Thursday, April 6, 2017

My Maker Year: Building A Bicycle Wheel

Welcome back to another installment of #MyMakerYear by DIYBIKING.COM. Brought to you by Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

(Turns to Camera B with a Jon Stewart-like smile)

Cherry Hill. Because putting pedestrians in front of a firing squad is illegal.

    Cherry Hill, New Jersey. 2017

(Turns back to Camera A)

Back when I had the money to buy expensive tools before knowing how to use them, I purchased a shop grade truing stand from Park Tool. For years the words: "Clockwise to loosen/Counter-clockwise to tighten" were written on a piece of paper and taped to it so I wouldn't forget.

I am pretty good at truing wheels if certain questions are answered. Is the truing stand at a comfortable height? Is the room completely quiet except for the Mythbusters, Justified or Firefly episode playing on the DVD player? Am I wearing comfortable shoes? Is there coffee in a Back to the Future mug within arms reach?

And so on. 

If I'm go-for-launch I can straighten every bent bicycle wheel I put in my stand except for the ones I can't. But until very recently, I've never made a wheel one spoke at a time. It's always been a mystery to me. My cousin - the Mountain Bike Jedi Master himself - never had a chance to teach me when I lived in Connecticut. And I never took a class or watched anyone make one. 

Then I bought a small cargo bike company and discovered - after I knew I wanted to buy the business - that the wheels are made. At that point I realized this needed to be a skill I should pick up.
I know this is a picture of the bike bell I made from my late grandfather's old typewriter, but the pattern your wheel makes on the pavement is what I want you to look at. 

If you're near your bike look at one of the wheels. It's pretty to look at. But look at one spoke near the rim and follow it down to the hub. Notice that the spoke on either side is facing the opposite direction. And each spoke is screwed into a special nut - called the nipple - in the hole in the rim. 

All the years I've spent around bikes I never really forced myself to look at a bike wheel to see the pattern. But that wasn't all I did. I engaged in Google searches and flipped through books. I watch some YouTube videos. I got a rim with 36 holes, a hub with 36 holes, 36 spokes and 40 nipples - just in case I dropped some. Also a tiny brush so I could put a bit of of oil on the treads of each spoke. 

Finally, I decided I was ready. I sat on the couch of my living room and did the first step in making a wheel: I placed the rim on my lap and, holding the hub, I dropped a set through every other hole in the top of the hub and put one spoke into the hole just to the left of the valve hole. Then I put each subsequent spoke into every fourth hole.

I then flipped the wheel over and dropped in a new set. Then I inserted each one; starting at a hole near the first set and, again, counting every fourth hole. 

When done with this step, I dropped the third set into the rim and, spreading the spokes with my hand, flipped the wheel over in one daft* move.

As I worked I felt myself hitting a peaceful zone. Spoke, nipple, twist, repeat. I began to wonder what all the fuss was about and realized I was going to...oh wait. I did something wrong.

I was well into the fourth and final set when I realized what had happened: I wasn't crossing the spokes underneath which was why they were bowing out awkwardly. I didn't know where I went wrong. I disassembled the entire wheel and started again. 

This time, I paid more attention to what I was doing until I finally got a wheel that looked the way it should.

But something unfortunate happened: I didn't know where I went right, so I took the wheel apart once again.

I was more determined than ever to finish a wheel before nightfall. I just needed to get into The Zone again with the confidence I was doing the job proper. 

Then my wife came home and reminded me she was heading to a friend's house for a "Drink and Draw" - this is apparently when sketchers get together and do taxes while eating Skittles if I understand the title right. 

At the tail end of a busy week, she wasn't sure she'd stay long and wanted me to come with her. Even though I was once again living the occasional unfortunate byproduct of having one car between us I decided not to let it get in the way of my evening plans. I told her I was bringing wheels to build during the evening. I've seen women in my family knit in social settings. This seemed no different. 

And that is how I, on a recent Friday night, wound up sitting in a chair in a stranger's home, with a plastic toy aircraft carrier at my feet, building a wheel while several women before me drank wine, chatted, and sketched. It was like being on the set of The View but with more sketching and fewer commercial breaks.

While I was busying myself with my craft, my wife as well as the other women sketched anything that was lying around the kitchen: spatulas, wine bottles, vases of flowers - things like that. None of them brought their husbands - probably because they didn't realize a wheel build lesson would be involved. 

I went through the build steps again and slipped up again: I crossed a set of spokes the wrong way. I took it all apart and, in doing so, wound up spilling my tiny plastic box of nipples into a child's toy bin. I gathered as many of them as I could find - reasoning that the children whose house this is were big enough not to consider these things choking hazards.

Finally, I managed to get all four steps right.

It looked like a wheel. I spun it in my hands - it turned like a wheel too (even though I obviously still needed to put it through its paces in the truing stand).

I looked at my watch. It was just after 9:00pm. My wife had mentioned to me earlier that she didn't think she'd stay long but when I glanced up she seemed to still be sketching with extreme energy. 

So I built another wheel. This one went together faster but the clock pushed past 10:00pm. One of the sketchers had left for the evening. Did my wife want to leave too? I avoided eye contact at the moment as I wanted to get the second wheel done.

And I did.

With two wheels ready for the truing stand (which I did not bring) I proudly showed the ladies at the table what I had done. I couldn't tell if they were amused, impressed or both - but it was clear I'd be welcome back to the table again.

I've built more wheels since - and I do have the equivalent of "Clockwise to loosen/Counter-clockwise to tighten" saved on my phone to make sure I get everything right. The truing step still has some demands but all building a wheel needs is materials and a lap. I recommend you study how to build a bicycle wheel and, if a sketcher is present, allow yourself to be sketched. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

           Me building a wheel Friday, March 24, 2017. Sketched by the artist Suma CM

*It is supposed to be 'deft.' It is a typo but if you watched me do this the first time it could go either way

1 comment:

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