Blog: 2016

01 Aug 2016

Brass or aluminum

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The choice of nipple material inspires zealotry — some prefer brass, some prefer aluminum, others a mix of materials. Brass nipples are more popular because they’re cheaper, stronger and more corrosion resistant. Aluminum nipples feature superior finishes at one third the weight. How to choose? If you’re hard on gear, clean infrequently or ride in adverse conditions, then brass is a sensible choice. For scenarios where weight and performance matter, aluminum is the way to go.

Working with aluminum nipples shouldn’t inspire fear — in fact many find aluminum nipples turn more smoothly. How do pros work with aluminum? First, use liberal lubrication. When building in the first place, make sure threads are fully covered with oil or other spoke preparation compound. When making adjustments down the road, dribble a thin oil into the nipple and into the rim at the base of the nipple. Second, avoid stressing aluminum nipples by using a 4-sided spoke wrench (e.g. Park Tool SW-40). Compared to a regular 3-sided wrench, a better tool distributes forces more evenly. If your nipple has a secondary hex interface on the rear, that’s a safe way of applying torque too. Last buy quality aluminum nipples. I stock Sapim nipples made of 7075 aluminum, a stronger alloy that is not the industry norm. Sapim anodizes silver nipples for corrosion resistance whereas other makers ship these raw. From a quality perspective aluminum nipples are less interchangeable across brands.

Find the right nipples for your wheels in the shop.

05 Jul 2016

Naked bike check

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In December I took delivery of a custom steel frame from Naked Bicycles. Sam and Andrea were great and the bike was delivered on schedule without issues. I would recommend them in a heartbeat. There are lots of ways to choose your builder but, for bikes and in general, I look for the smallest business that (i) is organized and (ii) values quality over quantity. That’s my mission as well.

Frames are difficult to review because the frame is not the bike but I can say a few things. It’s stiff enough for me — I don’t generate huge power but I can’t stand frames that are noodles in the bottom bracket area (and likewise can’t abide flexy cranks or chainrings). I’d rather a frame be too stiff since you can recover a lot of comfort by tuning wheels, tires and air pressure. My frame delivers in the stiffness department but it’s not overbuilt, which helps with weight — 18.5 pounds as pictured.

Ride character is designed to my specifications so I love it though it’s not for everyone. The chainstays are as short as possible while fitting 32mm tires or smaller tires with fenders. The front has trail numbers on the low end for a road bike. These features make the bike feel fast, which is fun.

I rode the bike all winter with fenders and it was the most productive off-season in recent memory. For the first time I lost weight during the winter and started spring in terrific fitness. With a few thousand kilometres on the odometer — including numerous century rides — I feel confident saying the bike is a winner. Visit Naked Bicycles to learn more about Sam’s work. See a previous blog for info on the wheelset (without a doubt custom frames deserve custom handbuilt wheels!).

25 Jun 2016

Zeroing the tensio

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In a previous blog I demonstrated the spoke tension utility available on this site. It works with the Wheel Fanatyk digital tensiometer and data cable.

When you place the tensiometer on a spoke, it’s ideal if the tool reads zero but sometimes that doesn’t happen because of the spoke itself — they’re not perfectly round. If you don’t zero the tensiometer, you introduce error into your readings. Zeroing the tensiometer is easy but you experience a delay while it resets and it requires the use of both hands. In short it takes a bit more time.

With the introduction of the data cable I had the idea of skipping that step by doing the zeroing in post-processing instead. How does it work? Suppose you place the tensiometer on a spoke and it reads 0.01. Instead of zeroing the tensiometer, send that reading to the software by pressing the foot pedal or send button on the data cable. The software understands this to be a baseline reading so it pops up a dialog box with the initial value and prompts for the final reading, which you send in the same manner. Then the net value is calculated, the spoke tension graph is updated and you carry on with the next spoke. At no time do you touch the keyboard or mouse on your computer so the workflow is very smooth. I’ve built several wheels this way and it becomes second nature.

19 Jun 2016

Short vacation

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SpokeService will be closed from June 20 until June 24 for a short vacation. Orders placed during this period will ship on June 25. Emails and phone calls will be returned on June 25 if not sooner.

As thanks for your patience I’m offering silver DT Swiss nipples free with each spoke ordered until midnight on June 24 (max 75 per customer). These nipples use standard 2.0mm threads, compatible with all spokes sold here. To take advantage of this offer simply ask for them in the order notes field on checkout. Please specify your choice of aluminum or brass material.

07 Jun 2016

Autograph tension

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This is a video of the new Wheel Fanatyk tensiometer, equipped with a deluxe Mitutoyo gauge. The terrific thing about a top end digital gauge is the ability to connect to a computer (an optional connection kit is available from Wheel Fanatyk). So what do you do on the computer side? I improved my spoke tension utility to accept input directly from the tool without keyboard interaction. After each reading the software advances to the next cell automatically.

I also added a new software feature to eliminate the need for zeroing the tensiometer but it’s not shown in this video. Stay tuned for a future blog post explaining how it works.