12 March, 2013

Wheel Obsession


By Igor

I’m obsessed about wheels. Hubs, rims, spokes, and (ahem…) nipples.  There is something about building a wheel that leads to such a deep connection with the bike.  The selection of parts, building, and truing entails decisions that will make you honest with yourself and bring out real emotions. The bicycle wheel is an amazing, delicately balanced creation.

The choice of components of a wheel build is not something to be taken lightly. The rim is the most important part of the wheel, for it takes the load, shock, and deformation of the wheel to accomplish a comfortable and safe ride.  A rim out of round will lead to complications during building and an uncomfortable ride. A rim that has been manufactured by cutting corners to cut costs will save a customer money at first, but will only lead to costly repairs and replacements down the road (pun intended).

Hubs have more to do with frame design: spacing, gearing, braking, and application.  There is something to be said for all types of bearings. Sealed bearing (cartridge) lasts a very long time because they are kept away from the elements, so they are perfect for city riding and touring. Ceramics are fast and light but can wear out and damage steel races. Loose ball bearing is traditional and can be adjusted and overhauled, but requires much more care and maintenance [than cartridge].

Oh the spoke…the seemingly lowly spoke.  Much of the time when I hear people talk about the newest bike they build up, how much it weighs, the components it has, the type of wheel or X laced to Y without knowledge of the spoke attributes. The spoke is a very important consideration because they are dynamic. They change with shock and stress from frame distortion.  There are so many different styles of spokes that I won’t even get into all the benefits and drawbacks of each one in this post, but it is an important conversation to have with your wheel builder regarding your application and stress factors.

Nipples. Brass. Always.

Anyway, here's a few pictures of my latest build for Adrian's Bertin. 32h Campagnolo Record hubs, double butted DT Swiss spokes, VO Raid Rim, brass nipples.






You should always talk to your wheel builder about these choices and lacing patterns. They are the most valuable resource for the quality and safety of your ride.

Wheels are the component of the bike that I’m most passionate about. The whole process of lacing, truing, dishing, rounding, truing, dishing, rounding, truing, rounding, truing, dishing, and truing is something that I find therapeutic and intensive at the same time.

Scott’s obsessed about bike luggage and rumor around VO is Casey has never slept due to thinking about bikes 24/7/365. So what keeps you up at night? Headsets? Pedals? Bar plugs?

19 comments:

Wes Ewell said...

Ten minutes before you posted this I finished building a new wheel for my light touring bike. I agree that wheel-building is a Zen experience.
I used DT spokes and brass nipples that I've had on hand for 40 years. I also used a VO low-flange (front) hub that is the smoothest running unit I've ever seen. Why didn't you use a VO hub?

VeloOrange said...

Wes, the wheels that came off the bike were Milremo tubulars that had seen better days laced to these hubs with rusty old spokes. The hubs were in great condition. You can see the bike here: http://velo-orange.blogspot.com/2012/11/bertin-c37-mixte-high-performance-in.html

Anonymous said...

Perhaps, if appropriate, mention spoke washer use under the spokd heads with contemporary spokes that are designed for machine wheelbuilding use. By that I mean spokes with a more open (perhaps not mandrel bent) curve radius/profile at the head end, which doesn't allow them to lay properly against the hub spoke hole profiles. Without the proper bend, failure prone pressure points at the spoke inner radius surface may be problematic. Shame to lovingly build up a wheel only to experience spoke fatique and breakage at the hub/head end due to unsupported flex in the spoke bend and associated pressure points.

Dale said...

I like drive trains....the cleaner and shinier the better! Individual sprockets and spacers are best as they allow the most tinkering. Derailleurs are beautiful and elegant devices that work so well and there is something wonderful about a well made crankset and bottom bracket. I'll be adding polished brass ferrules and cable tips before the weekend...that little OCD touch...

Anonymous said...

Looks like your Campy hubs could have used some polishing before the build.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh, the properly aligned hub logo visible through the valve stem hole. Nice job.

somervillain said...

My two obsessions regarding bike builds are fender lines and lighting. I obsess way too far on these two aspects of bike building... Nothing focuses my eye on a detail more than an irregular fender radius or wires zip-tied to a frame. I spend more time on either of these then on everything else associated with building up a bike. But then, every time I look at the bike, it's worth it. :)

peddalhead said...

I admit to having strong mussings over luggage, and a good fender line is heavenly but my true obsession has to be tires. Touring tires in particular - fat or slender, cushy or robust, light or stout they are all wonderful.

gypsybytrade said...

Great post Igor! Building wheels, like building an entire bike, can bring great satisfaction. With great joy, I suffer from all of the bicycle obsessions you describe. I do love wheels and luggage, but worst of all (let the timestamp bear witness), I do not sleep either due to a chronic bicycle obsession.

Wes Ewell said...

As much as I enjoy building wheels, restoring old bikes, and building new ones, my real passion is design: putting together the perfect assemblage of frame, wheels, tires, gearing, and other parts for a particular use and rider.

Evan said...

I dream in Suntour Cyclone, and in the smoked chrome finish on old Austro-Daimlers.

Earle Young said...

Being really picky, I will have to say that the hubs were Record, not NR. There were briefly Super Record hubs, but never Nuovo Record.
For a classic build, I prefer the look of Wheelsmith double butted spokes. They are shinier and the transitions more pronounced, like classic Italian chrome plated spokes, but without the hassles of plated spokes.

VeloOrange said...

Earle, you are right about the hub identity. Btw, I'll make sure to stop by and say hi at Cirque, you'll probably see the bike there too.

Anonymous said...

I'm passionate about getting a bike silent. Noise is the bike complaining: chain scraping on a cassette or ring, wheels flexing, squeaky hubs or brackets, loose bottle cages, weak brifter return springs, unlubed cables, pothole chain smack from a too loose chain, loose fender, rack, bottle, bell, or light mounts. And Campy freewheels.

Captain Blight said...

For a while, for me, it was rear derailleurs. Then it was 3-pin cranksets. Lately it's been freewheels, and headlamps.

I greatly, greatly wish Velo-Orange would do a repro of a Radios or the Sturrmey/Miller dualbulb headlamp, with a half-decent 2W LED and a reasonable beam pattern. And, as always, please bring back the SunTour Command Shifters!

patti fundament said...

Ha, yes. Wheels. For us year round Minnesotan riders, wheels are just something you have a few of.. the good ones, the not so good ones. My
wheels have been (hubs included) completely submerged in salty ice water only 10 or 11 times this year, meaning they'll be ok next year for a while, til they fail completely!

Should I get some fancy ones? They
might last 2 or 3 years.. unless I don't actually ride them.

Unknown said...

Cranksets and chainring combinations are my obsession (and, to a lesser extent, cassette cog sizes). I have a line of nails in my wall that are each stacked up with many sizes of chainring, all varying in tooth-count and BCD. I'm constantly tinkering with my gearing options on each bike (mostly on 3x10 setups, sometimes 2x10; once I even ran a 4x10 with two granny rings on our tandem: 24-32-42-53). I have strong opinions about the pluses and minuses about each brand and model of cranksets and chainrings (Shimano are generally the best in both respects, but they don't offer much choice in ring sizes).

Timbo said...

Cut the SPAM into 5mm slices and grill it. Then make it into a sandwich.

lawschoolissoover said...

I'm with anonymous of 3/19--silence is way more than golden on a bicycle. When there are clicks or creaks, you don't feel like you're riding something belongs all together. I just hunted down and killed a noise last week--pannier hooks squeaking on the rack--and my life is much more pleasant as a result!