10 Sep 2016

Mitigating spoke windup

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One challenge a wheelbuilder faces is managing spoke windup. Windup happens when friction between spoke and nipple causes the spoke to twist instead of tighten. This is bad because a twisted spoke is not in equilibrium and will eventually unwind. When twisted spokes unwind, wheels lose alignment. Windup worsens as spoke diameter decreases, which makes thin spokes like DT Revolutions more difficult (thicker spokes build more easily). The problem worsens as tension increases, which is a bigger issue in the 11-speed era because higher tensions are typically required.

There are a few strategies for dealing with spoke windup. The first and most fundamental is to make sure nipples receive ample lubrication. Sometimes adding more lubrication during a build helps. The second strategy is to detect spoke windup and compensate. Windup can be detected by feeling the spoke rotate in tandem with turns of the nipple (a flag can be fixed to the spoke to provide a visual cue). When you start experiencing spoke windup, it’s helpful to overturn the nipple and then back off. For example to achieve a quarter turn of the nipple, tighten the nipple a half turn then loosen by a quarter turn. Windup is released during the loosening step.

Before a wheel is declared complete it should be free of windup. Windup can be freed by flexing spokes in different ways. One way is to grab roughly parallel pairs of same-side spokes and pull them together. A more drastic method is to put the wheel on the ground, touch the ground with the hub and press down around the rim. You can often hear pinging noises as spokes unwind. A wheel is complete when these procedures do not change the wheel and other tolerances are met.

Now you know and knowing is 90% of success. Happy wheelbuilding!

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.