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(And plan to spoke again real soon!)

By Chip Haynes

Editor Note: This piece from Floridian cycling essayist Chip Haynes first appeared in Mason's Wire Donkey Bike Zine. Subscription information follows this essay.

So I'm walking over to the the post office this morning on my break and there, leaning against the brick wall in the parking lot, is an abandoned front wheel--and not entirely bad one, it would seem. What's that doing there? I did manage to walk all the way past it, but knew I was doomed to come back and get it anyway. I could see at a glance it had an alloy rim and an allow hub with a hollow quick release axle. (No quick release skewer, though.) The spokes showed a bit of rust...I thought that was odd, considering the alloy hub and rim. (Why didn't it have stainless steel spokes?) Ah, what the hey--I can use it for something. Just don't ask me when.

I snagged the wheel on my return trip and brought it up to my office. It was missing some spokes, and the rum had taken a bad hit right on the seam. Ouch. The rim was toast, but the hub was good. It took a few minutes (and an old screwdriver) to unlace the remaining spokes, then pitched the bent rim and put the bundled spokes and loose hub in my backpack to add to the part bin tonight. Not  a bad find. I'm kind of getting into this wheel building thing. Mason was right: It really does feel good to build your own wheels. 

Now I can't say as I'm good at it (and I may never be able to say that), but it really does give me some small measure of satisfaction to combine a hub, a rim and a pile of spokes into a thing of tensile, suspended rolling beauty. I've already got plans to turn a small pile of PVC pipes I have up in the rafters into a sort of graduated spoke file, allowing me to see at a glance that I probably don't have the exact spoke I need for any given repair job. But it's a start. I'm starting to get comfy with it.

I've only laced up five wheels ever, but I've already developed a sort of plan of attack when I do one. My last wheel went fairly well, and I know my next one will go even better. I only have one real grey area that leaves me completely befuddled: Spoke length. The hidden (and probably inept) mathematician deep inside me looks at a bicycle wheel and feels somewhat strongly that spoke length is governed by some variation of the Pythagorean theorem. 

That is, that the length of the spoke must somehow be tied to the hypotenuse it forms between the hub and the rim. (In the right triangle ABC, A=the hub's spoke hole; B=the center of the hub; and C=the rim's spoke hole.) I really want that to work, but it doesn't. Does it? So how did wheel builders determine spoke length before they had all the zippy-quick computer programs? There has to be a way. Doesn't there?

Meanwhile, until I find that way, I'll start collecting spokes and hubs and rims--and take another look at all of those spare wheels I have in the rafters. I'll bet I could play mix-and-match and come up with some better combinations! Man, this has opened up a whole new world of bike mechanics for me! Woo-hoo!

What about you? Do you build your own wheels? Am I the last bike geek on Planet Earth to go for this? If not, you should give it a try! (But allow plenty of time for that first one, trust me.) Me? I can't wait for the next one, and will probably start hunting for excuses to build wheels I don't need. Even got a new theme song:

"Oh, the wheels on the bike go round and round, round and round, round and round..."


For Wire Donkey subscription info, contact Mason St. Clair, Editor and Founder, 3620 Rolland Road, Nashville, TN 37205-2534. Email masonbike@aol.com.

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