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Possibly a lost art with all the modern factory built wheels, but defiantly one of the most useful things you can learn if you’re off out into the wild for adventures. We meet fellow Gravelleur Mark from The Tension is Building and learn a little about the art of wheel building. Highly recommended as both a place to visit and a jolly nice fellow.
“Did you build your wheels?” “No, my wife did.”
I know the last couple of years have been difficult for everyone, I haven’t suffered as much as some but I did have to entertain my wife for a month during the first lockdown! In an effort to try and avoid us slipping into the “drinking before lunch in our pyjamas” business model we tried to find things to pass our time in slightly more productive ways. I needed a new pair of wheels for my mountain bike so decided teaching her to build them would be a great distraction from the challenges of the times we were living in.
I should, at this point, mention that I’ve been building wheels professionally for 30 years. I learned my trade at York Cycleworks when I started work at 17 and remember vividly being shown how to build wheels. My training was basically “This is how you lace… quarter of a turn at a time, you’ll be right” and I was then pretty much left to my own devices. Wheels were built as an art rather than a science and you just developed a feel for building reliable wheels through repetition over time, although, as technology has changed I have started to build a little bit more scientifically with regards to tension. I thought I’d probably be able to equal if not exceed my initiation into the craft for my wife’s introduction to the art of wheel building.
So, our day wheel building went quite well. I explained the principles of how to lace wheels which she picked up fairly quickly and described it as “a bit like metallic crocheting”… “yes dear, just knitting with wire”. We then slowly moved through the truing, tensioning, dishing and de-stressing of them, working methodically they eventually turned into a really well built pair of wheels. The thing I enjoyed most was that I hadn’t had to touch them, she’d pretty much done them herself and had enjoyed doing it. And I had a new pair of wheels. Result.
This got me to thinking that anyone could build themselves some wheels, they’d love it, if you’ve been thinking about it my advice would be to go for it.
Probably the best way to start would be to book yourself onto a wheel building course. You’ll have the best learning experience and have the peace of mind that the wheels you’ve produced are safe and well built. *Insert shameless plug here. I have now started to offer wheel building courses in the Yorkshire Dales www.thetensionisbuilding.com (the moustachioed soigneur on the home page is my great great grandad) bet you’ve all gone and had a look! But search around and I’m sure you’ll find someone local offering courses.
Your second option would be to visit your ‘good’ local bike shop and tell them what you’re thinking about doing. Buy the parts from them, they’ll work out the spoke lengths, offer a bit of advice and might even cast an eye over them when you’ve finished. Buy a guide to wheel building and crack on. If you struggle, don’t worry, it will cost you two wheel trues but you’ll have a new pair of wheels. Remember though that bike mechanics spend their days in basements or lofts, don’t get a great deal of natural daylight, are poorly paid and often grumpy. Be nice to them, they often respond well to pastry based sweet treats.
The third option is the Internet route, good luck! There are some great wheel building resources online, I’ve seen lots of really good advice offered freely, it might still be worth paying a professional to check them over for you.
Wheel building is something I think everyone can master and ultimately take a great deal of pleasure from. It’s a brilliant feeling riding round on a pair of wheels that you (or you’re wife) have built and not bought. Go on, have a go, you will enjoy it. Just bear in mind that frustration is the first stage of learning.
It’s all too easy to think that you always have to go and do something terribly epic to feel like you’ve escaped the day.
You don’t! Here’s our little film about getting some after work head space.
We won’t lie, we’re massive fans of Smoove Lube. Tried and tested over thousands and thousands of KM and in all kinds of weather.
We thought we’d make this short film about how to correctly prep your chain to maximise it’s life. All the more important in the great parts shortage.
HERE TO GUIDE THE WAY
We’re not pros by any stretch, but we’ve some advice to share and encourage you to just get out there!