Monday, April 9, 2012

The Art of Wheelbuilding

[A guest post by Andy]

Since moving to Nashville my primary hobby had been pushed to the back burner for a variety of reasons. Moving into our new house here in East Nashville provided me with a perfect place to create a bike workshop. Back in college my apartments were graveyards of bike parts, inadequately sized toolboxes full of bike tools, and a trail of bike grease and crud that would make any landlord cry.  Nothing was better than helping my fellow low income college students feel completely fulfilled by their transportation choice, the bicycle. They had clever names like Sammy Davis Sr., Bill Paxton, Gertrude Stein, Patrick Michael Collins, and many more. We loved them enough to give them names, and it was my self imposed duty to keep them running as best I could. (Unfortunately we lost Gertrude Stein in an unfortunate bike polo accident.)

So I’ve decided to recapture this love of the bicycle, and to help our adopted city of Nashville become the Bike Capitol of the South... Starting One Bicycle at a Time. I decided that my life's passion, my vocation is to get as many people as possible on this, the most efficient modes of human transportation. In pursuit of this goal I decided the first project was to build a new wheel for Amanda's bike named Patrick Michael Collins. This was something I had long wanted to attempt but now with new fervor I took up the project.  

Stopping at a local bike shop here in Nashville I inquired into the availability of wheel building classes. This prominent shop went on to say that machine built wheels work just fine and hand built wheels are just too expensive for them to employ a wheel builder and thusly did not have the capabilities to build a wheel.  However according to several sources including my primary guide through this wheel building quest, The Art of Wheel Building, this is just not true. The machines that build wheels tend to build low quality wheels, there are several components of including the spoke washer (which I will talk about later) that machines simply cannot use and they are not as capable as a discerning human at tightening spokes to the degree necessary to make a wheel last. I have experienced this poor wheel building over the years and have gone through somewhere around 10 rear wheels and a couple of front wheels. During that time I have mostly ridden my dad’s old 10 speed which is a 27” frame (referring to the height of the wheels). However it seems for whatever reason bicycles and therefore most shops have switched over to the 700c tire size which is slightly smaller than these 27” classic wheels but are sold as 'better' quality (better parts but not assembled properly). Also they never carry high quality wheels in this size as they are usually for older bikes. I decided to see what I could do to build a high quality 27” wheel.

And while I was at it I had always wanted to see what a generator hub could do. A generator hub is just that the middle of the bicycle wheel is converted to a small electrical generator that operates simply from the spinning of your wheel. They offer a very small amount of resistance, and can provide electricity for a wide variety of low voltage applications including but not limited to phone chargers, iPod chargers, and the application I was going for, a very bright headlight. Usually bike headlights operate not so much for you to see where you are going, but for cars to see that you are there. Lights to see the road generally cost hundreds of dollars and take battery packs the size of water bottles.  

So I resolved for my first wheel to be a quality 27” rim with a generator hub so Amanda could actually see the road at night. The specs of the rim and hub had to be calculated to find out the length of spokes required for the wheel.
After 3 times relacing the spokes I finally got the lacing pattern right. After the first attempt I thought I had ordered the wrong size spokes, but things gradually got better. At one point I had the spokes laced and thought I had destroyed the wheel. The rim was bent to such a degree by the spoke tension that I thought if I went to grab the camera the whole thing would just collapse. But it all worked out, and after several rounds of truing I have a wheel fit for a queen (Amanda).
Next Guest Post from me: Tour of the Bike Shop at Bailey Hall

From Left to Right, 294mm Wheelsmith spokes, DT Swiss Spoke Washers, Brass 2.0mm  Wheelsmith Nipples
CR-18 Sun Rim Double Walled Eyeleted 27" Rim - you will not find these in a shop near you
Shimano 3N-30 Generator Hub 36 Hole beefy for a front wheel

Washering the spokes over some evening pancakes
After the second disassemble trying to get the lacing pattern right
finally figured it out... I need a rim
Buster scoffs at my incompetence
Wheel ready for the ridin'