Wheelbuilding Tutorial–Part 1: Prep and Parts

This tutorial describes how to build a bike wheel, aimed at the novice wanting to build their first wheelset. The tutorial is broken down into the following:

The method has been adapted from Jason at Back Alley Bikes.

Part 1: Prep and Parts

To build a wheel, you will need some basic tools. The right tools can be a bit of an investment but if you plan on building several wheelsets, with each one saving ~$500, then the investment can be worth it. Plus, by building your own wheels, you can get the exact components you want. Plus it’s cool and fun! So here’s equipment list:

In the picture below are some of the small tools you’ll need:


  • A–Nipple driver (e.g. Park Driver)
  • B–Mulfinger Nipple Loader, homemade from a spoke (ground down to a point) or you can buy a fancy one here.
  • C–Nipple driver bit, a former phillips head bit ground down flat; put into a drill and insert tip into a nipple for screwing on the nipple (faster than A)
  • D–Spoke Wrench that fits your nipples (This one is the best, nice wide spades, heavy duty)
  • Spoke prep (not shown; see here)–this stuff comes in two colors for prepping your drive-side and non-drive-side spokes and then being able to tell them apart when they fall on the floor and get mixed up!

For this project, I am building up a set of MTB wheels, using Velocity Blunt 35 29″ rims and Hope front and rear hubs, 32 holes for both. The first order of business is getting the spokes and nipples. For nipples, the choices are brass or aluminum, the latter being lighter but less robust. You can also choose a color. For this project, I’m using silver-colored brass since weight is not an issue and I want this wheelset to be bombproof.

For the spokes, I’m using DT Swiss, black. For the spoke length, you’ll need  1) the flange diameter (diameter between opposite holes on the flange) aka pitch circle diameter (PCD), 2) the  offset distance of the flanges from the center of the hub of the hubs and 3) the effective rim diameter (ERD).

Hub Dimensions (mm)

Front Hub Rear Hub
Left PCD 56 56
Right PCD  54 54
Left Offset  20 33
Right Offset  33 20

Rim ERD: 596 mm

There are many spoke calculators but I like this is one because it is visual and it has an extensive database of hubs and rims. With a site like this, you can choose the hubs and rims from their database and it fills in the numbers. Note: These can be off slightly so double check with the manufacturer’s site. In my case, the ERD was off several mm as were the offsets.

A quick lesson in hub dimensions

The terms and nomenclature for hubs can be confusing. Here’s a quick guide.


The spacing of the frame dropouts or the fork where the hub sits is the OLD (Over Locknut Distance). For the MTB hub here, that’s 135mm. The left and right offset (WL and WR) are the distance from the center of the hub to the flange. Since this is hard to measure (where is the center?),  the manufacturer often gives those dimensions (see table above). Some spoke calculators use flange offsets directly whereas others use A and B. You can calculate A and B or measure them from the locknut face to the center of the flange (the measurements don’t have to super accurate; to the nearest mm). So for our Hope hub, the OLD is 135 mm. Half of that is 67.5. Subtracting the left and right offset gives us A and B which are used below.


This tells me I need 290 mm spokes. The good news is that I don’t need two different length spokes which means a) I don’t have to keep them separate during lacing and b) I only have to carry one  size spare spoke for long trips.

Next up: Lacing the wheel

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