Would you build a wheel while sitting on the sidewalk?

©Barry Sandland/TIUMB - Rider builds a new wheel sitting on the sidewalk at Cycloperativa

©Barry Sandland/TIMB – A daring space to build a wheel from scratch

“I did this wheel tonight. Not bad, I think”

Notes: I am not sure how many people would feel confident about building a wheel while perched on the sidewalk. Cycloperativa was in a standing-room-only situation last week, the weather was warm and dry and repairs were being done on the sidewalk, in the fresh air. But building a wheel. It says a lot about the skill set at social cooperatives that this can be done by a client.
Working a spoke wrench is invaluable to a frequent rider. Just to have one in your pocket and be able to bring your wheel straight, true, after a pothole or curb. Straight enough to get you home. It is a great skill to have – and it really is something simple and basic. Not that hard to learn.
Building a wheel is another challenge. Working from scratch and ensuring the spokes are in the right design, crossing over each other ass they should, is the simplest starting point. Then to pull the spokes tight so they are, each and every one, holding the same tension. If you get it wrong, it is not just that the wheel is not straight, but that it is not round, either. Too much pull on one side of the wheel will bring the wheel out of round and leave a strong bump in the ride. And the wheel build will be a failure.
Try this, just watch someone build a set, and you get a real sense for tension and hope the wheel can be round and straight, but wrong.  Creating the correct level of tension is an art form.
You begin to get some idea about why wheels cost huge sums at the elite level. Material quality alone, with aluminium and then carbon fibre wheels. Shallow and deep dish rims. The spokes, round to flat, and the design. The quality of the materials. And then the build. The enthusiastic riders pay in the high hundreds for hand-built wheels. And while you can go to the local bike shop and get a decent pair of second-hand commuter wheels for about 120 bucks, costs will skyrocket the second you want something elite. You easily reach four figures to have wheels that can handle the stress of 50 kilometres an hour and more racing over cobblestones and remaining intact.
But start with your local cooperative. Learn the basics of making your urban wheels straight. It might be more than enough for you. I can do the basics, using the brake rubbers in the frame to find the true line. And this basic skill has been invaluable on canal rides where I have popped a spoke riding the rougher paths.
I have never built my own wheels. Something I have a hope to do this winter.

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