I am by no means an expert wheel builder but I do like building wheels for my bikes. As a randonneur it gives me great confidence to know that I built the wheels I ride on. It makes one less thing to have to worry about on a long ride. It still seems amazing to me that you can get such a strong and durable wheel out of a handful of small parts.

Here I am building up an early 80’s Italian frameset and am trying to keep it period correct. For this bike I am building wheels using some old low flange Campagnolo Record 7 speed hubs with my favorite Mavic Open Pro rims. I always use DT 14/15 guage spokes which have never failed me. I have enough spokes laying around my shop for the job, but they are the wrong length, just a couple of millimeters too long.  I have to cut them to the right length and clean the ends with a belt sander. Once that is done they need to be re-threaded. My Hozan threading tool does a great job but if I did a lot of wheels it would become tedious.

wheel1[1]

Once I have a complete set of spokes ready I can start the assembly.  These wheels will be a 36 hole 3 cross pattern. That seems like a lot of spokes these days but was pretty common back in the 80’s and it makes a very strong wheel. Getting the pattern right is not that difficult, if you start in the right place you will finish in the right place. If you do the assembly in the right order then you dont have too many conflicts and it will go smoothly.

wheel2[1]

The product at this point is a complete but floppy wheel. After some initial tensioning it will start to stiffen up a little. I think that this is where the art of wheelbuilding begins to be apparent. After an initial rough truing you need to pre-stress the wheel by grabbing alternet sets of spokes and squeezing them, adding extra tension and then relaxing it. There is a lot of “feel” required at this point in how much stress to add, and then subsequently how much spoke tension there should be. When you are done it should just feel right and you will know.

wheel3[1]

The finished wheels are beautiful and will last for many years. They will be installed on a lovely Messori frame which I had refinished by Joe Bell painting in So Cal. He does a wonderful job and the bikes he paints are works of art. This one will be a rider, perhaps not a daily rider but it will definitely get used. Thats the great part about these classic bikes, they still perform great and will last a lifetime if you treat them nicely. Watch for future posts on the rest of the build on this bike.

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