3 CROSS WHEEL LACING TUTORIAL
This tutorial will show you how to remove all of the spokes in a wheel and then reinstall them in the common 3-cross lacing pattern. This tutorial will also demonstrate some of the techniques used to true the wheel after it has been put back together. To follow along, you will need a wheel of any diameter with 36 spokes and a sharp flat head screwdriver.
The 3-cross lacing pattern is the most commonly used wheel lacing pattern, and it will yield a strong wheel that will work well on both a 2 wheel cycle as well as a trike or quadcycle. Building a wheel from scratch is not a difficult job; it just requires some careful counting and patience. Your first try may take several hours, but once you memorize the lacing pattern, you will be able to build up your own wheels in less than an hour from start to finish. Learning to lace your own wheels is both cost effective and fun, so grab a wheel, lean back, and enjoy this tutorial.
The bicycle hub consists of a central axle, 2 bearing cups, a set of ball bearings, and 2 discs called the hub flanges (A). The number of spokes are divided equally between both flanges so that a 36 spoke wheel will have flanges that contain 18 holes each. On each flange, spokes are installed in alternate directions so that the spoke head is either facing you (B) or facing away from you (C). To install a spoke so that the head is facing you (B), you push the spoke through the hole in the flange. To install a spoke so that the head is not facing you (C), you pull the spoke through the flange towards you.
Spokes are threaded at the ends so that the spoke nipples (A) can be threaded onto the spoke like a nut, tightening or loosening the tension on the spoke between the hub flange and the rim. The spoke nipples are slotted at the top so that they can be turned with a flat head screwdriver. Spoke nipples also have flat sides so they can be turned with a spoke wrench, but we will not be using this method in this tutorial. The valve hole (B) is the hole in the rim that allows the inner tube valve stem to fit into. This will be used as a reference point while working around the entire rim on each spoke.
Spokes are under a great deal of tension, so you need to remove them only a little bit at a time in order to avoid damaging the spokes and the rim. If you tried to remove only a few spokes right away, the neighboring spokes would have to deal with a lot of added tension, and may have their threads damaged or even snap tight off at the head. Another problem with removing the spokes unevenly is that the rim will become distorted. If this happens too much, it may be permanently bent. For these reasons, you must remove the spokes only a little at a time by turning each spoke nipple once in the counter clockwise rotation.
While working around the rim, always start at the valve hole on the first spoke and then work around the rim until you end at the valve hole on the last spoke. Loosen each spoke nipple one turn in the counter clockwise rotation, moving to the next spoke until you have ended up back at the valve hole where you begun. Loosening spokes this way will prevent your spokes or rim from being damaged. Work around the rim multiple times until all of the spoke nipples are loose enough to be turned by hand. At this point, there is no risk of warping the rim.
When the spoke nipples are loose enough to be turned by hand, place the rim over a bucket or large can so that you can easily work your way around the rim. At this point, you can take the spoke nipples completely out in any order as there is no risk of warping the rim or damaging spoke threads with very little tension on the spokes.
If you turn the spoke nipples using your fingers along the sides, then they can be removed in a few seconds. Spoke nipples are removed by turning them in the counter clockwise rotation until they are completely removed from the spoke threads. If some of the spoke threads have corroded slightly, then you will need to use your screwdriver to turn them the rest of the way out. Take note of badly rusted spokes or nipples as they should not be used again to build a wheel.
With all of the spoke nipples removed from the spoke threads, you can pull the hub away from the rim, leaving a huge mess of disorganized spokes sticking out of the hub in all directions. To quickly remove all of the spokes from the hub flanges, hold it upright and then let all of the spokes drop through the holes by setting them in the upright position. Once the first 18 spokes are removed, flip over the hub and drop out the next set of 18 spokes in the same way.
After the spokes have been removed from the hub, give it a cleaning and then inspect he hub flanges for any damage or small cracks. Do not use a hub that has a crack in the flange, even if it came from a working wheel. Also, take a close look at the holes in the hub flange. On some hubs, only every second hole is countersunk (chamfered) around the edge. If your hub is like this, then remember to place spoke heads into the counter sunk hole so that they seat into the hole. Most hubs have identical holes all the way around the flanges like this one.
You now have a completely disassembled wheel that you can use as a practice wheel to build your wheel lacing skills. If you intend to transplant this rim to a different hub, then make sure that the other hub has flanges of approximately the same diameter or your spokes may end up too short or too long.
When lacing a wheel, sit in a comfortable chair and place the rim on your lap so you can see what you are doing and can reach all of the spokes. This position also helps keep the spoke nipples seated into the rim holes as the weight of the hub will pull them downward evenly.
To complete the rear triangle, a set of seat stays need to be made. Once again, a regular bicycle frame has very short and thin tubing, so I used what was left of the 1 inch electrical conduit to make the two stays. These tubes form a triangle between the main frame tubing and the chain stays in order to make an extremely strong rear frame. Since I did not know the exact angles of the rear frame components at this time, the seat stays were made longer than necessary so they could be trimmed later when I was able to work outdoors and stand up the bike.
The first 9 spokes are easy to install; just place them through the hub into every second hole. Since there are 18 holes on each flange, you will end up with 9 spokes installed, each having a gap of one hole between them.
Since you are installing the first 9 spokes by pushing them through the holes, this means that the spoke heads will be visible, facing you on the side of the hub flange that you can see. If you have a hub that has every second hole countersunk, then these first 9 spokes go into those holes. Most hubs (like this one) have all holes drilled the same.
The key spoke is the first spoke you will install, and it will decide the "direction" and placement of all other spokes. Hold your rim up so that you are looking down at the valve hole. You will notice that the spoke holes are not running down the center of the rim, but instead, they are drilled slightly offset, with every other hole closer to one side of the rim. They key spoke hole is easy to locate; it is the hole right next to the valve hole that is closest to you. Depending on your rim, the key spoke hole may be on the right or on the left of the valve hole. On my rim, the key spoke hole (red arrow) happens to be on the left side of the valve hole.
The spokes must exit the hub flange at an angle, heading towards the right or left up to the rim. The direction of the spokes depends on the placement of your key spoke in relation to the valve hole. If the key spoke is on the left of the valve hole as it is with my rim, then the spokes will exit the hub flange towards the right. To see this, grab the hub and give it a counter clockwise twist until all of the spoke nipples have seated themselves into the rim holes. If your key spoke is to the right of the valve hole, then twist your hub in the clockwise rotation, which will make all of the spokes exit the hub flange in the left direction. The reason for this direction is to allow the most room for the inner tube valve stem between the spokes.
You will now locate the closest neighbor spoke, which will be the first of 3 spokes that this new one will cross. The neighbor spoke will be the one to the left if your key spoke is on the left as it is on the rim shown here. If your key spoke was installed to the right of the valve hole, then your neighbor spoke is the one just to the right of this new spoke. Since the 9 crossings spokes run at the opposite angle of the original set of 9 spokes, this makes sense.
The crossing spoke is installed in the opposite direction of the original 9 spokes. The crossing spoke will jump 9 holes from the neighbor spoke as shown here, being installed into the 10th hole from the neighbor spoke. So, now the crossing spoke will cross over 3 spokes, which is why this is called a 3-cross lacing pattern. Actually, the crossing spoke is barely crossing the first spoke, since it is so low on the hub flange, but it certainly does cross it.
The crossing spoke is laced under the last spoke is crosses, which is the spoke installed in hole eight when looking back at the previous photo. This lacing of the spokes adds strength to the entire wheel, and removes the gap that would have existed between the spokes. So, the crossing spoke jumps over 2 opposing spokes and is then laced under the 3rd.
This spoke is probably the most difficult one to get installed correctly, but once you have it, the rest of the wheel is easy on this side. So, to recap what was done: find the neighbor spoke, leave 9 empty holes, and then lace under the last crossed spoke to install into the 10th rim hole. There should be a gap of one rim hole between the new spoke and the 3rd crossing spoke. The 3rd crossing spoke is installed in hole eight, and the gap between them is shown as hole 9.
Once you have the first crossing spoke properly installed, the other 8 crossing spokes are easy. In fact, all sets of 9 spokes will have the same basic installation pattern with 1 hole between them on the flange and 3 holes between them on the rim. The only difference with these spokes is that they lace underneath the last opposing spoke the cross. Install the next crossing spoke by pulling it through the hub flange, 1 hole away from the other crossing spoke you just installed.
The entire tallbike came together in a hurry once the snow melted, and before long the time came to face up to my fears and actually try to ride the beast! I installed the pedals, seat, and a pair of cruiser handlebars and then oiled all the moving parts. There was a fairly large parking lot next door, so I decided it was a good day to defy gravity and see if my tallbike would actually be ridable. Before this, the tallest bike I made was only about 6 feet, and this one was almost twice as tall. I kept telling myself - "Dude, you have jumped from higher places, so just go for it!"
The other side of the rim is pretty much a duplicate of the first, but there will be a slight offset to the spokes on each side of the hub flange. To see this offset, place a spoke through one of the empty holes so that it is aligned along the axle tube. When the spoke strikes the other side of the flange, it will be sitting between two of the other spoke holes (shown as 2 white arrows). This flange offset makes sense when you think about the fact that these new spokes end up in the rim to the right or left of the original spokes.
Place a new spoke through any hole on the flange so that the spoke head is facing you, just like you did on the very first set of spokes. Now, pull the spoke up to the rim so that it is directly in line with the matching spoke directly across from it on the opposite side of the flange. There are actually two possible matching spokes on the other side of the flange as shown by the arrows. The direction of the spokes will determine which hole this new spoke must be installed in the rim. If your spokes are angled towards the left (as they are here), then you will install this new spoke into the hole directly to the right of the matching spoke. The opposite is true for spokes angled towards the right. The reason why this is important is shown in the next few photos.
My new spoke is installed just to the right of the matching spoke on the opposite side of the flange because my spokes are angled towards the left as the exit the flange. If your spokes are angled towards the right, then your matching spoke would be on the other side of the new spoke. The goal here is to not allow the new spoke to cross over the matching spoke as viewed directly from the side of the rim. The next photo shows this clearly.
The new spoke is shown in green and it is just to the right of the matching spoke shown in red. If I chose the wrong matching spoke, then my new spoke would cross over the matching spoke at near the hub flange. This is an easy part of the wheel build to mess up because the remainder of your spokes will seem to fit ok until the very end and then all of a sudden seem too short. So, basically you are accounting for the hub flange offset by offsetting the spoke in the rim in the same direction. Trust me, this will make a lot more sense once you mess it up once or twice!
Once you have the first spoke installed on this side of the hub, the other 8 will be easy since they use the same pattern as before. Spokes will have a gap of one hole on the hub flange and a gap of 3 holes between them on the rim. From here, the rest is easy because you have done the same work on the other side of the wheel. The highlighted spokes show the new set of 9 spokes installed on this side of the wheel with their heads facing you on the flange.
You don't have to bother counting 9 rim holes like you did on the last set of crossing spokes on the other side of the wheel because it will be obvious where these ones install in the rim. Having only 9 holes left in the rim, these new spokes will only reach one hole properly, so just find this hole and then lace under the spoke on this side of the rim that is one hole away from the landing hole. In this photo, the rounded arrow shows the spoke I will lace underneath and the straight arrow shows the landing hole. I cannot place the new spoke in any other hole on the rim properly.
At this point, you really have to flex the crossing spokes to get them underneath that 3rd crossing spoke. To avoid scratching your rim while you build the wheel, place your finger over the top of the spoke threads so it won't scrape along the rim surface. Don't worry if you bend the spokes a bit; they will straighten right out when you are truing the wheel. Add the other 8 crossing spokes until you have all 36 spokes installed in the wheel.
Congratulations, you have built a wheel! Now, you either have what looks to be a proper 36 spoke 3-cross wheel, or some odd variation that requires spokes to be removed and reinstalled. If you find it next to impossible to get the last few spokes installed because they seem too short, then you messed up on the placement of the 19th spoke (the first one on the other side of the rim). A miscount of hole spacing will also lead you into trouble on the last wave of spokes, but no big deal - just remove them and fix the problem until you have completed your wheel. It does take practice like all things.
Truing a wheel is another job that anyone with patience can do. The concept is very simple, but the effort and time will be quite involved. Start by giving each spoke nipple four turns in the clockwise rotation, working your way around the rim starting at the valve hole. Keep working around the entire rim until you can no longer tighten the spoke nipples by hand.
Go ahead and give your rim a spin to see how far out of true it is now. Most likely, your rim will by jumping up and down and swaying from side to side as far as an inch off center. You will now begin the tedious job of tensioning all of the spokes in order to bring the rim into perfect alignment with the hub's center. You will need your flat head screwdriver now.
To help straighten out some of the spokes that were bent during the lacing, grab them in clusters with your hands and squeeze them together, working around the entre rim. After you have done this on both sides of the rim, try to tighten the spoke nipples by hand one more time until they will no longer turn.
Starting at the valve hole, give each spoke nipple one complete turn in the clockwise rotation using your flat head screw driver. Working around the rim in this manner helps keep the spoke tension even in all of the spokes. This won't work perfectly though, as there are small variations in the spokes and the way they are laced together.
When you start working with the screwdriver, you will need some kind of truing stand to hold the wheel by the axle. I just use a pair of forks placed in a vice. The truing stand gives you a fixed reference point to look at when spinning the rim in order to determine which way it needs to be aligned.
Hold your finger against the fork leg while the rim is spinning in order to determine which way the rim needs to move. The largest deflection is the point where you want to make adjustments, so as the rim hits your finger, it will eventually stop where it has deflected the most. You can also tape an object to the fork leg as a reference. A toothpick works well for this.
Although truing a rim may be a time consuming job, it is a very simple job. To align the rim to one side, tighten the spokes on that side of the rim. Here I am trying to adjust my rim slightly to the left, so I will give the spoke nipples on the lefts side spokes a half turn. I like to work with three spokes at a time so that one single spoke is not over tightened. Work only with half turns when you are fine tuning the rim, and re-check using the reference point each time you make an adjustment. Also, take note of the rim as it bounces up and down from the reference point, as well as from side-to-side. If the rim is bouncing away from the hub center, then you need to tighten the spokes on that side to bring it closer to the center.
Rim truing may take several hours when you are first learning the art, so take your time and use your reference point to check your work after each adjustment. If you find that some of the spokes getting too tight while others are still slack, you will have to loosen them and work backwards a bit. With some careful adjustment of the spokes, you should be able to get your rim running true enough so that you cannot notice any waiver as you spin the rim. If you are not sure how tight the spokes should be, then check a completed wheel for a reference.
Wheel building can be fun, rewarding, and a little frustrating at times, but with some practice you will be able to put a complete wheel together in under an hour without referring to a tutorial. With your new wheel building skills, you can build your own DIY bikes and trike on a minimal budget, and best of all you can brag to others that you did it all yourself.
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