Monday, October 30, 2006

some new wheels

Last night, Sunday, I was exhausted. I had weeded a part of my yard I hadn't weeded since I moved in about 14 years ago. As you might imagine, the weeds had suffocated bushes and small trees. Clearing it all up was an all day affair. I was bushed.

Then work called - in my real life I support financial type software. So when there are problems, people lose money. And when people lose money, they get pretty anxious. Makes my job a bit stressful sometimes. Of course they called right when I was about to get on the bike. Two hours later, at about 10 PM, done with work, it was time to ride. I was kind of tired by then.

I popped in a tape of the Tour (it happened to be the last day of the 2006 Tour) and watched the pros amble around the Paris suburbs for a bit. But I rarely pedaled hard enough to even pant and the mirrors around me were uninspiring to say the least. When I had to turn off the fan because it got me cold, I knew I wasn't doing anything productive, so I got off the bike.

I did some collarbone protecting shoulder lifts (military presses mostly). Then a couple curls because whenever you have dumbells in your hand, you gotta do curls. Skipped the deadlifts as ripping out dozens of decade old vines was worth a good 50 deadlifts. But I thought about it and bent over to pick up the bar.

When I did, I saw a couple Campy hubs that I bought a while ago. I knew I had the spokes in a box, the rims behind the stereo speakers, and the tools in my "wheel building supply box". It was too late to ride more and I was in that "too tired to do anything including going to sleep" mode. So I wasn't ready to call it a night.

The only thing holding me back from doing the wheels was that I didn't know the spoke lengths. But presto, I had my work phone, a Treo 650, downstairs. Normally I don't haul it downstairs with me, but with the recent call in mind, I had carried the phone around, "just in case".

The phone is cool and I especially like the part where you can save notes in the Notes section (go figure, right?). I save things like HR stats from workouts, gas purchase costs and mileage, car mod budgets, bike budgets, and, would you believe it, spoke lengths for some of the wheels I want to build. Including the wheels whose parts were sitting right there.

So I sat down on the floor in my dry bib shorts and started putting together a wheel. It'd been a while since I built wheels regularly but after a few fumbles and a bunch of "oh yeah, that's how you do that", I was off and lacing.

Wheelbuilding is both an art and a science. It's sort of unnecessary, like classic Aston Martins. You can get cheaper ones (wheels or cars), faster ones, lighter ones, whatever. But a good hand built wheelset is a joy to ride, just like a classic Aston Martin. Handbuilt wheels have the advantage of easier service since the builder probably used a black Park spoke key and some normal hub. Of course, if you're the builder, then you know the wheel intimately, the quirks in tension, the rim's unique character, etc.

A good wheelbuilder puts personal touches on a wheelset - they demonstrate the knowledge necessary to put those touches on the wheels. They also exhibit, for discerning experts, the builder's workmanship. Here are several of those touches:

1. Both rims should "read" the same direction, i.e. the letters on rim, on the bottom, should be readable from one side or another. Usually I choose the right side, i.e. the wheels read from the drivetrain side of the bike.

2. This means both hubs have to be oriented in a certain way. Many hubs are "left-right" unique, even though a front hub really doesn't have sides. The Centaur hubs in my hands had a locking dustcap on one side. In the rear, it was on the left side. That made the front hub's locking dustcap the "left" side.

3. The lacing should be such that the spokes next to the valve hole are parallel. This lets you pump up your tires without slicing your hands on the spokes when you pop the pump head off.

3a. The exception is on heavy-duty 24 and 32 hole wheels - in that case, if the rim seam is opposite the valve stem, you should cross over the valve hole. This will put the rim seam in the middle of four crossing spokes. This makes the seam a little more stable.

4. Use thin center-section spokes. The elbows are the weakest point of a wheel (when using standard spokes). The spoke midsections rarely break. So I try and use 14-17-14 spokes (2.0mm-1.7mm-2.0mm I think). Meat where you need it, light where you don't.

5. Use alloy spoke nipples in the front and on the left side on the rear. The right rear spokes see a lot of tension and alloy nipples are simply not as strong as brass nipples.

6. Spoke prep on the spoke threads. Lets you true a wheel but prevents the spokes from loosening.

7. Grease on the rim eyelets (where the spoke nipple sits). The spoke nipple should turn freely against the rim.

I started remembering all that stuff and started lacing up my wheels. About 30 minutes of relaxing, meditative work later, I had a pair of un-tensioned wheels. And I was ready for bed.

Tonight I'll tension them.

And maybe tomorrow I'll have an inspirational set of training wheels for my spring campaign.

So nice.

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