How to Rebuild an Old Set of Bicycle Wheels

How to Rebuild an Old Set of Bicycle Wheels
Wheel building is a mark of the seasoned bicycle mechanic. Although the increased availability and relatively affordable price of used and replacement wheels has made wheel building less necessary, it is still a coveted skill. Knowing how to build your own bicycle wheels is particularly handy if you own an expensive set of wheels or hubs that are too pricey to justify retiring or tossing out.


Difficulty: Challenging

Things You’ll Need:
  • Bicycle lubricant
  • Flat-head screwdriver
  • Truing stand
  • Spoke wrench
  • Dish stick
Step 1
Remove the wheels from the bike frame. Remove the tires, inner tubes and rim tape. Loosen and remove all of the spokes and spoke nipples. Check for broken, rusty or bent spokes. Set these aside, and acquire replacement spokes before going any further.
Step 2
Lubricate the nipple holes lightly, and then add the key spoke (the first spoke that is adjacent to the valve hole on the rim and rests in the inner flange of the hub with the spoke head on the outside of the flange) on the right side of the wheel. Hand tighten a nipple onto the spoke. Continue around the wheel, adding a spoke to every second hole on the inner flange of the hub and every fourth hole on the wheel rim, until you install nine spokes. Turn the wheel over, and add a second set of spokes using the same method on the left side of the wheel.
Step 3
Turn the wheel over again, and add spokes to the outside of the right flange with the spoke head resting inside the flange. Add a spoke every two holes on the hub and every four on the rim. As you add these spokes (called the leading spokes), they cross over three other spokes. Slide the leading spoke under the third spoke it crosses before attaching it to the rim. This is called "lacing" the spokes. Turn the wheel over, and add the remaining leading spokes, lacing them as you go.
Step 4
Tighten each of the nipples an equal number of turns with a flat-head screwdriver, and then place the wheel in a truing stand. Begin using a spoke wrench to tighten the nipples, one full turn at a time, until the wheel is firm and full of tension, and all the spokes are tight.
Step 5
True the wheel by watching for vertical and lateral equality. Spin the wheel on the truing stand, and look for the highest point. Turn the nipples at the apex a half turn each, until the wheel begins to take a more perfectly round shape. Watch for wobbling out of the vertical plane. At each place the wheel wobbles out, tighten the spoke on the opposite side of the rim one half turn, until the vertical plane is not broken when you spin the wheel.
Step 6
Use a dish stick when building a rear wheel. Once you have the wheel reasonably true, apply the dish stick to the freewheel side of the wheel. Adjust the arms on the rim, and set the rest on the locking nut of the axle. Apply the dish stick to the opposite side of the wheel. If the stick does not fit perfectly, tighten the spokes at the gaps, until the rim touches the ends of the dish stick.
Step 7
Replace the rim tape, inner tube and tires. Install the wheels back onto your bike frame, and place the chain back on the gear teeth.

Tips & Warnings

These instructions are for a 36-spoke wheel in a 3 crossover style.
Take your bike for a short test ride before riding on the street or taking it out for long rides. Damaged, weak or bent rims from improper wheel building can cause serious injury.

Article Written By Jake Kulju

Jake Kulju is a Minneapolis-based freelance outdoors writer with 10 years' experience. He is an outdoors guidebook author for Avalon Travel and his work is regularly published in "Outdoor Traditions Magazine" and "Naturescape News." His nature-based poetry is published in "Poetry Canada" and "Farmhouse Magazine." Kulju holds an English degree from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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