wheelbuilding for the first time

i’ve never built a wheel from scratch before, but it’s a skill i know is really good to have. my brother has built wheels from when he used to bmx, but he also wrecks a lot of stuff (i know that doesn’t sound good!!).

but seriously, i would like to have built my own wheel and be able to do my own truing if needed.

only thing holding me back at the moment is being frightened about messing up and losing loads of time and money.

so i guess the question this post poses is: is it recommended to just try to build a wheel by yourself with no supervision, just going by manuals, online tutorials and general advice when doing so for the first time?

Thats what I did.

I did a 48 spoke, 4-cross pattern for my DX. I didnt follow Sheldon Browns manual, cause it confused em a little, so I found another guide that was much more simplistic, and had great pictures.

It didnt take me too long to do, and tensioning/trueing the rim wasnt too hard either.

More than anything, its just a tedious thing to do, but if youre patient, and have a bit of time to sita round, its fun to do, and its worth it to learn.

In fact, i need to true my coker wheel again. Muni on a old steel rim, and a standard skinny hub doesnt work too well.

Hey mate,

Right, my advice is practice. If you are unsure that you are going to get it right first time, use old components for your first build. Having said that however, it is difficult to actually ruin anything, at worst you will have to undo it all and start again. I have done that before, the annoying thing about wheelbuilding is you rarely notice you’ve gone wrong till the end :angry:
Use online guides, print them out and have them to hand while you are doing it. Once you have done a few builds you will get to know the sequence and gradually you will no longer need the guides. Wheelbuilding is easy, you just have to do things in the right order. Once you’ve build the wheel, you will have to true it. This takes time and patience, I normally put the built up wheel in a frame to check how true it is. You can then see were the high and low spots are and which way ou need to pull the rim.

A good guide that I have always used is one by George French.
People always say about Sheldon Browns guide, but to be honest I find that one confusing.

Hope that helps mate, you should have asked at the weekend, I could have given you Edd’s wheelbuilding 101!
Any questions, just ask. If you are going to buy a new wheelset, let me know when you’ve got all the stuff and we could arrange it so I could come and show you how to put it all together.


Just go for it, my first wheelbuild was my airfoil 36er 4-cross, got it laced right first time but it took about 4 hours to get it straight, I would reccomend sheldon brown’s guide, just go very slowly and check over and over again at every stage. Worse case, get it laced and take it to a bike shop for the final trueing and tensioning if you can’t get it straight, it will reduce the cost from £25 to about £10 so still worth doing.

i see- cheers!

i think i’ll give a couple of trial runs with some other wheels. i’m not going to get a completely new wheelset, but i may get some new spokes (black or purple). i know it takes time and patience but i think it’s better to know how and be able to do as much as you can for your own uni.

I have read a lot of wheel building in the last. Newer seen something like that wheel before. A 4 cross did not mean that spokes cross over and under each spoke. A 4 cross is under - under - under - over. (In wheel builders world). A 3 cross is under - under - over. But maybe the wheel get stiffer with this design? But to me it looks strange and the spoke did not go in a straight line.


Ah yeah. He does that because he reckons it makes the wheel stronger against landing sideways, which would also be handy for trials unicycling. Not sure if it actually works or not though, its how my wheels are all laced.

Once you tension the wheel, all the spokes pull straight.


He says he built it “interlaced under the third” (over, over, under, over) because it apparently makes it more resistant to damage from grinding. I’ve never seen a wheel built that way either, and it does look a mess, but then I’m not into BMX.


EDIT: Edd’s already answered while I was reading the article.

oh and also, what i don’t understand is spoke length and what double butted means.

in the udc website theres a lot of stuff for calculating spoke lengths, but i’m not certain what rim i have. i know i have the 05 KH/onza splined hub which has 36 spokes.

selecting the correct size seems quite a complicated business…

I’ve also seen BMXers use the ‘snowflake’ pattern where the spokes are wrapped around each other several times, to pull them inwards and reduce risk of grind damage. Never found a good guide for laceing a snowflke though.

This wheel is laced incorrectly. 4-cross means that each spoke crosses four others on the way to the rim. For any crossing pattern, spokes should cross over the first n-1 spokes, and under the last spoke. I can’t imagine any real benefit to this spoke lacing, and there are several disadvantages.

He says it’s done intentionally that way (interlaced under third) because it apparently makes it less prone to damage when grinding on a BMX. I don’t know if that’s actually true, but that’s his reason.


I’m getting ready to build my first wheel (after helping out on the build of my new 36" wheel) and besides the Sheldon Brown tutorial I decided to pick up the book The Bicycle Wheel by Jobst Brandt. It includes not only the “what” to do but the “why” to do it. A very nice treatment of the subject.

oh and also, what i don’t understand is spoke length and what double butted means.

As far as selecting spoke length goes, you should find someone with the proper tools to measure it. I’v built a couple of wheels and it’s a real bummer when you get it all laced and half of your spokes are sticking out an inch from the rim. Now I’v never ordered any spokes from udc so I’m not sure how that would work. Usually I have to go to the bike shop and get them cut. Double butted spokes are just reinforced and the ends and slimmed out in the middle (to save weight). But the gains are minimal.

My only tip would be: Make sure all your nipples are threaded evenly before you start to tension. When your truing it, always tighten. ALWAYS! Don’t back off any nipples to try and even it out. Be patient, it’s easier then you think.

Double butted spokes are not only lighter but tend to last a longer time before breaking. The center part stretches more on impact so the wheel is not as stiff laterally as a wheel built with strait gage spokes but the spokes are less likely to fail at the bend (where spokes almost always fail).


This is mostly true when building your wheels but if you throw a wheel out of true from riding I would disagree completely. You should try to keep overall tension in a wheel to within a 10% variance (less if possible) and there is such thing as over tight.

If you are just planning on doing this to change the spokes, then the simple answer seems to be to take out a spoke and measure it, then order ones the same length.


The lateral strength of a wheel is based on the spoke tension and the hub flange diameter; whether the spokes are butted or not makes no difference.

Butted spokes stretch more under tension, so it may be that bad wheelbuilders don’t put enough tension into wheels with butted spokes, which would make the wheels more prone to lateral failure.

I don’t think it’s true that butted spokes are less likely to fail at the elbow; failures at the elbow are the result of fatigue cycles, which are largely a function of spoke tension and spoke line.

A 3 cross wheel: it crosses over one, over another, and under the last spoke, where the spoke gives the wheel strength. the spokes dont weave through each other like over, under, over, under. on a 4 cross wheel you would have over, over, over, under.

What makes the wheel strength:

  • number of spokes
  • flange to flange distance
  • flange diameter (circumstance), a bigger flange and the spokes will go wider out and spokes are shorter
  • 3 cross / 4 cross: Here it is much discussion.

4 cross:
*Is heavier (longer spokes)
*It can be difficult to change a broken spoke. If you have big nipples a spoke can hit a nipple because of the bright angle

A spoke has it best angle when it hit the tangential to the circumstance of the flange. I am not so god in English to describe it. But When the spoke go 90 degrees out from the circle of the flange it is strongest. If you compare a 36 spoke wheel 3 cross with a 4 cross it is very little difference of the tangential to the circumstance. A 4 cross has maybe a better angle out of the flange but longer spokes and maybe hit a nipple on its way. It is the spoke cross nearest to the rim that gives the wheel strenth. It is also not much difference where the cross spoke is on a 3 cross compared to a 4 cross.

*At last it is the wheelbuilder that is the most important. :slight_smile:

A bigger flange also get a longer weight arm for the spoke to the hub (more power), you also get a better angle of the spoke on a 3 cross wheel with big flange than a 3 cross wheel with small flange.

Yes, that’s the normal way, but the writer of the tutorial linked to says he built his wheel interlaced under the third spoke (over, over, under, over) because he believes it makes the wheel less prone to damage when grinding. He’s still only going under one spoke, it’s just the third one instead of the fourth. Strange, but not a mistake - he did it for a reason that he explained in his tutorial.