Aerodynamic wheels, I don't need to tell you, are all the rage. They're where it's at; the things that everybody covets and loves; the beneficiaries of all the cutting edge R&D. They aren't however, the things that I find myself particularly drawn to. I don't know how many of you have ever had the opportunity of being 3.885 slugs (convert, if you must) and holding onto a bike with 68mm deep rims in a 20mph crosswind, but for those who haven't, I'll tell you it's no party. It's totally manageable, yes, and likely worth putting up with in races, but I wouldn't ever venture to call it "fun," and "fun" is what I like to squeeze out of my riding as much as possible. For fun maximization, I prefer to hang my tall rims up and reach for whatever I've got that's light. Light is to fun as sun is to suntans and The Game is to really awesome rap (Church for Thugs, anyone?). With that in mind, I decided to blow the remainder of my tax returns on a fresh super light wheel build. Not only will this build ensure I end up with a steel bike that will demand respect from dyed-in-the-wool carbon weight wienies, it will also help comfort my mind through this difficult time of waiting for my new bicycle frame to be finished. So without further ado, here are a boatload of pictures and captions documenting the build!
Hub choice: There are many tempting players in the lightweight hub game. I can toss a bunch out right away for being way outside of my budget, and others for having a disposable approach to bearings. The the finalists I always end up with are King, DT, and White Industries. In this case, since I'll be using these wheels on my cx bike as well, asking them to hold up to high torque situations from cheap cassettes that don't have multi-cog carriers, I went with the White Industries. Pushing as hard as you can on a 38x26 gear is hell on a freehub body, and White Industried gets the nod for using titanium instead of aluminum, making them resist gouging much better than King and DT. There's a bit of a weight tradeoff, but it's not terrible. Plus, look at that polishing. I mean look at it. Makes a person want to do dirty dirty things; shit even The Game wouldn't approve of, and I think he's killed people (probably)(was he a crip?)(or was his mom?)(somebody was a crip).
Rim choice: Fewer options here. There aren't a lot of contenders I know of in the superlight weight class, and of the few I've seen available separately as just rims, most are weird and German and seem like probably a bad idea for cyclocross. You've got the Zipp 202 which might be a good option, but those things don't strike me as being nearly as fresh as ENVE's offering, so ENVE is what I went with. Listed at 250g, both of my rims came in under that.
Nipples: Heh, "nipples." These come with the rims, so they're what you use. The end with the cylindrical face points out, and the other end contacts the rim.
Spokes: DT Aerolite or Sapim CX-Ray, duh. They're the Seth Cohen and Ryan Atwood of spokes; sure there are plenty of other OC characters you could pick to befriend, but why would you? Of course, I went with neither, because holy cow them things are pricey. Since my wheelset wasn't intended to be aerodynamic anyway, I just went with DT revolutions. Extensive research tells me that 64 264mm Revolutions weigh 283g, and 64 264mm Aerolites weigh 278g, so on average Revolutions are only three ten thousandths of a gram per millimeter heavier. Since I have no concept whatsoever of what that measurement means to my performance as a bike racer, I'm not going to concern myself with it. Revos cost like 1/3 as much or something, too.
Scott Edit: something about Aerolites not twisting and stretching like Revo's...
A note on spoke count: I like spokes. Maybe you don't, and maybe you like wheels with 18 spokes or even fewer, but also maybe I think you're wrong and maybe you should try wheels with more spokes, dude. The next time I see a bike with a 1-1/2" lower headset bearing "to maximize torsional frame stiffness and steering accuracy" paired with some 16 spoke front wheel, I'm going to... I don't know, probably nothing, because I pride myself on being socially acceptable and complying with the written and unwritten rules of human interactions, but I promise I'll be absolutely seething inside.
Tools: Don't need much. For the first 80% of the build, this is all I use. I've got a wrench for the internal nipples, a little tub of Dumonde Tech grease, and a nasty ball of dirty beeswax that I've been using in wheel builds since before I was vegan. Mind you, while talking about tools and lubes and process, I'm not saying that my way of building wheels is the way of building wheels. It's just a way, and probably only one of like a billion ways that all work. People worry about this stuff too much. If you end up with something round and straight, it matters little how you got there.
So to start, I just rub a little beeswax onto all of my spoke threads. It's to lube them so that I don't wind up with a situation where when I turn a nipple, the spoke just twists with it instead of actually getting tighter. A wheel built with good tension and no residual spoke windup should hold true without anything to lock the threads. Also, buying thread locking stuff is another step, and I'm way lazy.
Next I take half of my spokes, put them one by one through a hole in the hub, and bend them gently, right at the elbow, so that instead of pointing outward (photo 1), they more or less point towards where the rim will be. I display each one with my middle finger, so that nobody forgets what a B.A. I am. These spokes are the ones that get laced up 2nd, with the elbows out.
And then it's time for lacing. For the internal nipples, I put a dab of grease on each end. One makes it stick in the tool just a little bit, and the other provides some lubrication against the rim.
I'm building these up 2x front and rear. Radial spoke patterns don't do nuthin' for me, aesthetically. We could argue about weight and lateral stiffness and vertical compliance and all that, but I just want a wheel to look how I want it to look, so 2x it is.
I find that the Spocalc and DT Swiss spoke length calculators always give me values so that if I do exactly 12 turns on each nipple while lacing the wheel, I end up with something relatively solid when I'm done, and not a floppy mess. Makes things a bit easier, I think. The trick to getting 12 turns exactly is: once you've got the nipple against the end of your spoke, turn it counter-clockwise slowly with light pressure until you feel a click, and that's the end of both threads passing over each other, so you know that when you start turning clockwise from there you'll be engaging threads the whole time. Otherwise you could potentially end up with a situation where you do almost a full turn before it even starts to count, and that would defeat the purpose of keeping track. Is this silly? Obsessive? Anal? Perhaps. I know that if I'm careful from the gun though, I can bring a wheel up to tension that is so close to being straight and round that the number of touch-ups is almost nil, as long as the rim starts out straight and round itself.
Bonus points for pointing the valve hole at any logo on the hub! Double bonus points for having super attractive feet! If getting fired up over your own dawgs is wrong, I don't want to be right.
For bringing it up to tension the rest of the way and truing it, I use a crappy old wind trainer. This guy here might even be the first wind trainer. It's old as hell, anyway, that's for sure. A proper Park wheelbuilding stand it is not, but free it is. Please note the years and years worth of dried tubular glue drips. I like my tools like I like everything in life. Na$ty.
If you noticed that my "stand" doesn't have any sort of a pointer, then you noticed correct. A bent spoke and 3 DVD television seasons - two OC and one X-files, if you're gonna do it right - make the perfect pointer. Since I do the whole count-all-my-turns thing (and had a well manufactured rim working with me), I only needed to spend about 2 minutes in the stand to fix up any little leftover lateral wobbles, and my runout was fine.
That means that the only thing left to do is check the dish. Tool-wise, you can get something specifically made for dishing from Park or Pedros or probably a million other companies, or you can use a bike frame/fork, or you can use another particularly na$ty tool, this one stolen from your dad's collection of handmade garage art from before you probably born. I apologize for my butt-munch of a dog blocking part of the view. He's a better door than a window, I constantly tell him, but he cares little.
Anyway, this being a front wheel and therefore symmetrical, I'd have been surprised if it came out dished wrong, and sure enough it was good to go without any extra work. The gap there is the same from both sides, so I'm done!
Repeat steps 1 through all of them for the rear wheel, then put it all on the scale. In this case, I got 1098g for a set of wheels that I'll never be afraid to use in any conditions. Baller!
Now what comes next is optional. If I was building wheels with regular nipples, I'd just mount them up on my bike and race, and do any little touch-ups as needed. Since this setup uses internal nipples and them glue-on tires everybody's always talking about, I'll really want to make sure that any little kinks are worked out before I get my Mastik on. I'll push and pull on spokes, put the axle ends on a wooden block and bend the rim from the sides, and even put an unglued tire on and jam 'em up and down the street into a few potholes (being careful not to make any real turns), and that should exposes any flaws the build might have had. One last touch-up and it's glue time!
So that's how this guy buys and builds wheels. If you didn't get bored and leave 48 minutes or 37 pictures ago, thanks for reading!
The Tiniest Sprinter