Who needs fishing or yoga or golf – when it comes to chilled-out antidotes to modern life, what could beat a day of wheelbuilding?
Wheelbuilding has a kind of mythic reputation. Anyone can change a brake pad. It takes a hardier type, tooled up and dedicated, to replace a crank. But to build your own wheel from a pile of raw ingredients is the ultimate badge of honour.
When a friend suggested joining him on a course offered by the Broken Spoke Bike Co-op, I said yes. In fact, I had already completed BSBC’s excellent external mechanics course and, as my friend didn’t quite fancy the internal mechanics just yet, we ended up eying the wheelbuilding course.
Building a bicycle wheel involves a hub, a rim and a bunch of spokes and nipples – usually 32 or 36 per wheel. You slot the spokes through holes around the edge of the hub, and attach the other end to the rim using a small metal nipple that pokes through the rim and screws onto the spoke. This is ‘lacing’ the wheel. It sounds like knitting with metal, some sort of diabolical, eye-poking, brain-fazing torture.
After the wheel is laced, you can begin to true it. Most of us have had a wheel trued after heavy use has bashed it out of shape. It sounds easy. A twist of a spoke here and a tweak there lengthens and shortens the threaded spokes, pushing and pulling the rim into shape.
My friend is a huge tech geek. I figured the focus and precision of wheelbuilding would appeal to him. He figured I’d like the bicycle’s contribution to Zen Buddhism as I’m such a bike geek.
We booked. Only later did it transpire neither of us really wanted to do it – we just thought the other did! It was that kind of course. We did it on Sunday. So how was it? I won’t lie – we loved it. The lacing was tricky but it was the truing that took all afternoon. We left the course more than proud of our slightly imperfect wheels, better than ‘bike shop-trued’ but not 100 per cent perfect. Truing, even with BSBC’s awesome £120 truing stands, was unbelievably painstaking.
But fun – I was lost for hours in a world of my own, turning spokes quarter turns clockwise here and half turns anti-clockwise there, trying to create the perfectly true wheel. Perhaps you’ll simply never get there but you should try, you really should. So who are the Broken Spoke Bike Co-op?
Set up last year, they want to encourage cycling in Oxford by enabling people to fix their bikes up themselves, and to know a little about how they work, say co-directors (and great teachers) Elle Smith and Cassiope Sydoriak. The workshop has been set up as a community resource, with drop-in use-the-facilities sessions as well as courses like the ones I did.
Not to mention film nights and other fun stuff. BSBC is great news for Oxford, where the bike culture sorely needs this fantastic city centre resource and BSBC’s enthusiasm and energy. It has just moved to the nascent Story Museum in Pembroke Street.
Any and every cyclist is invited to the launch party on Friday, March 1, 6–9pm. Go along and check out its space: you’re invited. See you there.