As I’ve come to understand more about bikes over the last few years, I’ve learned a few things, usually the hard way. I found out that vintage bikes are fantastic value for money and really not that much different to ride than modern ones, especially if you get one with a good Reynolds 531 or Columbus SL steel frame. Whilst riding L’Eroica last year I cycled alongside one guy who had rescued his bike from a skip and another who’d bought his for £10 on eBay. It’s always possible to find a very respectable, sometimes vintage, 1970s, 80s or 90s bicycle online for £100 to £200, often less, and these bicycles will never depreciate. Pay that kind of money for a new bike and you have something that will not only be heavy and horrible to ride, but that will depreciate to almost nothing within a year. As I’ve come to know more about bikes, I’ve moved from maintaining them to building them.
I like nothing better than to get hold of nice old frame then search out the parts to make up a new-old bike to add to my collection. But here’s an expensive lesson. If you buy individual components, even second hand ones, you end up paying a lot of money for the bike – far more than it’s worth after it’s been lovingly assembled. Fortunately, the solution is pretty simple. When you want a pair of wheels, or other parts for that matter, buy a complete bike. Strip it down for the parts you need then sell the remaining ones individually. That way, you’ll get the wheels free, and perhaps make a profit. Of course, the temptation is then to hang onto the frame and other parts of the second bike, and start going through the process all over again. It’s probably safest to buy a bike that you don’t like.
I’ve wanted to build my own wheels for some time but have been reluctant to take the plunge. It’s not that I don’t have the patience, or the time to do it, it’s just that my DIY track record is, well, variable. But I want to be able to build wheels because of the flexibility it gives me to experiment more with my bikes…. swapping out derailleurs for hub gears, trying my favourite hubs on different rims… you know the kind of thing. The other factor is that it’s pretty much impossible to buy a 27-inch wheel for an old bike with 120mm dropouts that will have the correct dishing to fit a 5 or 6-speed freewheel. When they do take a screw-on freewheel, modern 700C wheels seem to be designed for the single-speed brigade.
I’ve considered taking a wheel building course but don’t really want to give up a day or more for something that really shouldn’t be that complicated. Some of the YouTube videos are pretty clear, Sheldon Brown’s web site gives quite detailed instructions, and this book looked like good value at £9, so I bought it (even though I was a little nervous about buying from an author who describes himself as “one of the most respected professional wheelbuilders.”) I’ll post a review of the book when I’ve found out if it works.
My first wheel build will use an old Campagnolo small-flange hub and a 700C Mavic G40 rim. I originally bought it as a complete wheel on eBay but I couldn’t get it perfectly true because the spoke nipples kept rounding off as I tried to turn them; they’ve seized to the spokes. I managed to remove a couple of spokes without damaging them (one from the drive side and one from the other side) and simply measured them to determine the lengths needed – there’s about 2mm difference between them.
Winstanley Bikes seemed to have a great range of spokes. (The biggest online bike retailers don’t come close.) I registered with them for the first time earlier today and placed my order. One hour and 35 minutes later, I had an email confirming that the spokes and spoke nipples has been sent by Royal Mail First Class. That’s great service…they might even be here tomorrow.
If thebiketube says, “You can’t really mess anything up by building your own wheel”, how tough can it be? I’ll let you know…..