Wheel Building Tips

Need a custom bike wheel?

Why is it such a pain to find a decent set of wheels around here!?

If you're as frustrated and exhausted as I am from staring at your computer screen praying that your shiny - perfect - new wheel will magically pop up in a google ad, then you've come to the right place.

After searching for almost six months, I finally gave up and found an affordable way to get my perfect wheel custom built.

Let's talk about ways to get your hands on some custom bike wheels.

I'm really excited right now because I just picked up my new 3 speed wheel. I chose the Shimano Nexus 3 internal geared hub mostly because I need something strong and low maintenance that can reliably handle the Bafang Ultra mid drive motor. This thing is a Beast! The Nexus 3 is known to be one of the sturdiest internal geared hubs. It's also surprising small and pretty light for and IGH. I searched for months and for the life of me - could not find this thing on a 24" rim.

You've probably already looked around for factory built wheel options, but if cost is a priority you should search again because they'll likely be cheaper and much easier than buying custom.

Whether you're here because you want to build a hub motor bike or convert your mid drive to an IGH - let us know what you're working on - maybe we can help.

In the meantime, here's what you can do to get that perfect - custom wheel;

First check your frame's dropout type and measure your dropout spacing. For an IGH or single speed you'll need a horizontal dropout. Sometimes it's possible to use a semi vertical dropout, but that usually means you need to add an additional chain tensioner. To measure the frame spacing you just remove the rear wheel and measure the distance from the inside of one dropout to the inside of the other.

The important thing here is to make sure that your frame dropout spacing matches the new hubs over locknut distance (O.L.D.). The Nexus 3 O.L.D. is 135 mm which is a pretty common standard, but it's always a good idea to measure your frame first. I designed the frame on this bike specifically to fit this hub.

Think good and hard about whether you want to try building the wheel yourself vs. commissioning a pro.

There are plenty of bike wheel builders that will give you a slew of options and ship you a fully built wheel. This includes measuring the rim and hub, calculating spoke length, ordering or cutting spokes - then lacing, adjusting, tensioning, truing, torsioning, seating and stress relieving those spokes on the rim. It's a lot more work than it seems and doing it right is a bit of an art.

Those online custom wheel builders might not offer the specific hub or rim you want though, so you might have to gather the components yourself. You can also try to save a few bucks by lacing the wheel then bringing it to a pro for the final touches. The builders I spoke to preferred not to do it this way in case I messed up the spoke sizing or lacing. They said they wouldn't be able to warranty the wheel or spokes if one breaks.

Before you order your hub and rim - double check for matching hole counts. Most rims and hubs have 36 holes, but the Nexus 3 U.S. disc brake version only has 32 holes which made finding a matching 32 hole rim with machined sidewalls even more difficult.

I wound up ordering the Nexus 3 hub and a complete 24" wheelset through Amazon, then disassembled the rear wheel and dropped off the rim, hub, and nipples to my local wheel builder. In case you're looking for a similar wheel, here are the Amazon links:

Fortunately for me, the owner over at Brooklyn Bike Doctor recently relocated here to Austin.

He's a pro - he's been building all kinds of bike wheels for over 25 years and does really good work at affordable rates - so if you're looking for an expert wheel builder or bike mechanic I highly recommend checking him out at brooklynbikedoctor.com or on Facebook. He also has a spoke torque wrench and can build motorcycle grade hub motor wheels using 10 gauge spokes.

For my wheel he charged me 60 bucks for the build labor and 17 for 32 stainless steel spokes. One of the local bike shops I called wanted 150 dollars just for the build labor, not including spokes or anything! He also made quick work of it - I dropped off the rim, hub and nipples in the afternoon and picked up a fully built wheel the next morning.

If you do decide to try lacing the wheel yourself, here are a few links to wheelbuilding resources and spoke length calculators:

Out of curiosity, I tried two spoke calculators.

One said 230 mm and the other said 232 mm. If I tried the DIY route I would have ordered the 231 mm spokes. It turns out the bike doctor decided to cut them to 229 mm, so the 231's would have fit just fine.

I've been speed and range testing this eBike with a high gear single speed setup since last summer. Although I love the simplicity of single speed bikes, this 3 speed hub should not only increase top speed and energy efficiency, but should also help make life much easier on the motor and reduce heat.

We'll be publishing more videos about this wheel and the DIY Bafang Ultra mid drive eBike soon - so make sure you subscribe for notification.