How to Lace a Bike Wheel

How to Lace a Bike Wheel
An important step in building a bicycle wheel is lacing. Lacing the spokes means arranging the spokes in the wheel to match up to a certain pattern. Lacing is done in many different patterns, but the most popular is 3-cross. This means each spoke crosses three other spokes in the finished wheel.


Difficulty: Moderate

Things You’ll Need:
  • Hub
  • Spokes
  • Rim
  • Nipples
  • Lubrication such as grease, oil or a spoke preparation product
  • Spoke Wrench
Step 1
Make sure the number of spoke holes in the hub matches the number of spoke holes in the rim.
Step 2
Choose the pattern for the lacing. 3-Cross is used in this example, but there are many others including radial, 2-cross, and 4-cross.
Step 3
Obtain the correct number of spokes with appropriate length and gauge for the wheel build. Spoke length is dependent upon many variables including precision measurements such as effective hub diameter, effective rim diameter, and flange spacing. There are a number of methods to determine spoke length including online tools, equations, or the aid of your local bike shop.
Step 4
Sit in a comfortable position with the rim on your lap. Have spokes, nipples, and lubrication within your reach.
Step 5
Lubricate the threaded ends of the spokes with grease, oil, or spoke preparation product. Lubricate the seats of all the nipples with oil.
Step 6
Turn the rim so the valve hole is opposite your body. For a back wheel only, notice the orientation of the spoke hole to the right of the valve hole. If it is lower than the valve hole, orientate the hub so the drive side (right) is facing down, and the non-drive side (left) is facing up. If it is higher, then drive side will face up.
Step 7
Holding the hub vertically, place a spoke in every other hole in the upper flange, with the threads moving down towards, and passing, the lower hub flange. The rounded heads of the spokes should be on the outside surface of the hub flange. Notice the orientation of the spoke hole to the left of the valve hole in the rim. If it is above the valve hole, or there is no offset, place the loose, threaded end of a spoke into the hole and thread on a nipple 3 to 5 turns. If it is below the valve hole, put a spoke in the second hole to the left of the valve hole and thread on a nipple 3 to 5 turns. This spoke is referred to as the first spoke.
Step 8
Grab the spoke to the left of the first spoke and insert the threaded end into the rim hole four holes away from the first spoke to the left and thread on a nipple 3 to 5 turns. There should be three rim holes between spokes. Continue this pattern completely around the rim and check for accuracy. All installed spokes should have three empty holes between them.
Step 9
Insert a spoke, from below, into the hole in the bottom flange that lies directly left of the first spoke. This can be determined by inserting a spoke into the bottom flange so the threaded end of the spoke moves toward the upper flange closest to you. With the spoke parallel to the hub's axle, it will make contact with the upper flange just to the left of the first spoke. Once the correct hub hole is found, install the spoke by inserting the threaded end into the rim hole just to the left of the first spoke and thread on a nipple 3 to 5 turns.
Step 10
Turn the wheel over and insert spokes, threads down, into the every other hole starting with the one placed in Step 9.
Step 11
Follow the pattern around the rim threading a nipple on each spoke as you go along. At the end of this step the spoke holes in the rim follow a pattern; pair of spokes, next to pair of holes, next to pair of spokes around the entire circumference of the wheel. The spokes should be parallel to each other as well.
Step 12
Insert spokes into the remaining holes in the bottom hub flange. Now the spokes enter the hub holes with the threads moving away from the hub. The rounded spoke heads should be sitting on the inside surface of the hub flange.
Step 13
Turn the wheel over and fan out the spokes inserted in Step 12. Twist the hub counter-clockwise until the spokes lie nearly tangent to the hub flange. Grab a loose spoke and rotate it left until it crosses the first two adjacent spokes. At the third adjacent spoke, pass it under and end at the rim hole just to the left of where third adjacent spoke enters the rim. Do this for each spoke in the set while threading on nipples 3 to 5 turns.
Step 14
Repeat steps 12 and 13 for the remaining spokes and check if the following are true: The valve hole lies between two parallel spokes, the spokes are in the correct rim holes so the direction of offset corresponds to the flange side, all the spokes are close to the same tension. If any of these are false, check for errors.
Step 15
Turn each nipple with a spoke wrench one complete turn. Repeat this step until there are no loose spokes. The wheel now requires tensioning, setting and truing before it can be used.

Tips & Warnings

A wheel builder who appreciates detail will line up the hub label so it can be seen when looking through the valve hole.
Lubricate the nipple seat at the rim, and the threads of the spoke. For the threads, linseed oil is popular as well as products developed specifically to prepare spoke threads.

Article Written By Tim McGivern

An outdoor enthusiast, Timothy McGivern has been writing about his adventures since 2005. He founded "The Sustainable Cyclist" in 2008 and maintains a personal blog covering rock climbing experiences throughout the United States. He is a bicycle mechanic, licensed engineer and holds a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering from Union College.

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