Building bicycle wheels, I do it my way

See also my page on different spoke wrenches, spoke and nipple sizes and spoke tensioning tools.


Hub: Spoke hole diameters

Hubs usually have holes for 2.00 or 2.34 mm spokes. The original Nuvinci hub for example, that can use 2.34mm spokes and that is what I used with a stainless steel rim meant for 13G 5mm nipples. Most hubs, especially front hubs, are meant for 2.00 mm spokes so often you don't have a choice of which spoke size to use.

Rims: Hole diameters

Rims should be specified with a hole size or that they are meant for 14G (2.00mm) or 13G (2.34mm) spokes. The hole sizes should be 4.5mm for 14G spokes and 5.5mm for 13G spokes but you can use 13G spokes with rims for 14G spokes using narrow 13G nipples, however, there is a downside to that as these are far less strong than the bigger 13G nipples...

Rims: Left-right asymmetrical hole placement

Some rims have left-right asymmetrical holes, which means their placement is alternating slightly to the left, then slightly to the right, etc. If there are inserts, then if these are angled there is a preference for left to left, right to right, otherwise you can lace the wheel such that the spokes on the left go the hole on the left, but also to the right. I once got comments about the latter that it is wrong. No! It effectively enlarges the hub width and makes wheels slightly stiffer in the side direction.

Choosing a spoke pattern

You should look up the variations but radially spoked is not recommendable for wheels with disc brakes. cross-over-2 gives sideways slightly more rigid wheels than cross-over-3, but I usually use cross-over-3.

Choosing valve placement

You can place the valve such that it goes in the centre of 2 nearly parallel spokes when using a cross-over-3 pattern, but this is not needed. You can also place the valve hole between 2 spokes that cross which makes the valve visually stand out less. I once got comments about the latter placement that it is wrong. No! There is enough space on 622mm rims and 559mm rims for pumps to be able to be placed on the valve without problems. It is only important with smaller wheels (such as 50cm wheels for recumbents/trikes/bike trailers).

Choosing a spoke and nipple type

Spokes can be various aero spokes these days, but if you are not into exotic builds then the choice is 2.00mm straight (14G), 2.00mm butted (1.80mm in the middle) (14G), and for rear wheels in particular depending on the hub, you can use 2.34mm spokes (13G). Butted spokes can be more resilient to deformations, and can be slightly more comfortable. With 13G spokes there is an option to use narrow nipples (ca. 4.0 mm round section) that fit in the holes in rims having a 4.5mm hole diameter in which normal 14G nipples fit. These are less strong than the bigger standard 13G nipples for 5.5 mm holes (which have a ca. 5.0mm round section). I would recommend trying to find a rim suitable for the standard wider nipples if you want to use 13G spokes.

Building: Tools

See the section on different spokes and spoke tools for spoke tensioners.

To start the build a nipple driver is useful but you can build wheels without it. Picture to follow.

To check spoke tension a spoke tension measurement device is useful but you can build wheels without it just feeling how tight they are and using the ping sound when pulling on them.

To build the wheel you can buy a wheel truing stand but those are pricy. You can build the wheel without such a stand by fixing the wheel while it is mounted in the bicycle. There are tricks you can then apply such as reversing the wheel in the bike to check that the wheel is properly centred. You can check distances and centering with simple methods such as taping a small piece of wood to the fork to check for variation of distance of the rim to the piece of wood to see if if there are places where it needs adjusting. To adjust the wheel to one side, tighten the nipple on that side of the hub and slightly tighten a few around it on the same side + lightly loosen a few nipples around those spokes on the other side. When this is all done you can check for height of the rim being ok, i.e. such that there are no bumps. To slightly lower the rim (get it closer to the centre of the hub), tighten all nipples around that are, most of all those in the centre, on both sides, then farther away less so.

Building: Where to place the valve

I lace the spokes into the hub without the rim so the spokes have the right pattern before attaching the rim with the nipples. This way you can easily choose the spoke pattern and valve placement.

Building: Spoke in the spokes depending on how to use the asymmetrical hole placement in rims

You need to be aware of left-right issue of spoke holes with rims, you may need to check first if they go as you wish (left spokes to left side placed holes, or left spokes to right side placed holes) or if you realise it won't be as you want, change the lacing in the hub on one side to move them up one hole to get this right such that also the placement of the valve hole is as you wish. For this issue lacing spokes directly into the rim is easier, starting from the spokes around the valve continue building from there around the circle. If you don't care about left-right (it doesn't matter much) then it is moot.

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