How to Build a Bike Wheel: A Complete Guide for Beginners

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Have you ever wanted to take your cycling skills to the next level? Building your own bike wheel can be a rewarding and practical way to enhance your cycling experience. Not only does it allow you to customize your wheel to your exact specifications, but it can also save you money in the long run. In this article, I will guide you through the step-by-step process of building a bike wheel from scratch, even if you’re a beginner.

Step 1. Preparation: Choosing the Components

The first step to build a bike wheel is to find all materials and tools which you will need in the following steps. Among them, the bike wheel components would be the most important, such as the rim, the hub, the spokes, and the nipples.

In this section, we will show you how to choose them in the right way to build a satisfying bike wheel.

How to Choose a Rim for Building a Bike Wheel

The rim is a crucial component of the wheel that not only provides structural support but also affects the overall performance of your bike. And the main factors to consider when choosing a rim for building a bike wheel include size, material, shape, spoke count, and brake type.

Here are the details:

Size: When it comes to rim size, there are two key measurements to consider: diameter and width. The rim diameter determines the size of the tire that can be fitted onto the wheel, while the rim width affects the tire fit and performance. To measure the rim diameter, you can simply take the inner diameter of the rim, which is usually marked on the sidewall. The rim width is measured from the inner edge to the other inner edge.

Different types of bikes require different rim sizes. For road bikes, common rim sizes range from 700c to 650c, while mountain bikes typically use 26-inch, 27.5-inch, or 29-inch rims. Gravel bikes often fall somewhere in between, with 650b or 700c rims being popular choices. When choosing a rim size, it’s essential to consider the intended use and riding style. Smaller rims are generally lighter and more maneuverable, while larger rims offer better stability and traction.

Material: Rims can be made from various materials, each with its own set of pros and cons. The most common rim materials include aluminum, carbon, steel, and titanium. Aluminum rims are lightweight, affordable, and offer good overall performance. Carbon rims, on the other hand, are known for their stiffness and aerodynamic properties, but they can be quite expensive. Steel rims are durable and affordable but can be heavy, while titanium rims provide a balance of strength, weight, and durability but come at a higher price point.

When choosing a rim material, it’s important to consider factors such as weight, strength, stiffness, durability, and cost. If budget is a concern, aluminum rims are a great choice. However, if you’re looking for top performance and have the budget for it, carbon rims are worth considering.

Shape: Rims come in three main types: clincher, tubular, and tubeless. Clincher rims are the most common and feature a hooked design that holds the tire in place with a bead. Tubular rims, also known as sew-up rims, require gluing the tire onto the rim. Tubeless rims, as the name suggests, allow you to run your tires without inner tubes, providing benefits such as improved puncture resistance and lower rolling resistance.

Each rim type has its own advantages and disadvantages. Clincher rims are easy to use and maintain, and they offer good puncture protection. Tubular rims are favored by professional racers for their lightweight and smooth ride quality, but they require more effort to install and maintain. Tubeless rims provide better traction, comfort, and puncture resistance, but they can be more challenging to set up initially.

Spoke Count: The spoke count of a rim refers to the number of spokes that connect the rim to the hub. The spoke count affects the strength, weight, aerodynamics, and stiffness of the wheel. Common spoke counts for rims range from 24 to 36, with lower spoke counts being lighter and more aerodynamic, while higher spoke counts are more durable and provide better weight distribution.

When choosing the right spoke count for your rim, consider factors such as rider weight, power output, and terrain. If you’re a lightweight rider or prioritize speed, a lower spoke count may be suitable. However, if you’re a heavier rider or plan to tackle rough terrain, a higher spoke count will provide additional strength and durability.

Brake Type: Lastly, you’ll need to consider the brake type when choosing a rim for building a bike wheel. There are two main types of brakes: rim brakes and disc brakes. Rim brakes use pads that grip onto the rim to slow down or stop the bike, while disc brakes use a rotor attached to the hub and calipers that squeeze the rotor to achieve braking.

Each brake type has its own advantages and drawbacks. Rim brakes are lightweight, affordable, and easy to maintain, but they can be affected by wet conditions and may cause wear on the rim over time. Disc brakes offer superior braking power, modulation, and performance in various weather conditions, but they can be heavier and more expensive.

When selecting a rim for your brake system, it’s important to ensure compatibility. Rim brake rims have a specific braking surface, while disc brake rims may have different profiles and reinforcements to handle the forces generated by the disc brakes.

How to Choose a Hub for Building a Bike Wheel

The hub is the central component that connects the wheel to the bike frame and allows for smooth rotation. It plays a significant role in determining the overall performance, durability, and compatibility of the wheel. The key factors to consider when choosing a hub for bike wheel building includes compatibility, durability, performance, and aesthetics.

Let’s get into the details:

1. Compatibility: The First and Essential Factor

When it comes to choosing a hub, compatibility should be your top priority. Ensuring that the hub matches your bike frame and wheel specifications is essential for a proper fit and optimal performance. Here are the main aspects of compatibility to consider:

  • Axle Type: Determine whether your bike frame requires a quick-release (QR) axle or a thru-axle. Thru-axles provide better stiffness and stability, especially for disc brake setups.
  • Axle Width: Measure the distance between the dropouts on your bike frame to determine the correct axle width. Common widths include 100mm for the front hub and 135mm or 142mm for the rear hub.
  • Spoke Count and Spoke Pattern: Take note of the number of spokes on your wheel and the spoke pattern (e.g., 3-cross, 2-cross). Ensure that the hub you choose matches the spoke count and pattern to maintain wheel strength and integrity.
  • Rim Type: Consider whether your wheel uses a clincher, tubular, or tubeless rim. The hub should be compatible with the specific rim type to ensure proper tire fitment.

2. Durability: Choose a Hub Built to Last

Durability is another crucial factor to consider when selecting a hub. A durable hub will withstand the demands of cycling, including rough terrain, weather conditions, and regular maintenance. Here are the key components of a hub that affect its durability:

  • Bearings: High-quality bearings are essential for smooth rotation and longevity. Seek hubs with sealed cartridge bearings, which offer better protection against dirt, water, and debris.
  • Seals: Look for hubs with effective sealing systems to prevent contamination and maintain the integrity of the bearings. Double-lip seals or labyrinth seals are commonly used for superior protection.
  • Freehub Body: The freehub body is the part of the hub that allows the rear wheel to spin freely when coasting. Choose a hub with a durable and reliable freehub body, preferably made of steel or titanium.
  • Flanges: The flanges are the outer edges of the hub that hold the spokes. Opt for hubs with sturdy and well-designed flanges for better spoke tension and overall wheel strength.

3. Performance: Enhance Your Riding Experience

Performance is another important factor to consider when choosing a hub. The right hub can significantly impact the overall feel and performance of your bike. Here are the key aspects of performance to focus on:

  • Weight: A lighter hub can improve acceleration and climbing performance. Consider the weight of the hub, but also balance it with durability and reliability.
  • Drag: Seek hubs with low drag to minimize energy loss and maximize efficiency. High-quality bearings and a well-designed internal mechanism contribute to reduced drag.
  • Engagement: Engagement refers to how quickly the hub’s freehub engages when you start pedaling. A hub with faster engagement provides better power transfer and responsiveness.
  • Sound: Some cyclists enjoy hubs with a distinct sound, often referred to as the “hub buzz.” The sound is produced by the internal mechanism and can add a unique character to your bike.

4. Aesthetics: Customize Your Wheel’s Look

While aesthetics may not affect the performance or functionality of the hub, it can play a role in personalizing your bike and enhancing its overall appearance. Consider the following aspects of aesthetics when choosing a hub:

  • Color: Many hub manufacturers offer a variety of color options to match your bike’s frame or other components.
  • Finish: Choose a hub with a finish that complements your bike’s overall look. Options range from polished to matte finishes.
  • Shape: Hubs come in different shapes, from classic to more modern designs. Select a shape that suits your preferences and matches the style of your bike.
  • Logo: Pay attention to the hub’s logo or branding. Some hubs offer customizable options, allowing you to add your own logo or personalize it in other ways.

How to Choose Spokes for Building a Bike Wheel

Spokes play a crucial role in supporting the weight of the rider and maintaining the structural integrity of the wheel. So how to choose the right spokes for building a bike wheel?

1. Choosing the Material of Spokes

The material of the spokes is an important consideration as it affects the weight, strength, and durability of the wheel. Here are some common materials used for spokes:

1. Steel: Steel spokes are the most common and widely used. They are durable, affordable, and readily available. However, they are relatively heavy and prone to rust if not properly maintained.

2. Stainless Steel: Stainless steel spokes are more resistant to corrosion compared to regular steel spokes. They are lighter, stronger, and more expensive. If you ride in wet or humid conditions, stainless steel spokes are a good choice.

3. Aluminum: Aluminum spokes are incredibly light and offer a colorful aesthetic. However, they are not as durable as steel spokes and are more prone to fatigue and breakage. They are suitable for lightweight riders or for racing purposes.

4. Titanium: Titanium spokes are extremely strong, lightweight, and corrosion-resistant. They are also quite expensive and rare. Titanium spokes are ideal for riders who prioritize weight reduction and performance.

5. Carbon Fiber: Carbon fiber spokes are exceptionally light, stiff, and aerodynamic. They are commonly used in high-end racing wheels. However, carbon fiber spokes are more brittle and not compatible with all hubs and rims. They are also more expensive than other materials.

When choosing the material of spokes, consider factors such as the type of riding you do, your budget, and personal preference. If you are a recreational rider, steel or stainless steel spokes would be a good choice. For racing or performance-oriented riders, titanium or carbon fiber spokes may be worth considering.

2. Choosing the Length of Spokes

The length of spokes is crucial for building a properly tensioned and balanced wheel. Longer spokes result in lower tension and a more flexible wheel, which can provide a more comfortable ride. However, longer spokes are also more prone to loosening and breaking. On the other hand, shorter spokes result in higher tension and a stiffer wheel, which can improve efficiency but may sacrifice some comfort.

To determine the length of spokes, you can use a spoke calculator or a formula. Spoke calculators take into account the dimensions of the hub, rim, and lacing pattern to provide the correct spoke length for each side of the wheel.

Alternatively, you can calculate the spoke length using a formula. The most commonly used formula is based on the Pythagorean theorem, which takes into account the hub flange diameter, hub flange offset, rim diameter, spoke hole diameter, and spoke crossing number. This method requires accurate measurements and some mathematical calculations.

When choosing the length of spokes, consider the accuracy of your measurements, the availability of spokes in the desired length, and the desired characteristics of the wheel.

3. Choosing the Diameter of Spokes

The diameter of spokes also plays a role in the weight, stiffness, aerodynamics, and durability of the wheel. Thicker spokes are heavier, stiffer, less aerodynamic, and more durable, making them suitable for heavy riders or off-road riding. Thinner spokes are lighter, more flexible, more aerodynamic, but less durable, making them suitable for lightweight riders or racing.

To measure the diameter of spokes, you can use a caliper or a gauge. A caliper allows you to measure the diameter of the spoke at the middle or the end. A gauge, such as a spoke gauge or a drill bit gauge, can be inserted into the corresponding hole to measure the diameter of the spoke.

When choosing the diameter of spokes, consider the type of riding you do, your weight, and the lacing pattern of the wheel. Thicker spokes are generally recommended for heavier riders or off-road riding, while thinner spokes are suitable for lightweight riders or racing.

4. Choosing the Shape of Spokes

Spokes come in various shapes, each with its own pros and cons. Here are some common shapes of spokes:

1. Straight: Straight spokes have a uniform diameter and are the simplest and most affordable option. However, they are relatively heavy, less aerodynamic, and less durable compared to other shapes.

2. Butted: Butted spokes are thicker at the ends and thinner in the middle. This design reduces weight while maintaining strength and durability. Butted spokes are lighter, more aerodynamic, and more durable than straight spokes. However, they are also more expensive.

3. Bladed: Bladed spokes are flat and wide in the middle and round at the ends. They are very light, very aerodynamic, and very stiff. Bladed spokes offer improved aerodynamics and reduced wind resistance. However, they are also very expensive and require special tools and skills for installation and maintenance.

4. Ovalized: Ovalized spokes have an oval shape in the middle and are round at the ends. They are lighter, more aerodynamic, and stiffer compared to straight spokes. Ovalized spokes are not as common as other shapes and are generally more expensive.

When choosing the shape of spokes, consider the type of riding you do, the desired performance characteristics, and the aesthetics of the wheel.

5. Choosing the Number of Spokes

The number of spokes on a wheel affects its weight, strength, stiffness, aerodynamics, and comfort. More spokes result in a heavier but stronger and more durable wheel. More spokes also provide increased lateral and radial stiffness, making the wheel more stable. However, more spokes also increase wind resistance and may sacrifice some comfort.

Less spokes result in a lighter but weaker and less durable wheel. Less spokes also offer increased flexibility and improved aerodynamics. However, fewer spokes may result in a less stable wheel and may be less comfortable, especially for heavier riders or off-road riding.

To determine the number of spokes, consider the number of holes on the hub flanges, which should match the number of spokes on each side of the wheel. Also, consider the number of holes on the rim, which should match the total number of spokes on the wheel. Additionally, consider the lacing pattern of the spokes, which should be compatible with the number of spokes on the wheel.

Common combinations include a 32-hole hub with a 32-hole rim and a 3-cross lacing pattern. This configuration offers a good balance between weight, strength, and durability.

When choosing the number of spokes, consider the type of riding you do, your weight, and the availability of components.

How to Choose Nipples for Building a Bike Wheel

Nipples are responsible for connecting the spoke to the rim and allowing for adjustments in tension. Choosing the right nipples for your wheel can make a significant difference in its durability, performance, and aesthetics.

spoke nipples

Selecting the right nipples for your bike wheel should take these items into consideration:

1. Determine the spoke gauge and length

The first step in choosing the right nipples is to determine the spoke gauge and length. The spoke gauge refers to the thickness of the spoke, while the spoke length is the measurement from the hub flange to the rim’s spoke hole. These measurements will help you determine the appropriate nipple size and ensure a proper fit, which we have covered in the above part of spokes choosing.

2: Nipple material

Nipples come in various materials, each with its advantages and disadvantages. The most common nipple materials are brass, aluminum, and titanium.

Brass nipples are the most popular choice due to their strength, durability, and corrosion resistance. They are also more affordable than other materials. However, brass nipples are heavier, so if weight is a significant factor for you, you might consider other options.

Aluminum nipples are lighter than brass and can contribute to reducing the overall weight of the wheel. However, they are not as strong as brass nipples and may be more prone to stripping or breaking under high tension.

Titanium nipples offer the best strength-to-weight ratio and are highly corrosion-resistant. They are the lightest option but also the most expensive. Titanium nipples are typically used in high-performance racing wheels where weight reduction is critical.

Consider your riding style, budget, and personal preferences when choosing the nipple material.

3. Nipple shape and size

Nipples come in different shapes and sizes, each offering unique benefits during installation, adjustment, and maintenance of the wheel.

Round nipples are the most common and easiest to work with. They are compatible with standard spoke wrenches and are readily available.

Hexagonal nipples, also known as “hex nipples,” provide a more secure grip for spoke wrenches, reducing the risk of slipping during adjustments.

Square nipples, while less common, offer a similar advantage to hexagonal nipples. The square shape allows for a better grip and can prevent rounding off the nipple edges.

Torx nipples, which feature a star-shaped recess, provide the most secure grip, minimizing the risk of stripping the nipple. However, Torx nipples require a specialized tool.

Choose the nipple shape and size based on the spoke wrench you plan to use, the rim hole design, and the desired spoke tension.

4. Nipple color and finish

While the color and finish of the nipples may not affect the wheel’s performance, they can add a touch of personal style and enhance the overall aesthetics of your bike. Nipples are available in various colors and finishes, such as silver, black, anodized, or polished.

Consider matching the nipple color and finish with the rim, hub, and bike frame to create a cohesive and visually appealing look. For example, if you have a black frame and black rims, black nipples can provide a sleek and unified appearance. On the other hand, if you want to add some contrast, silver or anodized nipples can create an eye-catching effect.

Step 2. Lacing the Spokes

Lacing is a procedure of fitting spokes when building a bicycle wheel, when they are passed through wheel hub holes and then threaded onto the nipples in the rim. Lacing is the most challenging and time-consuming part of building a bike wheel because it requires careful attention to detail, accuracy, and patience.

Before we start with the lacing job, please make sure which spoke pattern you prefer.

Spoke patterns play a crucial role in determining the strength, durability, and overall performance of a wheel. In this part, we’ll explore three common spoke lacing patterns – radial, 2-cross, and 3-cross – and discuss their advantages, disadvantages, and common applications.

1. Radial Spoke Pattern: Simple and Lightweight

The radial spoke pattern is the simplest and most direct way of lacing a wheel. In this pattern, the spokes run straight from the hub to the rim without crossing any other spokes. This results in a lightweight wheel with fewer points of stress. 

radial spoking

Advantages of the radial spoke pattern include lighter weight, less wind resistance, less spoke stress, easier truing and tensioning, and a more aerodynamic and aesthetic appearance. This pattern is commonly used in road bike front wheels, especially for time trial or triathlon bikes, where weight and aerodynamics are critical. It is also used in track bike front wheels, where braking and torque are not a concern.

However, the radial spoke pattern has some disadvantages. It offers less lateral stiffness and torque transfer compared to other patterns, which can affect the overall performance and stability of the wheel. It also puts more stress on the hub and is not compatible with disc brakes or rear drive-side wheels. Additionally, building a wheel with a radial spoke pattern requires special hubs with reinforced flanges to handle the increased stress.

2. 2-Cross Spoke Pattern: Versatile and Durable

The 2-cross spoke pattern is a common and versatile option for lacing a wheel. In this pattern, the spokes cross two other spokes between the hub and the rim. This provides a good balance of lateral stiffness, torque transfer, and overall wheel strength.

2-cross spoking

Advantages of the 2-cross spoke pattern include increased lateral stiffness, improved torque transfer, reduced hub stress, compatibility with disc brakes and rear drive-side wheels, and suitability for a wide range of spoke counts and wheel sizes. This pattern is commonly used in most road bike rear wheels, where it can handle the pedaling and braking forces, as well as accommodate the cassette and derailleur. It is also the go-to choice for most mountain bike wheels, providing stability and durability on rough terrain.

However, the 2-cross spoke pattern does have some drawbacks. It can increase wind resistance and spoke stress compared to radial lacing. Truing and tensioning a wheel with a 2-cross pattern can be more challenging, and it is less aerodynamic and aesthetic compared to radial or 1-cross patterns.

3. 3-Cross Spoke Pattern: Traditional and Reliable

The 3-cross spoke pattern is the most popular and traditional choice for lacing a wheel. In this pattern, the spokes cross three other spokes between the hub and the rim. It offers the highest lateral stiffness, torque transfer, and overall durability.

2-cross and 3-cross spoking

Advantages of the 3-cross spoke pattern include the most lateral stiffness, the best torque transfer, the least hub stress, compatibility with disc brakes and rear drive-side wheels, suitability for almost any spoke count and wheel size, and the highest level of durability and reliability. This pattern is commonly found in classic road bike wheels, providing optimal performance and longevity for everyday riding. It is also used in touring or adventure bike wheels, where it can withstand heavy loads and long distances. Additionally, some BMX or dirt jump bike wheels utilize the 3-cross pattern to handle high impacts and frequent jumps.

However, the 3-cross spoke pattern has its downsides. It increases wind resistance and spoke stress compared to other patterns. Truing and tensioning a wheel with a 3-cross pattern can be more challenging, and it is the heaviest and least aerodynamic and aesthetic option.

Then, let’s check how to lace with different spoke patterns:

What is the Key Spoke and How to Decide It for Each Spoke Pattern

The key spoke is the first spoke that goes from the hub to the rim. Its position on the hub determines the position of all the other spokes. So it would be our first job of lacing the spokes, no matter what spoke type you have decided.

The key spoke is inserted into a hole on the hub flange that is aligned with the center of the hub. It is then secured with a nipple on the rim near the valve hole. The orientation of the key spoke is also crucial. It should be angled slightly away from the hub axle and be a pulling spoke, meaning it will be under tension when the wheel is driven forward.

Additionally, the key spoke should be a heads out spoke, with its head on the outside of the hub flange and its body leaning on the inside. This reduces stress on the spoke’s bend and increases the wheel’s lateral stiffness.

Now, let’s look at how to decide the key spoke position for different spoke patterns.

  • In a radial spoke pattern, the spokes are inserted into the hub flange holes in a straight line, perpendicular to the hub axle. For this pattern, the key spoke can be inserted into any hole on the hub flange, as long as it is perpendicular to the hub axle. The next spoke should be inserted into the fourth hole on the hub flange, skipping three holes. The spokes should be evenly spaced on the rim, with one spoke per hole.
  • In a 2-cross spoke pattern, the spokes cross each other at the middle of the hub flange. The key spoke should be inserted into a hole on the hub flange that is aligned with the center of the hub, or slightly offset to the right. The next spoke should be inserted into the second hole on the hub flange, skipping one hole. The spokes should be spaced on the rim with one empty hole between them.
  • In a 3-cross spoke pattern, the spokes cross each other at the middle of the hub flange. The key spoke should be inserted into a hole on the hub flange that is aligned with the center of the hub, or slightly offset to the left. The next spoke should be inserted into the third hole on the hub flange, skipping two holes. The spokes should be spaced on the rim with two empty holes between them.

How to Lace a Radial Spoke Pattern

Here’s how you can lace a radial spoke pattern:

1. Start from the key spoke: The key spoke is the first spoke that goes from the hub to the rim. Insert it into any hole on the hub flange and secure it with a nipple on the rim.

2. Orient the key spoke: Make sure the key spoke is perpendicular to the hub axle. This will ensure proper alignment of the remaining spokes.

3. Skip three holes: Skip three holes on the hub flange and insert the next spoke into the fourth hole. Secure it with a nipple on the rim, next to the key spoke.

4. Repeat the process: Continue skipping three holes on the hub flange and inserting spokes into the rim until all the spokes on one side of the hub are laced.

5. Flip the wheel over: Flip the wheel over and repeat the lacing process on the other side of the hub.

How to Lace a 2-Cross Spoke Pattern

Here’s how to lace a 2-cross spoke pattern:

1. Start from the key spoke: Insert the key spoke into any hole on the hub flange and secure it with a nipple on the rim.

2. Orient the key spoke: Angle the key spoke slightly away from the hub axle. This will create the proper trajectory for the remaining spokes.

3. Skip one hole: Skip one hole on the hub flange and insert the next spoke into the second hole. Secure it with a nipple on the rim, next to the key spoke.

4. Repeat the process: Continue skipping one hole on the hub flange and inserting spokes into the rim until all the spokes on one side of the hub are laced.

5. Cross the spokes: Cross each spoke over two other spokes on the same side of the hub before reaching the rim. Make sure the spokes cross each other at the middle of the hub flange.

How to Lace a 3-Cross Spoke Pattern

Here’s how to lace a 3-cross spoke pattern:

1. Start from the key spoke: Insert the key spoke into any hole on the hub flange and secure it with a nipple on the rim.

2. Orient the key spoke: Angle the key spoke slightly away from the hub axle. This creates the proper trajectory for the remaining spokes.

3. Skip two holes: Skip two holes on the hub flange and insert the next spoke into the third hole. Secure it with a nipple on the rim, next to the key spoke.

4. Repeat the process: Continue skipping two holes on the hub flange and inserting spokes into the rim until all the spokes on one side of the hub are laced.

5. Cross the spokes: Cross each spoke over three other spokes on the same side of the hub before reaching the rim. Make sure the spokes cross each other at the middle of the hub flange.

Step 3. Truing the Wheel

After you finish the lacing work, it’s time to true your bike wheel, which is a crucial step in building a bike, as it ensures that the wheel spins straight and true, minimizing wobbles and improving overall performance.

Tools and Equipment for Truing a Wheel

Before we dive into the steps, let’s first take a look at the tools and equipment you’ll need for the job. Here’s a list of what you’ll need:

1. Truing stand: A truing stand is a specialized tool that holds the wheel in place, allowing you to make precise adjustments. It provides stability and accuracy throughout the truing process.

2. Spoke wrench: A spoke wrench is used to adjust the tension of the spokes. It allows you to tighten or loosen the spokes to bring the wheel back into alignment.

3. Dishing tool: A dishing tool is used to check and adjust the dish of the wheel. The dish refers to the alignment of the rim relative to the hub. It ensures that the rim is centered and symmetrical over the hub.

4. Dial indicator: A dial indicator is an optional tool that can be used to measure the lateral and radial runout of the wheel. It provides precise measurements and helps you gauge the accuracy of your truing adjustments.

Steps to Truing the Wheel

Now that you have all the necessary tools, let’s get into the step-by-step process of truing a wheel:

1. Place the wheel in the truing stand: Start by inserting the wheel into the truing stand, ensuring that it is securely held in place. The stand will provide stability and allow you to make accurate adjustments.

2. Identify the areas that need adjustment: Spin the wheel and observe the rim as it rotates. Look for any wobbles or areas where the rim is rubbing against the brake pads. These are the areas that need adjustment.

3. Adjust the lateral runout: Lateral runout refers to side-to-side wobbles in the wheel. To adjust it, use the spoke wrench to tighten or loosen the spokes on the side opposite to the wobble. Make small, gradual adjustments and re-check the wheel after each adjustment.

4. Adjust the radial runout: Radial runout refers to up-and-down wobbles in the wheel. To adjust it, use the spoke wrench to tighten or loosen the spokes on the same side as the wobble. Again, make small adjustments and re-check the wheel after each one.

5. Center the rim: Once you’ve minimized the lateral and radial runout, check if the rim is centered over the hub. Use the dishing tool to measure the distance between the rim and the hub locknut on both sides of the wheel. Adjust the spoke tension on each side as needed to center the rim. Here are more details:

  1. Place the wheel on a flat surface: Start by placing the wheel on a flat surface, ensuring that it is stable and not wobbling.
  2. Position the dishing tool: Position the dishing tool over the wheel, with the two arms touching the rim and the center gauge touching the hub locknut.
  3. Flip the wheel over: Flip the wheel over and repeat the same process on the other side. This will ensure that you get an accurate measurement of the dish from both sides of the wheel.
  4. Adjust the dish: If the center gauge touches the hub locknut on both sides of the wheel, it means that the wheel is properly dished and centered. However, if the center gauge does not touch the hub locknut on one side of the wheel, it means that the wheel is out of dish and needs to be adjusted.
  5. Tighten or loosen the spokes: To adjust the dish of the wheel, use the spoke wrench to tighten or loosen the spokes on each side of the wheel. If the center gauge is too far from the hub locknut on one side, tighten the spokes on that side and loosen the spokes on the opposite side. If the center gauge is too close to the hub locknut on one side, loosen the spokes on that side and tighten the spokes on the opposite side.

Remember to make small and gradual adjustments, and re-check the dish of the wheel after each adjustment, until the center gauge touches the hub locknut on both sides of the wheel.

6. Eliminate the wobble: Spin the wheel and check for any remaining wobbles. If you notice a wobble, identify the area causing it and make small adjustments to the spoke tension in that specific area.

7. Check the roundness: Finally, check the roundness of the wheel by spinning it and observing the rim. If you notice any areas where the rim deviates from a perfect circle, adjust the spoke tension in those areas to improve the roundness.

To ensure that your wheel is properly trued, it’s important to understand the ideal and acceptable tolerances. Here’s a chart to give you a better idea:

  • Lateral runout: +/- 0.5 mm
  • Radial runout: +/- 0.5 mm
  • Dishing: +/- 1 mm

Step 4. Tensioning the Spokes

Tensioning the spokes is the process of adjusting the tightness of each spoke in the wheel. It’s important because proper spoke tension is crucial for the strength, durability, and performance of the wheel. When the spokes are evenly and adequately tensioned, they work together to support the weight of the rider and absorb the forces generated during riding. This helps to ensure that the wheel stays true, meaning it remains straight and doesn’t wobble or go out of alignment.

To tension the spokes, you’ll need a few tools and methods at your disposal. Here are some commonly used ones:

1. Spoke tension meter: A spoke tension meter is a device that measures the force applied by each spoke on the rim. It helps ensure that the spokes are evenly and adequately tensioned. By measuring the deflection or vibration of the spoke, the tension meter gives you a numerical value to compare with the recommended tension for your specific spokes and rims.

2. Pluck test: Another method to gauge spoke tension is the pluck test. By plucking the spokes like guitar strings, you can listen for a consistent pitch across all the spokes. If some spokes sound higher or lower in pitch, it indicates a variance in tension that needs adjustment.

3. Squeeze test: The squeeze test involves squeezing pairs of spokes where they cross each other. This method helps settle the spokes into their final positions and eliminate any residual stress. Apply moderate to high force and listen for popping or creaking sounds, which indicate that the spokes have settled.

The optimal tension values for spokes and rims can vary depending on the material and type. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Steel spokes: 100-120 kgf (kilogram-force)
  • Aluminum spokes: 80-100 kgf
  • Carbon rims: 110-130 kgf

It’s important to note that these values can vary depending on the specific brand and model of spokes and rims you’re using. Always refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations for the most accurate tension values.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s go through the steps to tension the spokes:

1. Start by tightening all the nipples until they are snug against the rim. This ensures that each spoke has some tension.

2. Use a spoke wrench to turn each nipple clockwise, increasing the tension on each spoke. Make small and gradual adjustments, ensuring that you’re tightening the nipples evenly.

3. After each adjustment, use the spoke tension meter or one of the other methods mentioned earlier to measure the tension of each spoke. Compare the values with the recommended tension for your spokes and rims.

4. Continue making adjustments and re-measuring until the tension values are within the desired range, typically within +/- 5% of the recommended tension.

5. As you tighten the spokes, it’s essential to maintain balance across the wheel. This means ensuring that the tension is evenly distributed between the spokes on both sides of the wheel. This balance helps prevent the wheel from going out of true.

6. After all spokes are set, you need to true the bike wheel again for fine tuning. Just follow the steps in the above part and you can easily make it. But please note that when you find some spoke is over-stressed, it may need some stress relieving. In other words, stress relieving is the process of settling the spokes, nipples, and rim into their final positions, eliminating any residual stress or strain in the wheel. Here are a few methods to stress relieve the wheel:

  1. Squeezing the spokes: Squeeze pairs of spokes where they cross each other using your hands or a rubber mallet. Apply moderate to high force until you hear popping or creaking sounds, indicating that the spokes have settled.
  2. Tapping the rim: Tap the rim with a rubber mallet or a wooden block along the circumference of the wheel. Apply moderate force and listen for a consistent and clear sound, indicating that the rim is true.
  3. Riding the wheel: Mount the wheel on your bike and ride it for a short distance on a smooth, flat surface. Apply moderate pressure and test the braking performance and alignment of the wheel.

After stress relieving, re-check the truing and tension of the wheel using the same tools and methods as before. Make any necessary adjustments until the wheel is in perfect condition.

Conclusion

OK, this is pretty much all the information which we can provide you with for how to build a bike wheel. So now it’s your turn to try these steps and build your own bike wheels. Don’t hesitate to share your experience or questions, we’ll see you in the comments section below and figure out how to get them solved.

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AUTHOR

Randy Joycelyn

Randy is the founder and editor of Cycling Soigneur. He has been passionate about cycling since he was a kid. He has been riding bikes for over 10 years. Cycling has just become a part of life.

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