably sound and true) and then re-lace it. While you are at it, try figuring out what spoke length you "need" by entering the relevant data (hub flange diameter, effective rim diameter, flange spacing, etc.) into one of the many on-line spoke length calculators just to see if what you arrive at is the same as what the wheel came with. I usually use the bikeschool.com one - good for first-timers as it also explains how to make all the hub and rim measurements.
    I held a wheel-building workshop at our local bike co-op last winter and the six people who attended all built good strong wheels, first try, so it give it a try. If you get something wrong, you can always undo it and start again, since you know you have components that work together.
    Tom

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    1. We both did exactly that, as we took apart existing wheels in order to re-use parts. I've really enjoyed the de-construction stage actually, and it was crucial in helping me understand how it all fits together.

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  19. I've built probably fort wheels in my time. Lacing is not difficult and goes pretty quickly for standard 3X and 4X wheels. Truing vertically and horizontally can be tricky and time consuming. Still, there is satisfaction from a job well done.

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  20. I have wanted to learn how to build a wheel for a while. Truing wheels is unquestionably my favorite bike maintenance task. For some reason, it came very easily to me, which is funny because I otherwise do not have great natural mechanical aptitude. Most tasks take me a painfully long time to learn, but truing felt very natural. There is something almost meditative about spinning the wheel, finding the bump, and making the adjustments.

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  21. Interesting post. And congrats on your success.

    As to wheel building stories, this has been my favorite for a while:

    http://63xc.com/jameslee/18spokes.htm

    Me, I've built exactly 1 wheel, a 700C 36 spoke fixed wheel, using Sheldon, and I was surprised and pleased to find that it took me less than an hour, and that the wheel needed no truing after 1000 miles and frequent rear loads, at least one of 45 lb. I really must do another. I have a lovely AM hub ....

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    1. 18 spokes and hub brakes!! Thanks for that link : )

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  22. 'Normal' crows foot wheels break the radial spokes with great regularity. Putting together an 18 on a drum brake is beyond silly. Note that in the same post discussing the wheel the author/wheelbuilder discusses his most recent trip to the hospital.

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  23. I've currently got a Park Tools pro wheel truing stand sitting in our Amazon wishlist and have been incessantly reminding my girl that it would make a wonderful Xmas gift for me. :)

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  24. True first, tension then. That makes it so much easier, at least with new rims (which often are pretty round out of the box). It was an eye opener to read Roger Musson's book on wheel building, where this approach is explained.

    Wheel building is indeed not rocket science and can be quite meditative...

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    1. True then tension is always good practice. The exception comes when the wheel just isn't getting truer any longer. Then you apply final tension and the wheel pops into shape. When the wheel stops getting any truer is also the time to pull out the tension meter. Because your tension is never as even as you think and it is good to be close when adding the last half turn.

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  25. My bike recently travelled 500-odd km in the back of my car in company w a too-large box from Ikea. Since then, I have an odd sort of rhythmic bumbiness — not unpleasant, really — that I suspect is a wheel out of true. I have disc brakes, so it isn't an issue that way, and I had almost decided to have it dealt w in the spring, since it will need a tune-up anyway, and just hang on until I move over to the winter bike once the snow flies. (Any day now: a few flurries already.) Now I'm thinking this might be a good winter to learn a new skill.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

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  26. Wheelson checking in. Sainthood declined. To be a Saint one must perform Miracles and I am fresh out of those. Those wheels are not miraculous, they are good wheels and ordinary wheels. I've been riding wheels much like them for fifty years. I've had daily rider wheels built in the 1930s that were just as good. All that is surprising is that most riders seem to prefer simply dreary wheels and then pay through the nose for them.

    Neither am I the Master Wheelbuilder that Spin refers to. Not even close. Usually when someone wants a pair of my wheels I fully expect they will be knocking at my door if (when) there is a problem. Since the wheels were crossing the pond that type of service would not be available. Made me nervous. The rear wheel was taken to a Master (he would call himself a mechanic) for an evaluation. It got a passing grade. Really I have little in the way of mechanical ability. Wheelbuilding is good exercise for those of us who are a bit short in the wrench dept.

    My friend the Master is not much building wheels anymore. The door of his LBS is still open. No one has asked him for wheels in years. They want wheels with hangtags and brochures and embedded marketing value. Which is interesting because my friend played a significant part in the development of what we call modern wheels. Most senior people in the industry know very well what he contributed. As one of the grandparents of all these moderne wheels he will still tell you that 99 out of a 100 times handbuilt wheels are better. And that most of these modern wheels should be left alone unless someone pays you to ride them.

    About what things cost. Including shipping to Ireland the cost was about what you would expect for entry level wheels on deep post-season discount. That was with me paying full retail for each component and no used components. The building was of course free. For what building should cost consider that a good wheelbuilder should do the job in twenty minutes. A real pro who builds all the time can do it in fifteen. Myself, when I built more regularly, could do it in thirty. Looking at wheelbuilder sites online most seem to be charging one hundred plus per wheel. Some of that cost is what your LBS calls therapy time. Build your own. It is much better therapy than trading emails and phone calls with an online wheelbuilder.

    Some tech considerations in another comment.

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    1. I'm afraid it is not up to you, Wheelson. We cannot fully control how others perceive us and what labels they bestow on us, alas. You will just have to deal with being revered.

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  27. Started building wheels from the Sheldon Brown instructions, also bought the Musson e-book, built his stand (it works fine, was a little finicky in the construction), and also the Jobst Brandt book which I thought was informative-not-intimidating.

    I would not use aluminum nipples, but then I am not a weight-weenie.

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  28. This is late, but just so people know: it is a LOT easier to replace a rim than to build a wheel. A lot of people think they would never want to do that, and end up buying a new wheel instead of just a rim. You basically buy the same rim you're replacing, line them up, and transfer the spokes one by one. You do have to worry about spoke tension and truing, but, honestly, it's not that hard. And of course any spokes or nipples that are damaged will need to be replaced.

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  29. Wheelson with tech comments

    A truing stand is not strictly necessary, building in the frame works. OTOH I just built a 145mm tandem wheel and a tandem simply will not go down the basement steps here. In any normal build the wheel is in and out of the stand multiple times. Building in the frame quickly gets inconvenient.

    A dishing tool is necessary and they are quite inexpensive. Measuring to the frame or with improvised fixtures is very slow and very inaccurate. The very patient and very careful might get within 0.5mm. Most of the time it will be worse. The braking track of an aluminum rim usually starts at about 1.5mm thick. Braking wears down the high side and that happens quickly if you are using dual pivot brakes. The rim is done when it wears to 0.5mm thick and most of us will replace well before that. So you can spend 20 for a dishing tool or sacrifice half the lifespan of your rim that cost 80. Simple choice. The accurately dished wheel rides better too.

    Tension meters are not necessary. Wheels were built a long time before meters were available. Wheels built with a meter are simply better. You do not have a tension meter in your hands. You are kidding yourself if you think you do. I've two past masters of wheelbuilding for friends. One only uses the meter rarely, to recalibrate his fingers, or maybe if his hands are cold. He has done stuff like building 1000 pairs of wheels in a summer while operating his LBS full time. He's built dozens of world championship wheels. He can build most of the time without a meter. The other builder still builds a lot, ships all over the planet. He checks every spoke, every wheel, every time. Easy to do. Limits potential liability. Protects his reputation. Just no reason not to. Again, a meter is not expensive.

    Careful with aluminum nipples. Spoke length must be accurate. Top of spoke should be no shorter than two threads below the base of the slot in the nipple. Accurate length is good practice with brass nipples but you can get away with a lot. You will not get away with anything using aluminum nipples. Preferred anti-seize for small aluminum fasteners is purple loctite. A little hard to find, a little pricey. If you are troubling to use the nipples you should trouble to use the loctite.

    Everyone knows Campy hubs since 1987 and some 83-87 should not be built radial. The hubs are on eBay all the time as "needs only a little welding" or "good for display wheels". It is not an exciting failure, a spoke hole cracks out, you'll think you have a broken spoke. It usually takes a few thousand miles to fail. Building one cross will be about half a spoke of weight heavier than building radial. No instrument could detect the putative aero difference between radial and one cross. The one cross wheel is stronger. The only good reason to build radial is you are lucky enough to own a 1930s Raleigh RRA and you want to keep it original.

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  30. Building Bicycle Wheels by Robert Wright...

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  31. We men really are simple!
    I've built wheels for motorcycles and bicycles, and I think it is the sort of thing that is much easier if you're in practice, meaning you've built one within the last two years. Interestingly, the labor cost for the wheel build for a motorcycle is over twice what it is for a bicycle here in California. When I asked why, I was told that the labor rate for a motorcycle mechanic is twice what it is for a bicycle mechanic.

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  32. I used to be intimidated by truing wheels and then learned how using YouTube tutorials. Some years later I wanted to put a dynamo hub in a wheel and again YouTube was good for taking out the mystery of building a wheel.
    It took awhile to figure out the right spoke length. There are several online spoke length calculators but some of them are inaccurate and give you a wrong length. I had to redo three times. (Fortunately the people at the bike co-op are understanding.)
    When you do it though it's a great sense of accomplishment as well as having an understanding of how a bike wheel stays together. It's not one thing but a collective endeavour of multiple spokes each with a bit of strength. Together they keep the wheel and rider up and rolling and prevent the wheel from bending under the strain of the air pressure. Amazing!!!

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  33. After building my first set of wheels I have a greater appriciation for zen buddism. You have to be very patient to do this.
    << A robot welded my frame>>

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  34. A final from Wheelson

    Somehow had not noticed the remark in the initial post up there about how the literature is gibberish. Yes, it is. And it is quite gratifying that commenters here have found guides that work for them. The basics are pretty straightforward, it should not take much to convey them. And some builds are so simple and straightforward as to be boring. Some are harder. Covering every base is not possible. Those who make it excessively difficult or mystical should be ignored.

    One thing you will not find in the literature is anyone admitting failure. You won't read about time consuming mistakes and cul de sacs. In a certain type of current online venue everything that goes wrong is inevitably blamed on not spending enough money or part X and Part Y are just no good. Mistakes are good. Failure is good. If everything worked perfectly the first time you would never learn anything.

    Some things you will only ever learn by being there and handling the pieces. Right this minute the number of tubular rims being manufactured as loose parts for sale is relatively small. Lots of other product categories are similarly limited. The stocks of old unsold bits and pieces are vast and that is one reason no one is producing. Having just lived a long time is helpful in navigating all that old stock. The spoke calculator I use is simple for me because I know the guys who created it and I know how they think. Otherwise being old stinks. You start to learn how it all works by building your own wheels. Play enough and you'll catch up.

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  35. Ha! My initial reading of this post was "Ladies, have you always dreamed of your man becoming a whaler?"

    And I was like "Yeah! But how did she know?!"

    Thanks for the laughs V. :)))))))

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  36. I repaired lots of wheels during the 2011 LEL 1400km audax ride where I was one of two mechanics at Brampton. The roads were pretty bad but I was surprised how many were busted

    The most popular front wheel with a broken spoke were hand made radially spoked wheels. Because they are inherently weaker than crossed patterns

    Just sayin' having seen the pics of your partners wheels.....

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    1. He knows and decided to try it anyway : )

      Mine will be single cross in front.

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  37. The radial does look sweet with the black spoke heads all facing out on the hub. Did you use Sapim Lasers? I was going to use them for a 650b wheel build on Grand Bois 32h rims but was scared away by the description of them winding up and being difficult to build with.

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  38. In case you haven't come across it yet http://www.wheelfanatyk.com/blog/ is a great site to expand one's thinking about wheels and wheel building. Also great for drooling over expensive superbly engineered tools :-)

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  39. Plus one for wheelfanatyk....full of good tips. It's also where you can find the nipple shuffler! Roger Musson's book is great, no-nonsense intro to wheelbuilding.
    I've been building for over 25yrs and the comments about how satisfying it is are all true. I still get a warm glow when I create a wheel!
    Of course there are a lot of internet "experts" who will give you advice; as with all internet sourced info some of it will be complete bs. But I think most people who comment on here are either experienced or know that they're not and so won't lead you too far astray! My ten cents worth, in no particular order, are the following (warning, I ramble....!):

    Alu nipples - Fine for durability IF used wisely - one of the comments above regarding long enough spokes is good advice. Corrosion is what kills them, so not for winter wheels...and if you wash your bike with anything that contains sodium (like washing up liquid...don't...it's naughty!) then be sure to rinse thoroughly. I've lost count of the spotless looking bikes that come in for "nothing major, just a quick retension of the spokes please" only for the nipples to be seized or crumble into powder! A good fitting spoke key is more important for alu too. And let's be honest here...alu nipples are for bling, not weight saving!

    Tension - Doesn't always have to be crazy high, but it does have to as be even as possible. You can get that reasonably accurately without a tensiometer, a pluck near the rim with your fingernail will very quickly alert you to variances. Just remember that any adjustment usually affects something else! The join of a rim will usually be the place you cannot get it perfect, even on welded and machined ones. Don't worry about a fraction of a mm discrepency in radial or lateral here; you'll be lucky to get a perfect rim and if you have to choose then equality of tension trumps absolute truth. The accuracy of the (ultimate top-end) tension becomes more important when using light rims (some cannot handle high tension) or when using a hub that requires a lot of dish (the drive side needs to be as tight as rims allows, so that non-drive side spokes are not too slack. Very loose spokes will become more so!)

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  40. ...and there's more!
    Spoke prep - I'm old skool, I use linseed oil. It lubricates the threads during the build (important), then goes off sorta sticky/gummy to act as a mild loctite. Reasons to not use linseed oil include:
    1 - It's messy. Well use less of it and don't be a messy worker. A handful of spokes tapped down level dipped in just enough to break the surface tension of the oil...literally one drop between 7 or 8 spokes is plenty. Before it dries sticky the capillary action when you roll the spokes together in your hand will coat them nicely over the first two thirds of the thread (keep the ends level). Any more and the miniscus of the oil as you bring the spokes up to tension will hide the end of the threads from your already straining eyes and make accuracy harder to achieve. Especially with black spokes.
    2 - It requires time to set therefore delaying you enjoying your new wheels. Really?! That's a reason! You wouldn't be building them yourself in the first place if you didn't have at least some patience.
    3 - It's oh so painfully last century. As other proprietry spoke preps are available, far more modern and clearly worth every penny. And of course they make the old ways completely reduntant! Again...really!?
    4 - Linseed is a danger as it spontaneously combusts. Only if you leave rags soaked in it lying around.Which you won't!
    5 - Loctite/threadlock/spoke prep etc is unnecessary anyway if the wheel is built properly. Well this is true. However, what if you hit a pothole and flat spot the rim? The spokes in that area will now be slacker than they were; a mild loctite will stop them getting more so.

    Hope I didn't bore you too much, but wheelbuilding is such a satisfying thing to do that I cannot help but give my encouragement! I always say it's not that hard to get right, but it is easy to get it wrong...so take your time and enjoy the process. Trying to rush the procedure early on will cause frustration later on and put you off trying again.
    Good luck!

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