This post gives me the opportunity to play with my favourite bike, my Team Pro 753 TI-Raleigh. I’ve built this bike as close to the only specification I’ve ever seen for the TI-Raleigh team. Hunting down the perfect quality parts has been an obsession for over 4 years. Last year I got to approx 95% of that team spec after I found some Sturmey Archer toe clips and straps. I think most people would be happy with that, but in the back of my mind, my OCD was shouting at me to finish the quest for 100% perfection.
That means I still needed some Chrome Berg Union spokes and some original period Campagnolo black brake outer casing. Earlier this year I bought some old stock and parts from Ron, the wheel builder I worked with at Denton Cycles. Ron was 86 years old and I managed to sell most of the parts on his behalf. I was going through some of the last bits and pieces and inside an old carrier bag was a selection of blue and red boxes containing Berg Union spokes; they were actually the spokes I was after.
Up until now, my Mavic SSC rims and Campagnolo Record small flange hubs have been laced with Swiss DT Competition spokes – these are amazing spokes that I’ve built with for at least 25 years. They go into some of the best period racing wheels. But in the early 80s, chrome was the spoke of choice. Unfortunately, over time and with use, chrome rusts and I spent most of my time in the shop replacing rusty brittle chrome spokes with stainless Swiss DT.
This is the section of the specification relating to team wheels.
These are my wheels as they are now – most would consider these to be the best wheels available, Mavic SSC (Special Service des Courses) rims, Campagnolo Record hubs, Clement tubs, a Maillard Compact freewheel and stainless double butted spokes. They are beautiful but just not perfect! Chrome Berg Union spokes would make them perfect.
So they have to come apart. And I thought that if I’m doing that, then I can blog about how to rebuild them. There is more to building wheels than just ending up with a true, round and centred wheel with good spoke tension. Building a bike is all about the detail and wheels are no exception, they have there own specific details that separate the good from the best!
Tools for the job… most mechanics pick up lots of different tools that all do the same thing over the course of a career. I’ve got so many tools, and that is a great position to be in as I always have the perfect tool for the job.
The Maillard block takes a 2 prong remover, I think I have about 4 but one of these 2 should do it. Spoke keys, there are so many spoke keys, but my favourite is the red ‘Spokey’. Any wheel builder needs a wheel jig, and I use the Park TS-2. No needle dial gauges, just good old fashioned caliper tips. I’m also very fortunate to own a Campagnolo Master Mechanic/Frame Builders toolkit. These are amazing kits if you can find one. They include an excellent wheel dish tool; I’ve tried others but the Campagnolo tool is so easy to use.
I ended up using the slightly deeper 2 prong Park Tool to remove the freewheel, and as you can see, it was a perfect fit and hasn’t marked the freewheel at all. So many freewheels get damaged by using a badly fitting tool, or using the right tool but using it badly.
This is the first bit of detail… I wanted a British threaded hub when I initially built this bike (it is a British bike after all). I could easily have bought the more readily available Italian threaded hubs but held out for the correct one. It is matched to a British threaded freewheel too. Some people mix and match Italian and British threads – they will work but are only considered a Class ‘B’ fit. British and British is Class ‘A’.
One other bit of detail to mention before I pull the rear wheel apart. This is the position of the hub in relation to the rim. When you look through the valve hole you should be able to see the hub name directly in line with the valve hole and rim decal. It doesn’t affect wheel strength or use, it is just attention to detail which I’ll cover more of later.
**A word of warning** removing the tension from a wheel can be dangerous! Never look directly at the end of a spoke that is under tension – if they break they can fire out of the rim at amazing speeds. I’ve seen tensioned spokes fire into and stick into the sides of thick cardboard bike boxes – if they can penetrate thick cardboard, imagine what they could do to an eye.
So with the DT Swiss spokes safely removed I can measure up the spoke length required. Of course I already know this as I built these wheels originally, but for the purposes of the blog, I wanted to document the process.
When I’m building a pair of wheels, I always start with the rear wheel. First up is measuring ERD – Effective Rim Diameter. Here is a definition I found on the internet, “The distance, in millimeters, between the end of one spoke, in a finished wheel, to the end of the other spoke, that is diametrically opposite, in the wheel”. Some rim manufacturers list ERD for rims, but if you ever need to measure it, all you need are a couple of old spokes and a metal rule. I have 2 old spokes cut down and threaded into nipples so that the overall length is 200mm per spoke. These are placed into opposite holes on the rim and a metal rule is used to measure the gap between the spoke ends. Make the same measurement in a few locations to get an average. The ERD measurement is (2 x 200mm) + the measured gap. My ERD works out at (2 x 200) + 215 = 615
Next up is to measure the hub. 7 measurements… ‘OLN’ the over locknut size – that is the end to end measurement of the hub lock nuts. Hub flange to locknut on both sides. Hub flange to hub centre on both sides. Spoke hole diameter and flange diameter.
These are the measurements I came up with
OLN is 126mm so the mid point of the hub is 63mm. A = 25mm so WL equates to 63mm-25mm = 38. B = 45mm so WR equates to 63mm-38mm = 18mm. s = 2.6mm and d=44mm
If you are wondering what on earth all these measurements are for then here it is, a very clever free spoke length calculator called ‘spocalc’. Simply enter your measurements into the calculator and you will receive the spoke measurements for different spoke crossing patterns. I’m after a standard 3 cross (x3) pattern. x3 simply means that 1 spoke will cross 3 other spokes on its route from leaving the hub to connecting to the rim.
Spocalc is an Excel spreadsheet with formula that works out the spoke length for you. The book is a little treasure. I got this book from Ron Robson, the wheel builder I worked with at Denton Cycles. Ron built wheels for decades, maybe 45 years or more. My wheel building technique is 100% based on his. He built wheels to last and stay true, so in my mind there is no better way to build wheels. Many techniques exist but I’ll stick to what I know works. The book is full of rim, hub and spoke combinations. Ron would write down each type of wheel he built. He didn’t really need this book, he just knew what length spoke would work on any rim and hub. I’m following the tradition and writing my spoke sizes in the same book.
As I’m building a rear wheel, the hub flanges are offset to accommodate space for the freewheel. This means there are 2 different lengths of spoke. The freewheel side is shorter. Based on my measurements, spocalc recommends 298.2mm and 296.4mm – I generally round these to the nearest whole number, so that is 296mm block drive side and 298mm off side.
Lacing the wheel
Before you start to lace the wheel, get your materials together. That is 2 sets of 18 spokes (for these 36 hole hubs) and the corresponding spoke nipples, a small screwdriver, a spoke key and some cycle oil. If you read the wheel building books, you will be told about different kinds of spoke prep. This is the substance you put on spoke threads. Spoke prep serves a couple of purposes. It lubricates the spoke thread so that spoke tension can be added easily without lots of spoke wind-up (spokes twist as they are tensioned). Spoke prep also acts as a type of ‘glue’ to hold the spoke nipple and spoke thread together to help to maintain tension once the wheel is built. You can buy spoke prep; you can also use oils such as Linseed oil, but I use Ron’s method, basic cycle oil. In his opinion, if a wheel is built well, to the correct tension and has had sufficient stress relief applied to the spokes during the build then that will work – if it was good enough for Ron then it’s good enough for me.
Wheel building detail number one – so many people get this wrong, the rim decal should face you and be readable from the drive side of the bike. Bikes have a pretty side, it sounds silly but everyone likes the drive side, just about every bike photo you see is the drive side. When you see bikes in bike shops, they are all positioned so you see the drive side, so everything should be seen from that side. It is a small detail and doesn’t affect the final quality of the built wheel but it bugs me when it isn’t done like this when it is so easy to get right.
Start by adding some oil into an old cap – I save all my GT85 caps for all sorts of stuff. Oil around the hub flange, then dip the spoke threads into the oil cap and slot them through the oiled spoke holes. This method means that there is ample oil on the threads before a spoke nipple is threaded on by a couple of turns. I’m not going to write a wheel building book in this blog post, there are plenty of those around and I’ll give some recommendations at the end of the post, this post is an overview. Your first spokes should be from the drive side of the hub and fit into the drive side offset spoke holes of the rim. These first spokes define where the valve hole will be in relation to the spokes.
Wheel building detail number two –
It might take a little trial and error but if you get the first spokes in the right spoke holes, the hub name should line up correctly directly between the valve hole and rim decal. As I said, everything should read from the same side. So if the wheel on a bike is rotated so that the rim decal is placed at the bottom, the hub should be able to be read without having to rotate the wheel.
Wheel building detail number three –
Make sure you get the valve hole in the correct place. Lacing can be done in many ways. I thread half the drive side spokes first then add the first 2 crossing spokes on the off side. The positioning of these first 2 off side spokes is crucial to make sure that the valve hole lines up so that the valve will be positioned in between the widest spoke gap. I’ve seen so many wheels that get this wrong. Again, it doesn’t affect the quality of the final wheel, it is just detail.
That is all the key spokes in place. Now all you need to do is add all the other spokes in the x3 pattern. Make sure that you are careful with spoke ends as you thread them through and lace them to the rim. It is very easy to scratch anodised rims like these by dragging a spoke against them. Once all the spokes are laced, the spoke heads need to be bedded in so that the best angle is achieved – have a read of a good wheel building book to see what this means. Take up the initial slack of the spokes by turning each nipple to the end of the visible spoke thread. The wheel will then be ready for proper tensioning and truing but before doing that, it’s best while all the tools are there, to lace the front wheel now.
Same prep as the rear wheel, gather everything you need. All the spokes are the same length as there is no offset on a front hub. I’ve used 300mm spokes.
Wheel building detail number four & five –
You don’t get any choice about how to orientate a rear hub, on a Campagnolo Record hub, the name reads from the rear of the bike. So to get the detail correct, the front hub should be orientated so that the name reads the same. It is a small detail that again, does not affect the final quality of the wheel, it is just attention to detail.
Detail number 5 is the rim decal. Don’t forget, the front MAVIC rim decal should also read from the drive side of the bike to match the rear – so remember, hub direction and rim direction.
Wheel building detail number six –
I was taught by Ron to use a symmetrical pattern of lacing – there is no difference on the quality of the final wheel; asymmetrical is just as good. Just make sure that both front and rear are both the same, so for me, that is symmetrical. I also lace my spokes so that the pulling spoke on the drive side of the rear wheel has its spoke head in the inside of the hub flange. Again, it is the way I was shown, and I’ve seen so many strong and durable wheels built like this so I’ve adopted this pattern. You will read opinion after opinion on which is the better method. Everyone has their own method and reasons for it, but tests show that there is no measurable difference between opinions if wheels are built with good quality double butted spokes with a good equal tension.
If you have your lacing pattern correct then the hub name should be inline with the valve hole and rim decal as per detail number two above and your front valve hole should be in the correct position, as per detail number three above. At this point you should have 2 wheels with the initial slack taken out of the spokes and all spokes adjusted to the same thread position.
Now it is over to your skill as a wheel builder… each wheel should be tensioned while making sure that the wheel is trued both laterally and radially. Use the dish tool to check that the rim is central to the hub lock nuts.
This is a process of checking and tensioning and stress relieving to take out spoke twist. If you have a tension gauge then check the spoke tension. If you have built a few wheels then you will pick up what feels right with regard to tension. A wheel jig and dish tool can tell you how round your wheel is but spoke tension makes the wheel.
Both wheels are now built and before I thread the freewheel back onto the rear hub, I’m checking the rear cones. I’ve got a little selection of Campagnolo spares so it is worthwhile having a quick check and re grease. The rear lock nut on these hubs are date coded; my hub is date coded 1982, that is 34 years old and still lovely and smooth. Good tools make this job easy. Before fitting the freewheel smear a little copper grease onto the hub thread, this will stop any issues with the alloy hub thread and the steel freewheel body. Screw the freewheel on hand tight then give it a good heave with a chain whip. Drop a little cycle oil down the inside of each axle and fit the QR levers.
And that is it, both wheels rebuilt. A few hours work squeezed into some gaps over a couple of days. I’ve pulled apart perfectly good wheels just to change some spokes, but it is always the detail that matters with me – it just has to be right. All hub names aligned, all rim decals aligned, all spokes aligned and all valve holes aligned – OCD 100% satisfied!
And finally, the purpose of the rebuild… a complete TI-Raleigh Team spec set of wheels.
Rims Mavic SSC Hubs Campagnolo Record Small Flange Spokes Berg Union 14/16 gauge Block Maillard Compact Tubs Clement
This is the book I refer to if I want something technical – it also gives very clear guidance on wheel building including comprehensive part selection. It’s spiral bound which makes it brilliant in the workshop.
I also have a copy of ‘The Bicycle Wheel’ by Jobst Brandt somewhere. I was given this book many years ago, and although it is an excellent book, I find Greg’s book clearer.