[Note: this is #5 in a series of 20 tips to be published during 2009.]
Most riders know their wheels by brand, color, and trueness. If that’s as deep as your insight goes, you’ll have a tough time becoming a wheel guru. The special feature of bicycle wheels is the wire spoke structure and the tension forces that inhabit it. Invisible to the eye, these forces give the wheel its remarkable strength and, when unbalanced, are responsible for most wheel issues.
While most builders accept the importance of tension, they do little to check it. Without monitoring tension a wheel’s most important asset remains invisible. Building and repairing wheels is a matter of deducing the situation and making the right corrections. Imagine trying to diagnose an illness with no more to go by than the most superficial symptom. You might resort to chanting and incense. Some of the wheel work I’ve seen consists of little more than superstition. Understandable, since tension (the soul of the wheel) remains invisible to many.
In order to effectively evaluate a wheel you need to see its tension. To measure every spoke is slow, awkward, and often inaccurate. What to do? The answer is simple, communicate with the wheel directly. I suggest two ways: Read more →