Sunday 24 December 2017

My work, your wheels

End of December, Christmas break & New year... it's time to slow down, take take some break, summarize the current year and make plans for the next one.
I personally like this time a lot. 

Using this opportunity I wanted to share with you how do I make my wheels so you understand a bit what is happening behind the scenes. 
I think it's really important for you too see how the wheels are made @ my workshop so when you take one you ride them with full confidence and smile on your face.

Ready for the story? So let's get started :-)

First, you contact me. Usually people find me via other's recommendations or via instagram or facebook.
I then ask you few questions like: road or mtb wheels, your weight, style of ridding, budget, your priorities (look, weight, price, stiffness) and many, many more. 

This is absolutely crucial moment as the whole point in handbuild wheels is to build the wheels which will match 100% your needs.
This is the fundamental difference vs stock wheels which you buy and take some compromises consciously or unconsciously.

When we have that I put all components into my favorite calculators checking and simulating the wheel build, stiffness (bracing angle) and spoke tension on both sides. Sometimes it happens that selected components will not 'talk to each other' well so then I suggest some changes to make really good and long lasting wheel.

Next step is to purchase the components if I don't have them on stock. 

When all arrives I do measure all components by myself. 
This is a good practice which every wheel builder should follow. It happens pretty often that rim ERD differs from manufacturer's specs or some spokes come with wrong length.

When all is measured I put again the values to the calculator and calculate the final&proper spoke lengths.

Now the wheel building process may begin. 

The first step is to cut and thread the spokes to the proper length. I personally use professional KOWA spoke machine which allows me to cut and thread the spokes up to desired value. 

It is true that today you can buy the spokes with various lengths of 2mm jump... however if your real ERD is different vs assumed one you might end up with too short or too long spokes. This happens really often and people who get the wheels don't see that. 
Too long spokes won't allow to tension the wheel properly and too short spokes may shorten the lifespan of the wheel. Long story short - it's not good.

In my case I prepare the spokes up to single mm, 273mm on below example:

KOWA machine makes perfect thread which is a key for long lasting wheel:

When I have that I clean the threads from the paint so I can prepare the spokes for the next step:

After that threads are ready for SpokePrep treatment. This compound protects the spokes form the corrosion and unscrewing caused by vibrations during the ride. 

There are additional steps after SpokePrep but allow me to keep that as a small secret - every wheelbuilder has some ;-)  

After spokes are ready and getting dry I clean and lube the rim's eyelets:

 Only when those two steps are completed the lacing can be done.

Type of lacing is selected based on the rider weight and style of ridding. In addition I lace the leading spokes 'heads in' for MTB wheels and 'heads out' for Road/CX/Gravel wheels. I believe that in the wheels where more torque is applied like on road bikes it's better to have 'heads out' lacing for leading spokes and opposite for MTB wheels with heavy duty disc brakes.  

For lacing I use above tools. The second from the left is really useful. It allows to screw in all nipples in the same way which is really important to initiate a good build.

Once wheel is laced the real work starts. It's not only to true and tension the spokes. With the experience I learned that the key for a good wheel is to bend the spokes in the way so they support the hub flange and they travel from the hub to the eyelet in the straightest possible way.

The most frequent tools I use are:

Most of those are very common but few require further explanation:
  • The one below spoke wrenches is the tool which is used to hit the spoke heads to put them deeper into the flange holes
  • One on the left next to the parktool spoke tensio is called 'anti twist' and allows to hold the round spoke while increasing the tension. This is really important to avoid spoke wind-up
  • Last but not least, two wooden rods on the bottom. They look funny I know but are really useful. They allow to lay the spokes on the hub's flange and bend the spokes in specific ways which is helpful during spoke stress removing. 
 Very often people say that the handmade wheels require additional tensioning after first rides... I believe that if the wheel is properly stress relieved and the spokes lay on the flange well there is no need to come back to the workshop after first few km.

The process of truing and stress relieving is long and time consuming. I won't describe here all details but I can say that it takes me five or more rounds to tension, align the spokes and stress relieve.  I repeat that process until final spoke tension doesn't change after stress relieve.

The final tension is applied based on the spoke tension calibrator device where the spoke used for the particular build is checked and fresh readings of tensiometer are taken. I do not trust the pre-defined charts and I prefer to take my measurements by myself.

My standards are 0.3mm lateral trueness, 0.5mm radial trueness and spoke tension differences within 5% tolerance.

Wheels build by me get lifetime warranty for trueness, one year for parts and labor-free parts replacement in case you crash and damage the wheels.

Overall this is not the greatest business in the world but very fine craft. I think I can say that today the good wheel builders are doing this job not for the money but for the passion and satisfaction.

Hope that this post explains the whole thing and clarifies some of the doubts you may have.
Thanks for reading and don't hesitate to contact me if you have further questions.


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