One of the most enjoyable aspects of running RBR is the chance to shoot the breeze via email about all things cycling with fellow roadies – to swap knowledge and opinions, to share stories and learn new things. To help them, and for them to help me, learn more about our shared passion. That’s really what RBR is about, in a nutshell, on a grander scale.
One on one, though, I’ve struck up email correspondences with several readers whom I now count as friends, and I’m occasionally blown away by how much expertise they have. One such friend, I recently learned, is an expert home wheel builder who’s been honing his craft for over 50 years.
I immediately asked Mike Tierney if he would like to join our little cadre of contributors to share his vast knowledge with all of RBR’s readers. Wheel building, and wheel maintenance, can sometimes seem like a dark art, and to have a passionate expert at hand to help demystify another key aspect of road cycling – well, how could I not ask?
And Mike was just as willing to accept my invitation as I was eager to have him on board. So, starting today, we’re launching a new column, The Wheel Builder. Mike will regularly address various aspects of wheel building, and wheel maintenance. He’ll also gladly take your questions and address some of them in future columns. I’ll turn it over to Mike now to introduce himself. I couldn’t be more pleased to have him as a contributor. – John Marsh
I’ve been given the honor of sharing with my fellow RBR readers knowledge about my biggest passion in cycling, next to riding – home wheel maintenance and wheel building.
As it says in my bio, I have been building and working on my own wheels for over half a century. In those pre-Internet decades there were no written guides to the mechanics of wheels; you either let the local bike shop fix your wheels, learned from the local mystical wheel Guru, or you taught yourself.
In Deep at Age 14
I was in the latter camp. At age 14 I jumped in at the deep end, buying the wheel parts that the local pro riders were using and, copying another wheel, I built my first wheelset. There were no pre-built wheelsets back then. Everything was hand-built.
Surprisingly, that first wheelset performed perfectly well. Those wheels allowed me to ride over almost all of my native northern England and enter my first races.
The world of wheel building has come a long way since then. We now have almost unlimited access to information via the Internet, and we have real engineers and wheel experts who write hard copy and e-books on the subject. Home wheel tinkering has never been as easy as it is now.
Since I discovered the Internet and its treasure-trove of wheel building knowledge, the whole subject has become a passion with me — one that grew steadily into my drive to motivate and help others to maintain and build their own wheels at home.
I knew that anyone could build a bicycle wheel if they were given information and provided with a very short list of necessary tools and equipment. (A rundown of those tools and equipment, by the way, will be the topic of a column in the near future.)
This all came to a head about a decade ago when I set up my website, MikeTechInfo.com. Since then, with the site’s help, hundreds of people have taken their first tentative steps in the realm of wheel building and wheel maintenance.
I am not a professional wheel builder and never have been. I’ve built LOTS of wheels for friends over the decades but have yet to get paid even 1 cent for any of them. And this was my choice. (I think I got a bottle of wine once but I refuse to charge money, as that would make it into a more of a job and less of a passion.)
It’s Not the Black Arts Many Think!
I have found that most cyclists just need a little reassurance that wheel building and maintenance is doable; it isn’t the black arts that they thought it was! Most just need the push, the support, the encouragement. I’m here to offer all of those, and more. In short, I’m thrilled to have the forum of RBR to share my passion with this group of dedicated roadies.
In future The Wheel Builder columns, we will look at wheel components and selection, necessary (and unnecessary) tools and other supplies, and simple techniques that can help make ordinary wheels into finely-tuned race-quality wheels.
We will also discuss topics pulled from your email suggestions and questions (see my email address, below). And we’ll look at minimalist wheel building — where just a frame and fork, a spoke wrench and some lube are all that is needed. Plus, we will look at the equipment that the pros use, and the pros and cons of both extremes.
We sincerely hope that at a minimum this column will leave you feeling comfortable with evaluating and maintaining your own wheels – and maybe even building your own wheels, too.
Let’s get rollin’!
Mike Tierney writes The Wheel Builder column for RBR. Read his full bio. He is a life-long cyclist from the UK who has spent most of his adult life in Canada. Mike has been a passionate home wheel builder for the past 52 years and specializes in taking the mystery out of wheels and wheel building for Newbies. Hundreds of cyclists have built their first wheels with online help from his wheel building website, MikeTechInfo.com. Send your questions about wheel building and wheel maintenance to Mike at [email protected].