Building a bicycle wheel

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I built a 3-cross, 32-spoke bicycle wheel for my Kona Rove DL for a dynamo lighting system.

Materials

I chose the SON28 hub for 12mm thru axles because it balances power generation at low speeds against minimal drag. The bike is sized for 650B wheels, so I paired it with a DT Swiss G 540 rim for the larger tires found on gravel bikes. The spokes are black DT Swiss Competition and double-butted to be thinner in the middle, which counter-intuitively makes them more durable. The nipples are DT Swiss Standard 2.0 × 12mm in black alloy. It’s usually a bad idea to use alloy nipples with an alloy rim because they can friction weld to each other, but I’d rather not use brass.

Tools

I don’t have a fancy lacing jig but I did have to get a Park Tool TS2.2P truing stand. A four-sided Park Tool SW-40 spoke wrench seemed necessary because the basic two-sided ones can deform aluminum nipples. It did seize up against the nipples occasionally, requiring a lot of force to remove, and having to slot it in over the nipple was probably slower than typical wrenches. I used a Park Tool TM-1 tension meter to measure spoke tension and a Park Tool WAG-4 alignment gauge to dish the wheel. Because the rim is slightly V-shaped, I needed a way to screw in the nipple from the outside of the rim so I got a Unior Speed Nipple Bit, but a flathead screwdriver would have worked just as well. The Unior Nipple Insertion Tool made lacing the last and tightest set of spokes easy. The Park Tool video I followed used a toothpick instead, which might have worked but would have required an extra step to use a tool that can tighten the threads.

Sizing

Spoke length depends on the dimensions of the hub and the rim’s effective diameter. Since spoke cutting and threading machines are expensive, I bought them at the correct length. The DT Swiss Spoke Calculator generates the lengths for the left and right sides of a wheel based on a few measurements:

Plugging those measurements into the calculator gave me the following lengths:

Process

Sheldon Brown’s article on Wheelbuilding is a legendary resource for beginners. Park Tool instructors wrote a blog post on How to build a wheel with high-resolution photos and a video, which I followed to build the wheel. Some tips to keep in mind:

The steps I took were:

  1. Prep the spokes. Instead of light machine oil, I scraped the threads and elbow along a block of beeswax.
  2. Lace the first 8 spokes by dropping them into the drive side from the outside of the hub in (so the spoke points into the hub) at every other hole in the flange. The first spoke should be in the second hole from the right of the valve opening, and each subsequent spoke skips three holes. Put a piece of tape on the first spoke.
  3. Lace the second 8 spokes on the non-drive side by dropping them from the outside in to every other hole in the flange. The first spoke should be placed in the hole just to the right of the other side’s first spoke. They go into the hole just to the right of the previous side’s spokes.
  4. Lace the third 8 spokes back on the drive side by dropping them from the inside out. Flip the wheel over and let the spokes lay flat over the wheel. Twist the hub clockwise. For each spoke, angle it to the right and let it cross over two other spokes, but then bend it under the third spoke, and install it into the only open hole on the right. Bending the spoke on the flange is key here.
  5. Lace the last 8 spokes on the non-drive side by dropping them from the inside out. Follow the same procedure as the third set of spokes, except this time pointed to the left.
  6. Put the wheel in the truing stand, apply chain lube to the point where the nipple touches the rim, and start to tension the wheel by turning each nipple two full rotations. Get the tension of each spoke to around 20 on Park Tool’s tension meter, and then start truing and dishing the wheel.

Before the build, I also referred to the following articles on wheelbuilding:

And there are other spoke calculators: