I've been taking a wheelbuilding class.

I don't know what to expect. Arriving early Sunday night, I enter a bike shop that resembles your typical, cluttered neighborhood bicycle shop. Stuff is everywhere, and you then know it's better to ask where something is, than go find it yourself.

A few people are mingling around the "co-op" area, an area set aside for members to work on their own bicycles and bicycle projects. I find the owner, Charles, who has a disintegrating spiral notebook with all our names in it. Students sit down and he takes role.

Surprisingly, the wheelbuilding class was full, and I was right to register early. Students comprised a wide range of ages. A few people came with old Campagnolo hub bodies, either bought off of eBay or from their old bicycle. Some like me brought their own wheels for salvaging the hub. I got paired with a fellow who wants to build a fixed gear for bike polo, out of an old frame with 27" rims. Since he hadn't the parts, I got mine laced first.

The classroom itself is in an old building, actually the "co-op" area, with a wood fired stove, a cord of wood nearby, paint peeling off the ceiling, piles of discarded wheels, beer bottles filling an enormous garbage can, a wall of tools, wheel truing stands, chairs, cheesecake posters, etc. A row of folding wooden chairs, probably salvaged out of an old school theater and nailed to a partition wall, is the student seating area. Our instructor (store owner?) offers beers, liquor, and other snacks before class. The first class, I'm not even sure when the class might begin, as we hear about ten other bicycle related stories and parts, as well as the students themselves ask dozens of questions before wheelbuilding even comes up.

The owner's been building wheels for 35 years. He's published his technique in a local bicycle 'zine, as the Hadraan Wheelcraft Method.

Eventually, the instructor picks up a hub and rim from a student and begins lacing. Lacing is just putting the wires in the right holes, and in the case of the method I used, weaving the spokes in and over correctly. It has a beautiful consistency, like tying knots or origami.

Most of the first class was on calculation and preparation, and the half-dozen ways to mess up a build. One critical point was to buy hubs with the same number of holes as the rim. Notably, a student had done just that.

The second class was, again, a demonstration, but then I could build my own wheels.

My plan was to turn my old Giant CFR ONE carbon fiber bike, bought back in 1997, into a fixed gear bicycle, salvaging what I can. My old front wheel was laced to a old Shimano 600 hub (circa 1996), and I thought I might use it. I got it cracked open for a bearing inspection, and found it was shot. So, I laced some Velocity Deep V rims onto a newer Shimano 105 hub. So it goes.

Actually, I had very little trouble, except I tried to lace cross 4 on one side, then cross 3 on the other. Both sides were to be cross 4. This is easily corrected, fortunately. And so what I laced looks pretty much like the last picture in that 'zine, except my hub's a little smaller and my rim's in black.

The instructor also went over wheel truing, which looks like a tedious process. And although it sounds difficult, there's a pattern to it as well: Tighten, True, Round, True, correct offset from center, check and apply uniform tension, etc.

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About eliasross

Blogging before the word "blog" was invented.
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