Broken Spoke: The wheel truth

Broken Spoke: The wheel truth

 

Broken Spoke: The wheel truth

 

Duncan Moore

 

Broken Spoke: The wheel truth – machine or hand-built

 

Learning to build bicycle wheels is one of the best things I’ve ever done. Whenever I see a bicycle wheel it never ceases to amaze me that those thin wire spokes, that can be bent by hand, can be built into a wheel that can support a rider, even one weighing in over 80kg, such as myself. It is that thought that makes wheel building such a joy to me – engineering in practice.

 

I’ve lost count of the number of wheels I’ve built over the years; front and rear, geared, single speed and fixed, cross-laced and radial. When it comes to building a new bike up this was always the part I most looked forward to. Gathering together the hubs and rims, working out the spoke length and then lacing them up, tensioning and truing them. It was almost a form of meditation.

 

In the wheel building zone, no distractions please
In the wheel building zone, no distractions please

 

The thing is I’ve just finished building a Handsling RR1 carbon road frame and when it came to wheel choice I did the usual web surfing, deciding which hubs to use and then the rim choice. The only problem was that I simply couldn’t make the numbers add up. The cost of buying the hubs, rims and spokes was scary enough to begin with and then when I started to look at factory wheel systems, such as those offered by Campagnolo, Mavic, and Fulcrum, it made even less sense to do it myself.

 

I could choose a set of wheels from any of those companies that would not only cost less than my building my own wheels, but would also be lighter. For other people who have to factor in the cost of having wheels built, as well as buying the individual parts, then there really is no reason anymore to go traditional hand-built anymore.

 

Having bitten the bullet and purchased a pair of Campagnolo wheels I can now certainly see the attraction of factory wheels. Not only have I got minimal spoke count but also a funky spoke lacing pattern; the rear wheel mixes crossed spokes and radial spokes, grouping them in sets of three. It may seem a small detail to concentrate on, but to me it plays mind games in a positive way. If I’m riding a trick looking set of wheels, then I’m going to be faster because I think I should be faster to justify those wheels.

 

Duncan has been swayed by fancy factory built wheels, but oh those spokes!
Duncan has been swayed by fancy factory built wheels, but oh those spokes!

 

I’m also pleased with my latest purchase because the spokes used are conventional ones. A lot of the wheelsets I looked at were built with straight spokes. Now, I know all about the advantages of not putting a bend in the spoke at the elbow, but you try going to the average local bike shop and buying straight spokes. Most workshops will have ample supplies of regular spokes and will be happy to sell you the odd one or two, but ask for a straight spoke and there’s a sudden sucking in of air and the immortal line, “We could try and order some in for you…” Then comes the real kicker, the only way they can get them is to order a box full, which you’ll then be expected to buy even though you only want one spoke.

 

Of course, the problem with my now having discovered the benefits of factory system wheels is that I can’t see myself building any more wheels from scratch. Well, at least not for use on the road. My single speed MTB could do with having new rims laced to the hubs soon, but after that my truing stand could well become an expensive workshop ornament. Wheels turn and time waits for no man.

 

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