A brilliantly clear and concise guide to building wheels, and making the tools you need for the job

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had reservations about buying a book written by an author who describes himself as “one of the most respected professional wheelbuilders.” I went ahead anyway, downloading the £9 PDF version of “The Professional Guide to Wheelbuilding” by Roger Musson. And despite the confident-verging-on-arrogant tone in some places, this is a superb book for the novice wheelbuilder (i.e. me) and probably a very useful one for those more experienced in the craft.

Professional Guide to Wheelbuilding
A superb book for the novice wheel builder

Roger Musson doesn’t just describe how to build wheels but also gives detailed instruction for making most of the tools that you need for the task. I’m not sure I would have built his wheel truing stand. The potential for swearing due to my limited DIY skills probably made purchasing a ready-made one the right decision. But I would have made the dishing tool (saving £40) – that looks very simple, and I did make a rather simpler version of the nipple driver described in the book.

This really is a detailed guide that takes you through the process from start to finish. If you have  computer or iPad, I’d recommend the PDF version over the printed page. The PDF is quite high resolution, which means that you can zoom into the diagrams without losing details – something that very useful in some places. If you prefer paper, you can always print the pages that are most useful. The book is not only supremely practical, it also does into the theory of calculating spoke lengths and the author has a very good, simple tool for this on his web site. Amongst the very useful tips is to measure everything and not take the manufacturer’s data, or any other published information, as being accurate when you start to build a wheel. As I built my first wheel this weekend, that advice was invaluable. Highly recommended.

“You can’t really mess anything up by building your own wheel” – thebiketube

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.

Bicycle wheel
A leap in the dark – my first wheel build will actually be a rebuild of this Campy hub and Mavic G40 rim

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…..