Wheel building and truing can be a therapeutic and rewarding task,. From just re truing a wheel, changing out a broken spoke, swapping a hub or rim to building a wheel from scratch. The process uses the same skills.
Truing a wheel is just a matter of adjusting spoke tension to pull the rim in the direction required. That being said releasing tension from a spoke pulling the rim the wrong way can be as beneficial as adding tension to pull the rim, it is important to maintain equal spoke tension throughout the wheel. in fact spoke tension is more important than the wheel being true 1-2mm out of true with even spoke tension is better than perfect truness with uneven spoke tension.
I find the hardest part of building a wheel is actually finding spokes or more specifically finding the correct length spokes. Talking of spoke length DT swiss have a handy spoke length calculator. This is useful for when you build a new wheel or change the hub or rim and don't have a spoke to measure as you would in a rebuild.
When it comes to choosing rims,hubs,spokes and nipples, it's a personal choice based on budget and requirements. My personal thoughts on spokes and nipples are that while black spokes look nice, the finish is easily damaged. The same goes for black nipples, which I find get scratched up just installing them. Let's not even start on ali nipples, unless you ride somewhere totally dry with no road salt, don't even think about it. The galvanic reaction between the the spoke and nipple eats ali nipples in no time and you'll be replacing them. So unless weight is key and you are fastidious at looking after your bikes stick with brass.
There are several lacing options that you can apply to your wheel depending on use, three cross, two cross and radial. Mountain biking tend towards three cross whereas road tends to be two cross, radial tends to be more high end wheel builds. Spokes come in J-Bend and straight pull which ones you use will depend on the hub that you use, J-Bend do tend to be the most common.
- Rim tape
- Remove tyre, rim tape and valve / inner tube. This may not be necessary if you are just replacing a spoke and the nipple is still through the rim, if you are replacing the rim or the nipples then this a definite.
- Remove spoke, depending on what level of rebuild you are doing will change how you remove the spoke. It is possible to replace a spoke on a complete wheel just buy unscrewing the nipple. If the spoke is broken you might need to bend it to allow it to be held to unscrew the nipple. If the nipple has seized to the spoke, this is often the case with Ali nipples, you might need to cut the spoke. Be careful when doing this as a spoke under tension can fired off with some speed. remove the spoke from the hub, if you are replacing spokes with the rim tape on be careful not to let the nipple drop into the rim.
- Replace Spoke, if you are replacing the spokes with the existing nipples and the type attached, you will need to be careful not to lose the nipple into the rim. Carefully thread the nipple onto the spoke ensuring there are some threads engaged before letting go, you will need to bend the spoke a little to do this. If you are replacing the nipple as well use a nipple driver to screw the nipple on to the spoke.
- True wheel, when you have replaced all the spokes you a re going to it's time to get the wheel running true. This is easiest if you have a wheel truing stand but you can do it without, using your frame / fork. Truing a wheel takes time, remember that you can both tighten and loosen spokes to pull the rim towards true also that several spokes contribute a an area of trueness. Spoke tension is equally important if not more so and having a consistent tension round the wheel is important. Tension can be measured with a gauge, or judged by squeezing spokes.
- Tape rim, carefully apply rim tape to the rim, ensure that if you are running tubeless that there is good adhesion and no wrinkles.
- Insert valve, if you have retaped the rim you will need to make a new hole for the valve, again this needs be done carefully for tubeless set up. The best way I have found is to use something pointy I use a pick to make the initial hole, the push the valve through so that the valve is a snug fit in the hole.
Whilst you can strive to achieve a perfectly true wheel this isn't necessarily achievable and to be fair within 1-2mm is acceptable for me, especially when running disc brakes.
Ali nipples might save a gram or two but when combine with stainless steel spokes in UK winters they can be susceptible to galvanic corrosion.