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Bicycle wheel building basics - article comments

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Wheel Wizard
Staff member
To prevent article pages from being miles long, but preserve all the useful questions and answers provided over time, I've decided to copy/paste the website comments to the forum - and "move" further discussions here.

These are the comments from the article:
Bicycle wheel building basics

This topic is closed for further replies.

If you can't find the answer to your question in this thread, please open a separate thread with your question/problem, in an appropriate forum section (this is the Wheelbuilding section).

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  1. Thomas Ringwood
    17/10/2020 at 16:43
    Good stuff, clear and concise…thanks.
  2. f7169bc889f9d83e39a5dc6f5a6f1801.jpg

    Stéphane Labrecque
    24/02/2021 at 19:12
    By far the best and complete information regarding wheels.
    I learned by myself to first true wheels and later build some.
    I work in the bicycle business for the past 35 years now.
    Great job!
    Excellent travail de rédaction.
    Je suis autodidacte dans l’assemblage de roue de vélo depuis 35 ans.
    Il s’agit et de loin du document le plus complet sur la dissection de la roue de vélo!
  3. 9f4066a12b9ab9a4a995a470a383b6f0.jpg

    26/05/2021 at 10:51
    I have a spain 14mm nipple in hand, the problem you describe does not happen, the spoke does go in the nipple all the way through with 0.1 mm sticking out of the nipple.
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      26/05/2021 at 12:48
      Hi Radu,
      Depending on how long the threads on a spoke are – I suppose that could be possible.
      It is also possible Sapim have changed their nipple design.
      My last batch of nipples is about 1-year old, by DT Swiss, while my leftover Sapim nipples are about 2-years old now.
      At this moment, I can’t order (source) any new Sapim nipples in my country, to put this to the test.
      In my experience so far: 14, and especially 16 mm long nipples from Sapim and DT Swiss don’t let most (Sapim and DT Swiss) spokes get threaded all the way to the top of the nipple, without the non-threaded part of the spoke coming against the nipple threads and making the screwing in more difficult (and damaging the nipple threads at the bottom of the nipple).
      If a spoke threads all the way to the top of the nipple without any binding, or resistance – then there’s nothing to worry about.
      If it doesn’t, I think the lesser of two evils is having some nipple thread damage, compared to leaving the top part of the nipple without the spoke (i.e. going with shorter spokes), because the top of the nipple would then be unsupported and could break off.
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    26/05/2021 at 18:46
    not sure how old the ones i have are, i got them yesterday, but they do go all the way to the top of the nipple only by hand, maybe they did fix the problem. ( i tested with sapim nipple with 290mmx2mm sapim spokes )
    • 3fd0d771d754ced79ca6b702635900b5.jpg

      26/05/2021 at 21:27
      Roger Musson, in his book on bicycle wheel building, explains that only DT Swiss spokes have that problem (or a “feature”).
      However, I made the picture at this link:
      using Sapim spokes (as noted in the picture) I bought from the local official Sapim distributor.
      In that article, I also explained how this “feature” can be useful if one can’t source long enough spokes…
      …and how that can result with a nipple failure if the rider is heavy and strong. 🙁
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    19/11/2021 at 14:31
    thank you for your precious suggestions. I’m about to build my first wheel.
  1. mike
    21/04/2022 at 09:53
    Hi Relja, very interesting reading on your wheel building articles,I totaly agree with you there is no need for exotic hubs and fancy spoke patterns,I have never had any problems with a 32 hole rim or a 36 hole rim ,I am now building a few of my own wheels using alex R450 road rims with 32 hole cross 3 spoke pattern using the standard j-bend 14 gauge spokes,I see sapim polyax nipples have a slighty curved head where they sit on the rim and most other spoke nipples sit flat on the rim,do you have any advice on what spoke nipples to use,i will be using stainless steel j-bend spokes with brass nipples but i am still not sure whether to go with dt swiss brass nipples or sapim polyax nipples,what a wonderful piece of engineering bicycle wheels are.
    • 3fd0d771d754ced79ca6b702635900b5.jpg

      21/04/2022 at 11:02
      Hi Mike,
      Many cycling enthusiasts, mechanics, magazines, and manufacturers seem to think differently.
      Still, until I find a good theoretical and practically proven (verifiable) explanation, this is my opinion, based on my education (theoretical knowledge) and experience.
      / disclaimer end
      When it comes to nipples, I go for either SAPIM, or DT Swiss 12 mm brass nipples.
      I had to google the Polyax nipples (and found their page). 🙂 The “ball-joint” shape of Polyax nipples is a marketing gimmick – in fact, such a convex shape reduces the nipple-to-rim contact area (resulting in the load distribution over a smaller area), while I don’t see any advantage over the standard (flat, but at an angle) nipple design when it comes to nipple alignment. Not in practice.
      Standard nipples work perfectly fine. So my choice is SAPIM “Flat head” (didn’t know they’re called that way 🙂 ) or DT Swiss Pro – even though the DT Swiss ones have the nonsense convex shape as well, but when I can’t find any SAPIM ones, they get the job done better than any locally available low-end Chinese nipples.
    • 01e11e7ebeaca35a07dacf5d718b05da.jpg

      18/04/2023 at 12:43
      The round head of the Polyax nipples is designed to avoid having a bent spoke, i.e. the spoke is in the right direction from the start…
  2. ce50374a1b83a9ec486c62097020d370.jpg

    21/04/2022 at 15:51
    Hi Relja thanks for your valuable information,it makes sence with those sapim polyax spoke nipples they would have less contact area on the rims,just about all rims i have pulled apart all have a flat contact area with the spoke head at the rim,so i will go with the standard flat head nipples cheers
  3. ce50374a1b83a9ec486c62097020d370.jpg

    21/04/2022 at 16:10
    i dont like any alloy nipples as they corode very fast and they are the most difficult spoke nipple to use,those brass ones are very durable and tough.
  4. ce50374a1b83a9ec486c62097020d370.jpg

    23/04/2022 at 14:53
    Hi relja,i did some more research on those sapim polyax ball joint nipples and i could only find one decent article on them where one wheel builder used them with curvy type nipple washers and on rims with convex shaped eylets,maybe thats the only situation where they are used,but i have hardly seen anyone putting washers on with nipples as most just go and buy a strong rim and just use brass nipples,the flat head ones do have just a slight angle and they are sold as standard nipples,cheers
  5. ce50374a1b83a9ec486c62097020d370.jpg

    25/04/2022 at 12:40
    Hi Relja,just completed my first double walled alloy rim build,i have allways used the older araya box rims but thought i would give a retro bike a new look.i went with the 14 gauge 14mm long standard brass nipples due to a better look,i followed the lacing pattern on this website,spokecalc.io and the build went very smoothly following this pattern,its a very similar pattern to the way sheldon brown built his wheels,all trailing spokes heads inside the hub flange,this way makes for a much stronger build,my double walled rim looked like the spoke holes were all running down the centre of the rim,but on close inspection they were ever so slightly of to the left and right,not as easy to follow as those old school araya rims,i found this method on spokecalc.io very easy to follow and wheel build did not take very long,after reading so many pages on the wheelbuilding topic i can see every builder has a different way of building wheels,i salvaged an older joytech raceing hub,i used stainless steel spokes from another wheel and just had to go buy new brass nipples and new rims,those older hubs will run for another 20 years,i really dont like any of those new hubs with sealed bearings,so my wheel is now half retro style and half 2022 style it looks awesome cheers
    • 3fd0d771d754ced79ca6b702635900b5.jpg

      25/04/2022 at 13:19
      Hi Mike,
      Glad to hear the build went well.
      Regarding the trailing/leading spoke facing:
      I think it’s more of a topic for an academic discussion, than it really makes any measurable difference in terms of wheel strength.
      If there is an advantage to Sheldon’s preferred lacing pattern, it is that chain may be less likely to get badly stuck between the spokes and the cassette in case it drops.
      Because when the trailing spokes go along the inside of the flange, then pedalling torque pushes the spokes outwards a bit, instead of pulling them a bit inwards, so there’s a bit less of a probability that the chain will get more deeply down, and then pressed harder against the cassette, once the pedalling torque is gone.
      In practice, I don’t see much of a difference, and a chain going off is a mess either way (at least in my experience). I just make sure to keep my rear derailleur limit screws properly adjusted. 🙂
      Of course, there’s nothing wrong with Sheldon’s lacing pattern. My commute-haul-everything bicycle’s rear wheel is laced using that pattern and it’s been good for the last decade, even with frequent heavy loads and very bumpy roads.
  1. mike
    25/04/2022 at 12:44
    correction i think that was all trailing spoke elbows inside the hub flange
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    25/04/2022 at 14:50
    I will miss my old araya rims,those old box rims certainly do the job for so many years and they did smooth out the road vibration better than anything i have used,they were a high end rim in their day,quiet remarkable performance for a single walled rim,not long after those araya rims came out they made double walled eyleted box rims,these modern day double walled alloy rims dont smooth out the bumps as good,so we fix that by running good tyres,cheers
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    Zoe Lakin
    10/03/2023 at 02:29
    In case, you haven’t a tension meter to measure the tension, you can also estimate by feeling it with your hand. Use your thumb and index finger to try separating the spokes where they cross, and take note of how far you can spread the spokes.
    • d693f26dcd2fedd28dfc1ad7a66e01a2.jpg

      10/03/2023 at 06:26
      Hi Zoe,
      Thanks for the tip.
      I find that method to be the least precise (prefer using a guitar pluck, if there’s no tension meter), but have used it very often in a pinch, especially in the field, so I’d say that it does work.
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    Zoe Lakin
    13/03/2023 at 05:28
    Thanks for sharing. It doesn’t need to be 100% accurate, so just do my best to make the tension setting as close to uniform as I can.
    • d693f26dcd2fedd28dfc1ad7a66e01a2.jpg

      13/03/2023 at 07:54
      Hi Zoe,
      I completely agree. Since rims are not 100% accurate, even with the most precise tension meter, you can’t get the tension to be 100% uniform, while the rim is being acceptably true. I always aim for the rim to be within the acceptable tolerances (as listed in the article), with tension as uniform as possible for that.
  5. de4d1da7a06161b8dbb2b410a2151e77.jpg

    02/07/2023 at 04:37
    Hi Relja,i use a basic tension meter like the parktool tm-1 ,they are not 100 percent spot on but they do give a repeatable result,i check that my tension meter is not far out by using it on an older wheel that is never ridden and calibrate the tool off that,when i am 2/3rd of the way through my wheel build i will stop then equalize the spoke tensions,no you can never get each spoke perfect and no wheel is perfectly round but i usually can get each spoke within a 10 percent range of each other,i have tried not using a tension meter and tried plucking spokes and feeling the spokes with my hands but i did not even get the spokes close to correct tension using those methods,you dont need to build perfect wheels but you definatley cant go outside the exceptable tolerances,cheers
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If you can't find the answer to your question in this thread, please open a separate thread with your question/problem, in an appropriate forum section (this is the Wheelbuilding section).

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