On a Wheelbuilding Roll

A nascent wheel.

A nascent wheel.

I don’t think there’s much reason for most cyclists to learn how to build a wheel. In general, new factory-made wheels are reasonably priced and not much (if any) money is saved in comparison if you have to buy a rim, hub and spokes for a build. In my case, I also have ready access to very affordable used wheels at Bikeworks, our local community bike shop, which gives me even less reason to build a wheel from scratch.

On the other hand, if you have an interest in bike maintenance, wheel building is a fun and satisfying skill in its own right. Also, if you are the frugal sort and have a stockpile of used rims, spokes and hubs salvaged from dead wheels, then building one can be quite economical. Finally, depending on what sort of bikes you find yourself riding there may not be suitable wheels readily available to purchase. For this, my 6th wheel build, all those factors were at play, most especially the last one – 16″ wheels with Sturmey Archer 3-speed hubs aren’t that common.

I had the rim and the hub. I didn’t have the right length of spoke for such a tiny wheel but I did have lots of salvaged straight gauge DT spokes. Since Bikeworks has a spoke threader, I thought I’d have a go at cutting the spokes to the right length and threading them myself.

Hozan Spoke Threader in action.

Hozan Spoke Threader in action.

I’ve never used this machine before, but online instructions made it seem simple enough. In practice it was a simple, though very tedious job. It was made more time consuming by the fact that the thread rolling heads seem to be somewhat worn. After cutting and threading the required 28 spokes, I was hoping that I had calculated the required length correctly, because if they turned out to be too short I might have have to sit down and have a good cry.

Almost a wheel!

Almost a wheel!

Happily, the wheel seems to have come together nicely. I still have to bring it back to the shop so I can dish and true it, but it looks like everything will work out.

Any readers who can correctly guess what sort of bike this wheel is going on will receive a real bicycle-related prize of dubious value, mailed in a more or less prompt fashion. You’ll need to identify at least the brand and also model or approximate era of the bike. People with a knowledge of the contents of my garage are prohibited from entering the contest. E-mail your answer to tuckamoredew at gmail dot com.


Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I’m the sort person that sometimes rides around with my commuting bike in much worse operating condition than I would recommend to anybody I was helping at Bikeworks to maintain their own machine. Maybe once a person has a certain familiarity with bike maintenance they know how to push components just to the edge of failure before replacing them. Or maybe my DNA would be a perfect source for scientists to finally identify the elusive procrastination gene. Either way, I have recently had a close call with a Just Riding Along sort of catastrophic bike failure. As in “Gosh, I don’t know what happened! I was just riding along when for no reason at all my rear wheel disintegrated into a twisted mass of spokes and rim fragments”.

A few weeks ago I had my winter bike in the stand for a little cleaning and lubrication, when I noticed that the rear wheel seemed to have a hairline crack running along a lengthy portion of the rim. If I noticed that with the bike of a patron at Bikeworks I would recommend that they replace the wheel at once, before riding it any further. In fact, I would be quite insistent. Of course, I did no such thing myself. Instead, I rode my bike to and from work over bumpy, rutted, icy winter roads while slowly getting around to building a new wheel (all the while conspicuously not keeping a close eye on how my old wheel was holding up).

When I finally completed and installed the new wheel, I took a close look at the now shudder-worthy failing wheel. There is a very good chance that even one more trip with the old wheel would have resulted in an “exciting” mechanical failure.

Some of it looked like this. . .

Some of it looked like this. . .


Cracked rim

And some of it looked like this.


So, don’t do that folks – it’s just stupid. Please replace your wheel promptly. Luckily, my story ended happily, with no accident, and a spiffy new rear wheel installed.

Replacement wheel contructed from ALL used components, built around a nice older Hope cartridge bearing hub (already getting dirty and earning its keep).

Replacement wheel constructed from all used components, built around a nice, older Hope cartridge bearing hub (already getting dirty and earning its keep).


Small-Wheeled Summer

Raleigh 20 Folding Bike

Summer has passed, leaves are falling and cool autumn weather has arrived. Rather than looking ahead to the approach of winter, I’m consoling myself by retreating into memories of this summer’s rides. Since I was a terrible blogger during those months, you can come along for the review.

I did pretty good job of showing all the bikes some attention (I love you ALL, my bikes. I really do). Today’s post looks at my late 70s Raleigh20 3-speed folding bike. The R20 is a really fun little city bike. It’s sturdy, maneuverable and (with the stock gearing) surprisingly fast. This year, I treated the bike to a set of MKS Lambda pedals that came in as a donation at BWN and rolled those 20″, 451 wheels through many kilometers.

Sheltering from a shower.

Sheltering from a shower.

The low height of the Pletscher rack on the R20 makes the bike stable even when carrying a fairly heavy load and I loaded it up on a number of shopping trips. The rack only has two supports, not as sturdy as most current racks, and it swayed a bit under the heaviest loads. I may have been skirting the edge of destructive testing on a few occasions.

That's more than 40 pounds of water - destined to become homebrew.

That’s more than 40 pounds of water – destined to become homebrew.

At the Downtown Farmer's Market with a heavy load of foodstuffs.

At the Downtown Farmer’s Market with a heavy load of foodstuffs.

Back in June, the R20 had as chance to spend an evening in the company of its peers. The Raving Bike Fiend organized a group ride on folding bikes and there were 4 people riding Raleigh 20s of assorted ages. In fact, as nobody at all showed up on a modern folding bike, it turned out to be a vintage bike ride as well. Raleigh 20 Folding Bike


Raleigh 20 Folding Bike


The whole group.

The whole group.

There were two 80s era Dahon V bikes, as well. I have one of these in the garage at home, but I rarely ride it.  Although they do fold up into a considerably small and tidy package, I was never fond of the ride quality and the general creakiness of the folding connections. The steering is twitchy enough that I was sometimes nervous to take one hand off the bars to signal a turn. By contrast, the R20 is very solid and feels much like a regular sized bike.

Dahon V Folding Bike

The RBF demonstrates the fold.

The RBF demonstrates the fold.

This is good advice, as if you do press this button the bike steering will be free to fold. In fact on two occasion, this happened to me while riding my Dahon V, without me even touching the button. Another reason I'm leery of these bikes.

This is good advice, as if you do press this button the bike steering will be free to fold. In fact on two occasion, this happened to me while riding my Dahon V, without me even touching the button. Another reason I’m leery of these bikes.

There were three other old folders, each with interesting features.

Evilleriders Portabike, converted to fixed gear and a veteran of more than one winters riding.

Evillerider’s Portabike, converted to fixed gear and a veteran of more than one winters riding.


Also from Evillerider's fleet,  this one with a two-speed kickback hub.

Also from Evillerider’s fleet, this one with a two-speed kickback hub.


This one has the best name. I forget where it was made. Eastern Europe?

This one has the best name. I forget where it was made. Eastern Europe?

My camera stopped working just after we started riding, so I don’t have any pics from then on. We cruised around the edge of the river valley, stopped at a pub for a beer (where the manager asked the RBF to remove his folded Dahon from the table), stopped at my favourite local playground in Borden Park where we enjoyed a spectacular sunset, and finally did a bit of parkade exploration downtown.

I’d say my R20 has no reason to complain of lack of attention this summer. We commuted and rode recreationally,  through fair weather and foul, by night and day. I will include one parting photo, taken on the soon-to-be-replaced downtown pedestrian bridge on the way home from a friend’s birthday party. In the instrument case is my resonator mandolin.

R20 and mandolin

Normal Programming Will Soon Be resumed


I’ve had little motivation to write or read blogs this summer, but I’ve been riding my bikes all the while – mostly commuting with a few recreational rides squeezed in. In the coming weeks I hope to catch up on my own blog as well as the activities of all my fine blogging correspondents. I hope you’ve all had a fine summer and have a great autumn to come. Here in Edmonton, we’ve already had dismayingly early snowfall on Sept. 8th.

Edmonton Night Cyclists

I apologize to my small readership for my month-long absence from this blog. While there has been no shortage of cycling activities, the non-bikey part of my life (It’s true – I do have one!) has been occupying the greatest part of my attention for several months now. Still, I’ve still been gathering material for the blog all the while.

I have been working on a truly harrowing bit of investigative journalism, a descent into the murky world of Edmonton’s urban nighttime cyclists. These enigmatic riders can be sometimes be spotted cruising the darkened city streets on a startling variety of light-bedecked bicycles, possibly with a music booming, laser light show beaming trailer in tow. Let me provide a necessarily incomplete glimpse into this shadowy society.

Having had some slight contact with a group of nocturnal riders last summer, I began preparations for this investigation during the past winter. My first action was to purchase a set of Monkey Lights to install on my bike. Although moderately pricey, they seemed to be an effective way for me to blend in with the group.


Nishiki-san at night.

Next, I made discreet inquiries into ways of contacting the night riders to find out when the events might be happening. My efforts lead me to an obscure corner of the internet where some of these people gather. Having made contact I waited patiently for a ride to be announced. Near the end of May, I had my first opportunity.

The trip departed from a certain south-side community bike shop. With a myriad of lights flashing, we glided down  Whyte Ave, accompanied by music blasting from the trailer towed by one of the ride’s ringleaders. Passersby seemed bemused by our presence and many shouted or whistled calls of encouragement. It’s fun to make an electronic spectacle of yourself.

Over the course of the night we bombed through a parkade (slaloming among concrete columns), cruised down the unlit river valley trails, and loitered about on the Fort Edmonton pedestrian bridge. There was worrying moment of excitement when two riders collided, sending both to the asphalt. One rider flew through the air, rolled, and came to his feet like an acrobat. Happily, neither cyclist was injured, although one front wheel was badly tacoed.

I also joined another ride last weekend, but was unable to photograpically document it due to a camera failure. Urban exploring was the order of the night, and several incomplete bits of the new LRT line were investigated.

As the opportunity presents, I will continue to update this blog with the results of my continuing investigations into what one of my informants has referred to as “harmless badassery”.

Again, The Fabulaous Light Bike.

Again, The Fabulous Light Bike.

The Parkade Summit

The Parkade Summit

The Light Cyclist's latest surprise from his trailer of wonders: a projector and Nintendo system beaming Tetris onto the parkade wall.

The Light Cyclist’s latest surprise from his trailer of wonders: a projector and Nintendo system beaming Tetris onto the parkade wall.

I've concealed the identities of the riders.

I’ve concealed the identities of the riders.