Build Methods - Part 1

As a wheel builder, I have been told many times by people that what we builders do is a "dark art" in the bicycle industry. It's an amusing description for the task but is by no means dark, mysterious or particularly artistic. It can certainly be creative but, like anything else, it's just a matter of knowledge, patience, attention to detail and repetition.

In this segment I am going to provide my initial methods for starting a build.


It is imperative to have an understanding of your customer. What is their riding style? How tall? How much do they weigh? Do they have any specific goals for the season? Are they looking for a particular ride quality? What conditions do they ride in?

The interview process can be long or it can be simple and clear-cut. Knowing specific factors involving the build will allow you to guide and inform your customer and establish trust.

Knowledge- it goes both ways. Knowledge of the components involved for each specific build is important for the builder. Knowledge of the maintenance involved is important for the customer. How will these component choices best serve your customer? Is your customer informed about maintenance to protect their investment? Will they provide honest and constructive feedback after getting time on their wheels? About their overall experience? How can you best support your customer when it comes to maintenance? Will you keep an open line of communication until the product is delivered?

Parts Are In! Time to Measure

Listed product specs are a slippery convenience. While most builders have had to rely on listed specs for certain builds it is always best to measure. Why? Because specs change from time to time. Some specs listed involve a little extra work. Maybe there was a change in design and the manufacturer forgot to update their information. For time's sake, I will not go into how, as there are already many resources and different/preferred methods out there. If you send me a message, I could give some insight into my process.

My measuring tools. Homemade "rim rods" for internal nipples (black spokes) and standard rims (silver spokes). Calipers are important for measuring hub dimensions.

Measuring the ERD of a rim in more than 1 spot is important. I have gotten rims that are scarily out of round, not worth building up. I like doing 4 measurements around the rim, averaging them and using that for my ERD.

I then do my hub measurements twice to be 100%. I have had hubs from different runs with slightly different specs, so sometimes you can't always rely on your own recorded specs!

I punch in the numbers to Damon Rinard's Excel calculator. It provides consistent numbers and let's you know the bracing angle and tension differential. A very handy tool!


At this point I use my Morizumi spoke machine to cut and roll my spokes to the measurements I need. It's good to do a test spoke every now and again to be sure the measuring guide where the spoke hangs hasn't changed.

If you're ordering spokes, it's important to know that different brands have different measurements. Some brands measure on the dot, some a little short and some a little long. Nipple brands also affect calculation. DT Swiss 14mm nipples require subtracting 1mm from your spoke length. Sometimes batch runs can have small variations in length. Ask your supplier/retailer what they recommend.

Hopefully this information in part 1 provides some thought or consideration into what goes into starting a wheel build. Part 2 will go into some of the more intricate steps of the actual build process.