How to Build a Bike Wheel

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How to Build a Bike Wheel

Building a bike wheel is not be as difficult, even for a complete novice. With the right equipment and the instructions noted in this guide then it will all be much easier than may be previously imagined. In the long run it may be less expensive to learn how to build a bike wheel yourself than taking it into cycling shops every time it needs replacing. The parts and tools needed such as spokes, nipples, rims, hubs, spoke keys, oil and screwdrivers can all found on eBay at affordable rates from trusted sellers.

This guide will explain the different parts of the bike wheel, how to fit a bike wheel, and how to use eBay to ensure that you purchase the correct equipment and tools.

Parts of a Bike Wheel

First of all this guide will look at the parts that make up a bike wheel and their characteristics.

  • The Rim is the hooped frame of the wheel, usually made out of an aluminium alloy.
  • The Hub is the centre part of the wheel and includes the axle and bearings. Modern versions are typically made from metal.
  • The Axle is the part of the wheel that allows it for it to turn. The Ball Bearings allow the hub to rotate around the axle.
  • Spokes are thin strips of metal attached in between the rim and the hub to provide increased stability for the wheel when it turns. They can be made from numerous metals.
  • The Nipples are found at the end of each spoke and is a specialised nut that joins the spokes up to the rim.
  • The Hub Shell is where the spokes can be attached to in the centre of the wheel.
  • The Fork is the part of the bike that holds the front wheel. It provides stability and allows the rider to turn.

Step By Step Guide to Fitting a Bike Wheel

Below is a simple step-by-step guide for beginners on how to construct a bike wheel. The main challenge is how and where to position the spokes, so hopefully this section will assist with this. This example looks at building a 36 spoke wheel but the process will differ for other types of wheel. Another good bit of advice to start with is to have a completed wheel on hand to use as an example.

Set out all the pieces of kit you will need. These will be the rim, hub and spokes. To assist with putting them all together you may also need oil, a screwdriver, nipples and a spoke wheel key. The spoke wheel key or adjuster helps with ‘truing’ the wheel.

It can be beneficial to apply grease or oil to the spokes and also in each nipple hole. This will keep the spokes from loosening over an extended period of time.  Allow them to dry before attaching.

Firstly the spokes need to be fitted. For this example, let’s say the common 36 spoke wheel is being constructed. There will be 4 different groups of 9 spokes. Place the one group of these spokes in the hub, missing out a hole of each time and making sure the heads are all facing on the outside and all the same way.

Now grab one of these spokes that is connected to the hub and attach it to the hole in the rim that is to the right of the valve. To tighten it, use one of the nipples.

The spacing of the next spokes is important. After the first spoke has been attached, skip out three holes and insert the next spoke in the fourth. Do this for all the remaining spokes. Make sure to go back and check they are spaced correctly and use a completed wheel as a guide if not sure.

Turn the wheel around and insert the second group of 9 spokes into it; just as the last group but with the head of the spokes facing the opposite direction. Each spoke should go from the hole just in front of the occupied one on the other side that was previously done. If done correctly, then no spokes should be crossing each other at this point.

Now it is time for the third group of 9 spokes to be inserted. It is important to get the spacing of them correct. Go back to the original side of the hub. Drop one in and match it up with the hole that means it has crossed two of the already inserted spokes, so it crosses two spokes but drops in behind the third. Again revert to a completed wheel as an example.
If this point has been reached successfully then the remaining 9 spokes should be straightforward to fit into the remaining holes within the rim.
Tighten all the nipples at the end of the spokes by using a screwdriver so they are secure but not too tight. They will need adjusting still. Insert the wheel back into the frame. Don’t worry if it still feels loose.

Get the wheel centred in the correct position and mount it in the back forks of the bike. Spinning it will tighten it automatically and increase tension in the spokes. If wheel is still moving too far to the left then tighten the spokes on the right and vice versa.

It is crucial that the wheel is centred equally from both sides so it lies directly over the hub.
Look into truing the wheel as a way of making the ride perfect. It is a great trick a cyclist can learn and only needs a spoke wheel. A wheel truing stand may also be needed if looking into this.

Buying Parts for a Bike Wheel on eBay

This section will briefly outline how to purchase certain things needed for building a bike wheel and how to go about finding them on eBay.

Spokes – The spokes are necessary for building a new bike wheel and play an important function for the bike itself.
Ensure when shopping on eBay that the right number is bought, especially if putting together more than one wheel.
The average wheel of a recreational bike can potentially be between 16 and 48. Having different spokes in the same wheel is potentially very dangerous. Also look into the difference between inbound and outbound spokes.
Rim – Buying a rim from eBay should be more straightforward. Make sure the rims are going to fit the wheel they are being bought for. They are usually measured in inches. Alloy rims are the most popular common material type edging out the heavier and slower steel version. Type in “bike rim” or even “bicycle rim” and browse the results. They can be sorted by a few things, such as what bike type they are for. 
Hubs – Hubs, axles and bearings are less common commodities on eBay but are still readily available. If unsure about if they are suitable for your bike then feel free to ask the seller a question. Alloy hubs are usually the most common on the market.

As different parts are needed to build a new bike wheel it can be useful to scour the marketplace on eBay as everything needed will be available in one place.  If a new set of spokes are needed then type in “bike wheel spokes” and search through the required results. It is possible to narrow down the search results by using the preference menu bar on the left hand side.

Here are some safety tips to consider when using eBay. Read the item’s description as closely as possible, be it for any part of the wheel. Take into consideration what the item is used for and other things such as:

  • Postage Cost
  • Terms and Conditions
  • How old the parts are
  • Warrantee Circumstance
  • Returns Policy
  • Payment Method

Then also be sure to check the seller’s history and feedback rating. For example, if they have plenty of negative reviews then it is best to think about trying another seller, even if this other item is more expensive. Also check around other stores online to compare prices of different parts. Some sellers may claim a hub for example is worth much more than it actually is.

A good piece of advice is to pick out the parts you think are correct for the wheel being built and then ask a bike expert in store if they are right. If deciding to have a go building it without help and it doesn’t go to plan, there is no shame in conceding defeat and then taking it in to have it fitted properly by someone who knows what they’re doing.  

Conclusion

Consider if it is best to have the bike wheel built professionally by specialist cyclist experts. It may save the hassle and potential drawbacks of doing it from scratch, but will certainly be more expensive. This guide can only go so far in explaining the potential ins and outs of building a bike wheel; there are plenty of more specialised sites that offer more advanced advice if needed.

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