Reinventing the Wheel

It’s been said that the only certainty is change. The last couple of weeks have really driven this home for me. It started with a short-notice decision to head to Sedona, AZ, for a weekend of early-season mountain biking. In pulling stuff together I was reminded that I’ve been riding for the last year or so on Jess’s rear wheel due to a mechanical failure in my own wheel that cannot be fixed due to the lack of replacement parts. I’ve been wanting to return Jess’s wheel for several reasons, but after searching around somewhat extensively I’ve discovered that the growing popularity of 29er and 27.5er wheels, 26″ mountain bike wheels are becoming scarce. This is especially true in the middle ground between the ultra-expensive Cadillac parts and the el-cheapo.

Luckily, on this occasion, we’re a family of pack rats and a desperate scavenger hunt through the garage turned up not only a “new” rear hub, but also a matching rim. I had purchased some spares when they were being discontinued, but never used most of them. So, for the cost of 3 dozen spokes and nipples (and a couple of hours of time) I could build a nearly identical replacement and re-live the glory of the early 2000s.

This week Phoebe is a bit hobbled with not 1, but 2 sprained ankles, so I thought I’d offer her the opportunity to help with the wheel build. Now, with a 5-11/12 year old you never know how they’ll respond, but she was super excited to build a wheel. So yesterday after dinner we set to work with the rim, hub, spokes (2-sizes), nipples, and guidebook (The Bicycle Wheel, by Jobst Brandt) spread out before us.

I’ll spare you all of the technical details (a quick search back through old blog posts will turn up an extended description of wheel building) and simply relay that Phoebe had a blast. Her pattern skills were invaluable in aligning the spokes to the holes, and you’d have been amazed to hear her read the instructions as we went. It was chock full of the usual kindergarten sight words like incremental and lateral stress. Jess captured a couple of pictures and this cool interview with Phoebe midway through the assembly. BTW, Phoebe now says that wheel building is easy. Maybe she has another vocation to add to doctor, banker, and delicatessen worker.


Some amazing reading:

After Phoebe went to bed, I finished off the build by tensioning, centering, and truing the wheel. Now all I need to do is find some elusive 26″ tires. . . Bike industry, I’ve a bone to pick with you!

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