This poor wheel has seen a litany of mechanicals in its two-and-a-half-year life, and it’s all my fault. The trouble started several hundred kilometers into an ill-starred Lejog ride, when the rear derailleur got stuck in the four lowest cogs. In my haste to get the gears shifting again, I backed out the limit screws. There’s a reason I shouldn’t have done it, and sure enough, an hour or so later I ended up putting the chain into the spokes. The result was several broken and mangled spokes, and some galling of the hub flange. I’m still grateful to Ben the Amazing Wandering Bicycle Mechanic for showing up late in the evening with a truck full of tools and getting me back on the road.
Since that seminal mechanical, the following ignoble history of broken spokes has plagued the wheel:
- Another spoke broke in transit from England back to Japan.
- I ordered a complete set of replacement spokes and nipples, and relaced the drive side of the wheel.
- Two months later, another spoke snapped. I quickly replaced it.
- After a 13-month interregnum, spoke issues returned on the Okutama Reprise when a broken spoke deflated the tire, making for a messy clean-up as darkness fell.
That was the spoke that broke the camel’s back. After checking prices for a replacement hub and all 32 28 spokes, I bought a new rear wheel (and, incidentally, new tires). The new wheel and tires are working fine and I’m very pleased with the result.
But that rim with its broken spoke has remained sitting on the balcony, where I can see it every morning through the bedroom window. I kept looking at it, and the spare front wheel (the one with the dynamo hub that I bought for Lejog) and thinking how neat it would be to have a spare set of wheels. Just for … reasons. And so (even though it doesn’t make economic sense), I finally ordered a replacement hub and spokes. (Yes, and nipples.)
Step 1: Disassembly
I realized I had to remove the rim tape first in order to remove the nipples. The tape put up more of a fight than I expected. That’s a good thing, because the tape has one job and it’s sticking to it!
To prevent the nipples from falling inside the rim as I removed them, I used my time-honored technique of threading a spare spoke in through the opposite end.
I started with the drive side and removed all the nipples first. When I’d created some space, I started pulling out loose spokes.
Some clown got the spoke wrench on crooked when he replaced a broken spoke a while back. The nipple was rounded off, and subsequent efforts to remove it with a pair of pliers resulted in a broken nipple! I saved this spoke for last, and then pushed it through the rim until I could get at the hex head on the nipple with the pliers. It took some work but I finally removed it.
And with that, the disassembly is done. I kept the bits for the drive side (which I’d previously replaced) separate from the non-drive side (which are original), and I sequestered the broken nipple and corresponding spoke.
I still need to clean the old latex and tape residue off the rim before the rebuilding starts.
With all the spokes removed, the damage to the hub flange from the earlier spoke breakage is evident.
I haven’t decided yet what to do with the hub. I can reuse the freewheel body, and possibly the bearings. It will be a challenge to find some use for the remaining naked hub — it’s the wrong shape to make a novelty drink coaster.
Step 2: Reassembly
Nearly a month has passed since I disassembled the wheel. The hub, spokes and nipples arrived from Germany, but the package was torn and some nipples were missing. I’d ordered 30 (to have a couple of spares) and received 19. It took a week to get a response from the vendor, but they finally asked if I could get the replacement nipples locally, and they’d refund me the difference. I could and did — 100 nipples, in fact, with next-day delivery. I told the vendor of course they didn’t have to pay for 100, and they ended up refunding me 5 euros.
I got the replacement nipples on Jan. 26, and since then I’ve just been waiting for the right opportunity to get started.
A friend asked what the difference was between a wheel with 28 spokes and one with 32, and of course the answer is four spokes. Anyway, it’s a trade-off between strength and weight. His question made me curious enough to see what difference four spokes and nipples would make.
That hardly seems worth the difference, especially when you consider that an extra four holes in the rim and hub will mean the difference is even less.
Before starting I had a brief refresher, particularly on the significance of the key spoke:
With that under my belt, I quickly set to work.
The work proceeded quickly after that. I’d ordered slightly thicker spokes and laced them cross three (each spoke crosses three others between the hub and rim), rather than the original cross two, for extra strength. But once I got all the spokes in place, it was clear I’d made a miscalculation: the spokes were too long.
I could recalculate the spoke length and order new spokes, or I could try cross four (even stronger!) and see if the length worked out. Either way, I had to tear down the wheel again and start over.
I decided to give cross four a try. It was a fight to get the spokes in the right position without tangling their heads together in the hub flange, but I got there in the end.
The final step in building a wheel is truing it. This is a repetitive process of tightening the spokes, checking the roundness of the wheel and the position of the rim between the hub ends, and checking the spoke tension. It is far more art than science (although I’ve seen videos of high-speed machines with high-tech measuring tools at a factory), and it helps to stop every so often and stress the spokes manually to get them to seat in. But we got there in the end.
Along the way, the monkey reappeared and rounded off another nipple. I’m happy to say it was easier this time to get the damaged nipple off, and I was able to replace it without having to disassemble the wheel yet again.
With the wheel tight and true, I topped off the reassembly with fresh rim tape and a new valve.
The wheel is ready now for a brake disc, cassette and tire. I’m saving those steps for another day as it’s dark and cold out on the Workshop in the Sky, and it might be a bit of a fight to get the tubeless tire to mount. As this wheel is meant for a spare anyway, there’s no hurry.
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