How Not to Build the Rear Wheel, or How to Build One Properly

by Chikashi Miyamoto

I recently had 2 rear wheels rebuilt by Gilbert Cattoir, and he is in the process of building a new wheel set for me using vintage hubs. I knew nothing about wheel building, much less about correct spoke lacing. All I knew is that wheels hand built by good wheel builders remain true for a very long time:  I have one wheel that Gilbert built about 20 years ago and still spins true to this day.

Both wheels that needed to be rebuilt were laced incorrectly, as Gilbert showed me. The first is a wheel that was built by local clowns. The second is a vintage wheel that I bought from Paul, my favourite vintage component dealer, so I do not know who built it.

The correct lacing orientation is shown directly below.  Note that the photo shows the drive (right) side of the rear wheel.  The spokes that are crossed on the exterior extend towards the front, and those crossed on the interior extend towards the rear.  I tucked  my l’Eroica number between the spokes to make it easier to see.

Wheel hand built by Gilbert Cattoir

In contrast, the wheel shown below has spokes crossing the other way, that is, the spokes crossing on the exterior extend towards the rear instead of the front.  Now that it has been pointed out to me, it seems obvious that there is structural logic at play, given the direction of force applied to the rear wheel, rather than something based on a random whim of an unknowledgeable ‘builder’.
Wheel hand built by Condor

It just comes to show that some people offer a wheel building service (and charge a fee) without knowing what they are doing. Additionally, even after  the theories have been mastered, there is no substitute for the experience of building hundreds, even thousands like Gilbert, of wheels, as Sam Humpheson agrees.

N.B., the second wheel above is shown only for illustrative purpose, and it is actually built properly. It was hand built by Condor Cycles a couple of years ago using a fixed / free flipflop hub. The photo shows the fixed side of the hub.  When the wheel set was commissioned, I told them that I expect to use the free side primarily and the fixed side only occasionally. Given this assumption, the spokes were laced correctly, that is, they are crossing the right way given that the wheel was assumed to be facing the other way most of the time.  As it transpired, I eventually ended up using the fixed side exclusively, resulting in the wheel facing the wrong way most of its life.  Additionally, the wheel has seen its fair share of abuse on the cobblestones. It is virtually bomb proof and remains true today as it did upon delivery, thanks to builders at Condor.

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