Meditative and rewarding: An introduction to wheel building

Wheel building is wrongly characterised as a ‘dark art’. In reality it’s very simple. In a scene from the film, Triplets of Belleville, grandma Madame Souza trues her young bicycle racer’s wheel on the kitchen table. She tings the spokes with a spoon and listens to the sound they make before adjusting the spoke tension with great panache like she’d been building wheels all her life. In other times, even grandma knew how to fix a wheel. Wheel building was a family affair for many bicycle shops during the cold winter months. However, today, with the rollout of so many mass-produced factory-made wheels, the skill of wheel building has declined, although it’s slowly returning as more and more riders come to appreciate the value (and serviceability) of a quality hand-built wheel. 175054__tob_l Recently I had the pleasure of running my first group wheel building class at my workshop in North Fremantle. It was a fantastic experience for me as I hope it was for everyone who attended. The practice of teaching really forced me to knuckle down on the scientific aspects of everything I knew about wheels. After spending half a day discussing the intricacies of wheel science, component design, and spoke length calculations, we finally got stuck into actual ‘doing bit’ of the course and built the wheels. After so much theory, it was a relief to see the wheels finally come into being. The mantra of ‘lateral true, radial true, dish, increase tension’, was repeated many times. Subsequently the process of balancing spoke tension and stress releasing were introduced as we worked towards optimal spoke tension. After the class, I checked over all the wheels to ensure that were built to a professional standard. With some minor adjustments, the spoke tension in each wheel was documented using the awesome Spokeservice tension graph tool (thanks Ryan!). HoyerRearWheel Riding on set of wheels that you have built yourself is a real achievement and a great milestone for anyone who shares a passion for cycling. The process of wheel building gives you deep appreciation of the engineering marvel that is the bicycle wheel. Wheel building teaches us to be patience and mindful, two qualities that many of us struggle with in our technologically distracted lives.  While some of us dream of building our own bicycle frames, the practice of doing so can be very expensive and time consuming. However, anyone can build a bicycle wheel using simple equipment. Once you get the hang if it, its a meditative and rewarding skill. Just be careful in disclosing this new-found knowledge with too many people. Your friends may never stop bugging you to true their wheels!

The next Melody Wheels ‘Introduction to wheel building‘ class will be on 14 & 21 February 2015. IMG_20141122_130054 IMG_20141122_163436 IMG_20141122_165357 IMG_20141122_181003 IMG_20141129_153142 IMG_20141129_154628 IMG_20141129_160146 IMG_20141129_171310