Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The beauty of the wheel.

There's something about bicycles that is more spiritual than mechanical. On the face of it, bikes are just machines - but what wonderful and efficient machines they are. It's something more people are beginning to appreciate as petrol prices bite. There's something special about these assemblages of steel tube and rubber and cable and wire that warms the soul of the enthusiast. They're a combination of transport, excerise, fun and style that adds up to a whole lot more than the mere sum of its parts.

For me, building a bicycle wheel is the perfect example of this. You start out with a hub, a hoop and a bunch of spokes. Slowly you weave a pattern which can carry many times its own weight, faithfully for year upon year. A well built wheel is a thing of great beauty and strength and a joy to own.

I rebuilt an old road wheel last night, a traditional 36 hole road racing wheel from the 80's with a Campagnolo hub, a spin-on six speed cluster and a tubular tyre. The flimsy aero spokes have been breaking, and I need it for a 150km ride this weekend, so I'm rebuilding it with straight-gauge stainless steel.

I've build about a dozen wheels for various bikes in the last few years and they've all turned out really well. The trick is taking your time and working methodically. There's a moment in the process when it all comes together - a complex equation of spoke length, lacing and tension - and the wheel all but tells you that you've got it right. As you bring the spokes to full tension, the wheel comes up straight and true and round, an endlessly beautiful and useful piece of hand-made sculpture. Building a bicycle wheel is a tremendously satisfying way of spending an evening.
3,797km so far this year.

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