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Wheelbuilding 101

By Brad Quartuccio

Intimidating as it may at first seem, building wheels is not the great mystery that many would like you to think. Anyone who otherwise turns their own wrenches is capable of building a wheel. While there is something about the touch that a wheelbuilding master can apply to each piece, making it all come together straight and true, with patience and practice you too can build up your next wheelset.

Building your own wheels gives you complete control of the entire equation – not just rim and hub selection, but spoke count and gauge, cross pattern, and nipple material. It can even save you a few dollars over time, as wheels are expensive custom orders at the retail level.

Choosing the parts
Hub – Modern front hubs are 100mm. Rear hubs come in three widths – 120mm for track, 130mm for modern road bikes, 135mm for modern mountain/touring bikes, and a few freaks. Pick the one that fits. Forged hub bodies are better than machined for ultimate strength, sealed bearings of some sort best for all weather use. Sealed bearings do not have to be cartridge–Shimano road and mountain hubs are sealed, yet use adjustable cup and cone bearings and are ultimately some of the best hubs on the market. If you are reusing an old hub, conventional wisdom is to lace it in the same pattern as it was originally laced to match the spoke hole wear and deformation obvious on a previously laced hub. Make sure the number of holes on the hub matches the number of holes in the rim.