10 July 2021

Wheelbuilding FQAs

Do you build wheels fulltime?
Currently, I also spin wrenches at the LBS part time. In the past, because of my connections in the bike industry, I have done contract work as a sale rep, run product demos, and built bikes for trade shows while running my wheel bizz.

How long have you been hand building wheels? I opened as a bike/ski repair shop in ’07. Along with repairs I was building wheels for customers and shortly morphed into MLW and selling wheels online. Before that I worked for a bicycle parts distributor where I sat in front of the truing stand building wheels daily till my fingers felt like they were going to fall off. I started working in a bike shop when  shops had a Phil Wood spoke cutter and built wheels as needed.

Why not black spokes? Stainless spokes are silver when made, then afterwards they are anodized to a black. The anodization adds a layer of material like paint to the spoke. It can’t be measured with a micrometer but I know it’s there because I can feel it binding between the spoke elbow and hub flange and on the threads when I turn the nipples. Anodizing also changes the electron arrangement making spokes weaker.

What types of wheels do you build? You name it. I’ve built all kinds, but I’m still waiting for that first wheelchair wheelbuild...

What is UST? (Universal Tire System it’s a term like Kleenex) This is one manufactures name for tubeless. There are a number of tubeless systems on the market that work equally well. With the use of a sealing tape on an exposed spoke bed in the rim makes for a more traditional and lighter wheel. For mountain or cross any tire will work but tubeless specific tires work best.

What about tubeless road? Because of the higher pressure associated with road tires the rounded shape of the traditional hook and bead between the rim and tube needed to be changed. Tubeless road rims and tires have a square shape to the hook and bead. Road rims designed to work tubeless can be used tubeless or tubed. Road tires designed to work tubeless can be used tubeless or tubed. Road tires or rims NOT designed for tubeless will NOT work tubeless. Read that again if you have to, and pay special attention to the not part.

What’s the most expensive wheelset you ever built? With alloy rims, a BMX wheelset when I worked at a shop. I don’t remember the rim but Chris King hubs and titanium tie-dye spokes. I think the bill was ~$1500. I’m not sure about in today’s dollars.

What kind of wheels do you ride on your bike(s)? I’m my own best product tester so I ride it all. I really like the performance of tubeless though it makes changing tires to match riding conditions harder. Better quality aluminum rims come from the factory rounder and build up the best. Even inexpensive carbon rims come out of a mold so they are more consistently round. As for hubs you really get what you pay for. The hub really is the money part of the wheel. That being said Shimano hubs are pretty ho-hum but a lot of bang for the buck. 

Are carbon rims worth the price? The real difference in carbon is when rims get wide or deep (+25mm). Whatever your budget is spend it on good hubs first then if there’s money left go for carbon rims.

What’s an open mold? Carbon products come out of a mold, and molds are super expensive. Bigger companies with more money own their own molds. Open molds are ones that anybody including you or I can use to produce a product.

How long does it take to build a wheel? Once I have all the parts about an hour. To get there I need to measure the rims and hubs to figure out the spoke lengths first. Two measurements on the hub and one on the rim are needed. Each measurement takes a different tool with accuracy to the nearest millimeter.

29 June 2021

Tire Pressure

Thanks to the pneumatic tire customizing the ride of a bike is as easy as changing tire pressure. Tire pressure is printed on the tire sidewall along with the tire sizes. Tire pressure is listed as a range or max pressure which is dependent on tire construction. Ideal pressure depends on rider weight and riding surface. Max tire pressure isn't necessarily ideal for for riding it's just the max pressure the tire can hold without blowing off the rim. For the best performance the majority of us want to be riding below and even way below the max pressure the tire can hold. 

The right pressure should be firm enough to support the riders weight but not be so firm it's skipping across the riding surface without conforming to it. Or so soft that the tire bottoms out on the rim when under rider load. To find the right pressure I like to use the palm of my hand to push down on the tire with my body weight. Using body weight to find tire pressure is important. Rider weight should deform the tire to the shape of the riding surface. I also will use a pressure gauge but more often refer back to feel. Tire width also factors into tire pressure. The wider the tire the more deformation I want to see when I push down on the tire. 

In my case I'm 150lbs. I'll ride a road tire (23-25mm) on pavement at 70psi. For a mixed surface gravel/pavement tire (35-40mm) 35psi. My 2.4 mtn bike tires never have more than 25psi in them. Riding surfaces and conditions require different tread patterns but pressure stays pretty much the same. Tire selection is a different topic. 

Sometimes I use tubeless tires. Almost exclusively on my mtn bike, part time for road, cyclocross and graveling. Only part time because I like to change up my tires which is easier to do with tubes. Tubeless is good for a couple psi less and maybe some rolling weight. It's really flat protection as you get to that lower ideal psi where flats can happen when bottoming out the tire. Ultimately I'm going for a sense of ride quality and without tube interference I can dial that in closer. I want to feel the tire conforming to the surface I'm riding. My system is start with more pressure than I need and within the first five minutes letting out some pressure to my desired feel.

If your riding at or near your tires max pressure try letting some air out. You'll be surprised by the performance you've been missing out on.  

03 June 2021

Rambleraven Gear Trader

bike shop

Besides building the best bicycle wheels I'm now also spinning wrenches are Rambleraven Gear Trader. Rambleraven is Spokane's consignment shop for outdoor gear. Bike service fits in nicely. I run a full service bike shop for all your bike repair needs. In the winter when the bike repairs slow down I'll be tuning and waxing skis there. Stop in to get ready for your outdoor adventure. 

26 April 2021

Rock Lake Ride


Like a lot of other small towns I had never heard of Malden before the fire last fall. So I did what I do. I looked it up on the map. Almost immediately the blue of Rock Lake southwest of Malden stood out to me as a natural feature. I noticed the dashed line depicting John Wayne Trail running along the south side of the lake. I had followed the JWT from page to page since moving to Spokane 7 years ago. It looked like there were plenty of gravel roads in the area and an intriguing spot called Hole In the Ground on the east end of the lake. This was enough for me to start thinking about a bike ride through the area.

After staring at the map for an hour and plotting I had a route around Rock Lake figured out. That is as long as my map was accurate which when it comes to secondary roads and dashes wasn’t always the case. I’d start on the west side and go clockwise through the hole, then east into Malden to see the ruins and return on the JWT. Likely being combination of shadeless Palouse and scablands I thought it would be a good springtime ride when the day would be cooler. I wasn’t real sure about the distance but 50ish miles sounded about right. Also I wasn’t sure about drinking water out there so going farther I’d likely need more than the 2 bottles my bike could hold.

A gradual uphill pavement warmup lead to my first turn. On to a gravel road with an energy sapping, deep, loose, slow going riding surface. High above the lake the clear bright day made for good lake views as the light breeze rolled across the low early season hay fields. The road surface turned to hardpack gravel at the sign that said road not maintained for winter travel. The landscape turned to more scabland than Palouse and there was actually more trees than I expected. A coulpe switchbacks around an old barn led me down to The Hole In The Ground. This is a really nice basalt canyon with some flowing water that meanders its way into Rock Lake. After the climb out at the next road junction a sign says gravel ends. I took the gravel ending road as the landscape turned back into Palouse and the gravel turned to dirt. I came out onto pavement just before Malden.

I made a tour of main street or what was left of it. At some point and maybe again in the future I could see a water stop here and maybe some refreshment in the park. The JWT was easy enough to find but within a mile I got to a burned out trestle. A recent fire victim no doubt. Luckily a paved road paralleled the trail with easy access back to the trail through a burned out property. Farther along was another burned out trestle, this time without the easy road access. I tiptoed across the burned out timbers using my bike as an outrigger as the creek ragged from spring runoff below. In Pine City the view opened up and I could see another burned trestle so I took a pavement to gravel to JWT detour. Back on course I encountered more trestles not burned and in fairly ridable service. There were also 2 tunnels with just enough curve so you couldn’t see light through to the other side without getting half way through.

Eventually the JWT made its way to the south rim of Rock Lake and the trail almost turned into singletrack for a while. A couple of rock slides and gates I encountered were easy enough to pass by. As planned the JWT dumped me out on the west side of Rock Lake where I had started a couple full water bottles earlier. 

07 April 2021

Ceramic Bearings Explained

As part of my wheel building business I also do service on hubs. Most hubs today are the cartridge bearing type.  While I’ve got the hub its easy work for me to pop out the old bearings and press in new ones. I typically get new bearings from a local bearing supplier. These guys know bearings. Materials, life expectancy, seals, friction… Everything that turns has bearings and these guys have all of them.

On my last trip to the bearing shop I got to chatting with the salesman about the different bearing materials and how steel compares to ceramic. These are the two bearings most common to hubs. In this salesman’s opinion the real advantage of ceramic is their ability to dissipate heat better than steel. His comment was something along the lines of unless a bicycle is going 100mph ceramic bearing won’t make a difference because there just isn’t enough heat built up to make them advantageous. Huuuu. This is the second anti-ceramic bearing comment I’ve heard from a bearing guy. The first one was from another bearing supplier who said bicycles were pretty much the wrong application of ceramic bearings. His explanation was ceramics are glass so while it’s a smooth surface which is great for rolling on it’s also fragile. In a bicycle wheel for example any impact bigger than a curb breaks that glass.

These are two comments from the bearing experts. I rebuild all kinds of bicycle hubs as part of my wheel building services. I am always looking for better ways to do my servicing. People from other indystries can be great resources.   

16 March 2021

Hand Built Bicycle Wheels

If you think a pair of my hand built bicycle wheels are to expensive…guess again. Pick your rims and hubs. I supply the spokes and do the labor. Labor is $100/pair or $60/wheel. Spoke prices vary from $1-1.50 each depending on spoke color and shape. Turnaround time is usually a couple days.

A hand built wheelset is a great upgrade over stock wheels. They are better matched to rider needs for weight and use. Stock wheelsets are great for bike manufactures to meet price points but they aren’t always serviceable, can be heavy and sometimes aren’t strong enough.

Hand built wheels are the cure every bike needs. Carbon rims aside hub cost is the biggest variable. Good hubs is money better spent since they are the part you’ll have the longest time. If you can afford the good hubs and still have more in the budget then look at carbon rims. Aluminum rims are a lot of bang for the buck but carbon is lighter as rims get wider or deeper.

Send your rim and hub choices to me and in a couple days for the cost of labor and spokes you’ll have a great new set of hand built wheels.

09 March 2021

Other Peoples Repairs

A customer brought this in for truing. I'm sure that lacing patter isn't to spec. 

17 February 2021

More BMX Wheels


More 20" BMX wheels ready to roll out!

01 February 2021


 Yes, I can ship your new wheels to you.  

03 January 2021