25 Sep 2018

Universal nipple driver

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It’s ideal to use a depth-setting nipple driver specific to your nipple but sometimes you can’t. Sometimes a tool doesn’t exist or isn’t available but you can still do better than eyeballing. In a pinch you can make a tool for starting your nipples an equal number of turns all around.

To make a universal nipple driver I trim a thin butted spoke and roll threads in such a way that the threads cross the butting boundary. This lets a nipple thread all the way through without bottoming out. Then I attach an inverted nipple — one with a round bottom and no screwdriver slot — leaving a bit of spoke thread protruding. How much protrudes depends on how far you want the driver to work. I use some Loctite so the nipple doesn’t move. In the following example I inserted the tool into a pin vise but you could glue it into a cork, dowel, etc.

To use the tool thread it onto the back of your nipple. Insert the loaded tool into the rim and thread onto a waiting spoke. Sideload the spoke to hold the nipple, unthread the tool and repeat. This isn’t the fastest way to work but it gets the job done and costs very little. With all your nipples preloaded the same amount, you’re off to a clean start.

I keep a couple around for starting deep dish rims, where a longer reach is required and the risk of losing a nipple more acute. They’re a good solution for inverted nipples too. If you’d like a spoke specially prepared like the one above, buy a Sapim Race from the shop and use the checkout comments to ask for the cut and thread treatment described above (no charge).

20 Aug 2018

Tensio support policy

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Did you ask about tensiometer support in the spoke tension utility? This post is for you.

In order to support a tensiometer in the software, it’s necessary to have one in the workshop. It gives me confidence the experience is good — regardless of being free I’m not interested in providing second-rate software. Sometimes changes arise from using a tool professionally. For example you can enter 25 and it autocorrects to 0.25 when using the Wheel Fanatyk (but doesn’t with the Park Tool). Little details like this tilt the balance between flow and tedium.

For digital tensiometers, it’s even more important to have one on hand. Direct digital download can involve quirks that must be accommodated in software. Some of the most interesting features on the roadmap are for digital tools but the testing is more intensive.

I purchased the Park and Wheel Fanatyk tools myself, the former to build my own wheels and the latter to boost my professionalism. And so I supported them in my software. Now with the workshop properly equipped, I’m less keen to purchase others. (For full disclosure Wheel Fanatyk donated three tensiometers after finding my software popular with their customers.)

So if you’d like to see another tensiometer supported in the software, it’s easy and not easy: ask your manufacturer to send one here. I make it easy by taking no fees, neither for initial support nor for ongoing maintenance. And promise new tools will be supported within 30 days of receipt. But in practice it’s not easy as users have reached out to DT Swiss, Sapim and Unior without success. If you plan to engage one of them, you may have better luck asking the rep for your geographical area or a connection on the inside. If your contact doesn’t build wheels, temper your expectations.

If you’re in the market for a new tensiometer — whether a basic tool or a premium one — this information may help you choose. Park Tool and Wheel Fanatyk are easy to recommend. Both are supported in my spoke tension utility, provided for free on this site since 2013.

06 Jul 2018

Truing stand explainer

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Here’s a more detailed video about my truing stand. To answer the most common question: this will not be a product in the near term — summer days aren’t long enough to run SpokeService and crank out new products. Maybe I can take it further in the off season. What do you think?

If you like, future videos and updates can be found using this bookmark.

30 May 2018

Using beefy spokes

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The typical spoke decision is between straight gauge and some double-butted model. For conditions outside the bell curve, there are two specialty models.

Sapim Force is a triple-butted spoke with a 2.18/1.8/2.0mm profile. They are similar to Sapim Race with a little more meat on the vulnerable elbow section. There is a cost penalty but weight and stiffness are about the same. Fatigue life is better — if you’ve been burned by broken elbows, Force might be the ticket. I often use Force on touring and bikepacking wheels to work with 32 spoke wheels when 36 might be more conventional (opening up more choices for hubs and rims).

Sapim Strong is a single-butted spoke with a 2.3/2.0mm profile. These are the biggest bicycle spokes I sell and I stop at this gauge because it’s the biggest spoke that works with regular nipples. Strong shares the massive stiffness of Sapim Leader but has a serious amount of extra material on the elbow. People use Strong for e-bikes, cargo bikes and the heaviest touring applications. For regular day-to-day use they’re overkill though I’ve used them for riders >400 pounds.