Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bike Shop Tales: Building Wheels

I've been building a lot of wheels lately, which reminds me.....

Back  in the old Advantage Cyclery days, I learned how to build wheels from Tom, the owner, as I have posted on before. The really cool thing about Advantage was that there was never a lack of stock for building up a set of hoops, if you wanted the practice.

Tom would routinely buy "close outs" of stock from bicycles to components. We ended up with a fair amount of Campagnolo 26 inch Thor mountain bike rims, which always seemed to build up really tough, strong mountain bike wheels. We also had a bunch of older Campy clincher road rims, and I built several sets of those up.

Tom was a Wheelsmith guy. Basically, you were either on the Wheelsmith train, or the DT Swiss train back then. Tom had all the Wheelsmith wheel building tools- the calculator, the whole bit. It was a nifty system to learn from, and I got on with it straight away. I never knew anything about DT Swiss stuff, or Sapim, or whatever flavor your wheel building tendencies go towards, because I was never exposed to that stuff, and well, I didn't ever see the need to get into anything else back then. Wheelsmith was working just fine, thank you very much.

Anyway, back to wheels. I built a set of road wheels in the waning days of Advantage Cyclery that were Campy Athena rims laced to Shimano hubs that I ended up putting on my in town commuter bike. I rode that bike in all sorts of nasty weather. Winter, rain, mud, you name it. They always stayed true, and I just kept throwing tires and brake pads on there until one fateful day.

I was just coming out of the alley way two blocks from my home on my way from work when....BOOM! It happened. I blew off about 40% of the rear rims side wall on the drive side and came to an instant halt. Good thing I was slowing down and only doing about 10mph!

It was kind of sad, because that was the last wheel set I had that I built at Advantage Cyclery. Oh well! I got all the goody outta that one!

Next week: More wheel stories on Bike Shop Tales..............


Rich said...

A small side note...Tom first only had Sapim and Union spokes from when he started out of his garage when only a supplier or two would sell to him. Back when Park-Pre and Monty at Island were the main vendors and only industry pals he had. Wheelsmith was the ticket when he was a REAL shop. I remember him dumping those Union spokes...boxes of em...

Did you ever use any of the matrix stash of rims? Those babies were not bad and cost only $5 each!! I remember when he bought a box of 1,000 spokes to go with all those rims...I thought that box was an anchor!! Tom was a go big or go home guy when it came to ordering. None of this lean inventory or just in time crap. He wanted any repair to be able to be done w/o special orders....the more obscure the better. Euclid shift and brake levers? No problem.

Sorry for the long comment- had a lot of fun back in the day down on main street.

OK last blast...little known fact-Tom was a big time TRI geek in the beginning....bad neon skin suit, profile tri-bars and fast-forward god awful seat post and all....God rest his colorful soul!

Guitar Ted said...


Thanks for the "further back" story! I didn't know about that stuff, as that was before my time, but cool to know.

I did do up some matrix rims. they were a pretty stout rim.

I also did know Tom was a Tri-geek. It fit right in with his backround in swimming and his love of cycling.

Matt Maxwell said...

Man, I love building wheels. Relaxing, meditative, with the satisfaction of a job well done.

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your pov) everything is going to "system" wheels these days. Sure they're lighter, but are they repairable? And where's the love?

Guitar Ted said...

@Matt Maxwell: Good points! I too enjoy the process of building up a wheel. To me, it is an amazing thing that a hoop, a handful of wire, and some brass or alloy nuts can make something a rider can pound out thousands of miles on.

Wheels are just so cool!

And yeah, the wheel builder's craft is getting overshadowed by the fancy pre-builts, but it isn't going to eliminate hand built wheels, I believe anyway.