Index Home About Blog
From: (Jobst Brandt)
Subject: Re: Machine built wheels
Date: 13 Nov 1999 21:11:19 GMT

Daniel Bucknell writes:

> I hear about machine built vs hand built wheels, what exactly does
> machine built mean when referring to bicycle wheels, ie. what part
> is actually done by machine ?

Hub spoke loading, lacing (with some manual aid), and tensioning and
truing.  The wheel is ridable when it comes out of the lacing machine
but isn't properly tight or centered and trued.

If you build your own wheels the reason for sloppy machine built
wheels becomes obvious.  It is the same as the reason for sloppy
hand built wheels.  Rims are fairly true when made, better than many
finished wheels, and machines are good at maintaining this until the
spokes become tight enough to reshape the rim.  It is at this point
that judgment and skill or diligence of the machine or builder comes
into play... and the difference between a so-so wheel and one that is
strong and durable.

Asking the machine to give a tight and true wheel increases process
time far more than it does so for the manual builder but is still
faster than the hand builder.  The problem is that the machine is
expensive and has to be kept on a high productivity schedule to pay
for itself or... to increase its $productivity.  If the customer
doesn't know the difference (doesn't measure the tension) of incoming
wheels from the machine builder, there is no incentive for the machine
operator to set its tension higher than will get by.

Jobst Brandt      <>

Subject: Re: Factory vs. Hand-built wheels
Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2001 03:19:03 GMT

Matthew Temple writes:

> I've now read several threads which contain many statements of the
> sort that begins "Factory-built wheels are..." and "Hand-built
> wheels are..." and such statements always worry me.  Considering
> M. Schneider's recent thread concerning an upgrade for the rear
> wheel on his hybrid, surely he could find some factory-built wheel
> for far less than the cost of a hand-built wheel that would still be
> a significant upgrade and not be prone to excessive spoke breakage.

The problem that machine built wheels have is that the machines are a
large investments and to recover this investment in reasonable time,
the operator/owner must get maximum through-put.  Even at that,
allowing a machine to build a tight wheel is painful to watch, the
problem being twofold.

Rims are generally true, laterally and radially.  Tightening spokes up
to the point of making a reasonably ridable wheel does not disturb
this initial condition.  It was for these relatively loose wheels that
spoke locking lubricant were first devised, tight spokes having no
loosening trend.  If the machine goes to higher tension, the rim will
increasingly respond to spoke tension in both modes.  High spoke
tension (that makes a durable wheel) dictates alignment.  At this
stage, adjustments cause wheel changes that are less predictable
besides which spokes begin to twist so that there may be no adjustment
in the threads but only spoke twist.

In this regime, the machine begins to hunt and get into marginally
effective corrections although it can ultimately produce a true wheel.
Mass produced wheels, for this reason, often have insufficient tension
and spokes may have residual twist although even that can be
programmed to not occur.  As you can see, producing highly tensioned
wheels is not something one would choose with such a machine unless it
had excess capacity (a lull).

> And surely there are lousy wheel-builders in the world as well.
> Don't we want something akin to the "Consumer Reports" test of
> factory built wheels?  Whose wheels broke spokes?  Turned to potato
> chips?  etc?  Further, since so many posters to this excellent group
> seem to be 100% certain of their stands, what's a poor
> rider/commuter/consumer supposed to think on this question.

A durable wheel can be made from a machine built wheel if the time is
taken that the machine did not.  This entails tightening spokes,
balancing tension, and stress relieving.  With good materials there is
no reason to not buy a machine built wheel and give it finishing
touches.  On the other hand, it can be done from scratch easily by
following instructions in "the Bicycle Wheel".  Many who thought it
impossible, today build all their wheels.

> So, is there some reason a factory-built wheel can't be
> excellent?

Yes.  As I explained.  Besides, I have talked to Dutch makers of these
machines and found that they don't understand the concept of stress
relieving and believe only in seating spokes in the hub...  an
operation that fortunately nearly accomplishes the task.  The infinite
loop problem keeps these machines building mostly low tension wheels.

Jobst Brandt    <>

Subject: Re: Factory/machine built wheels
Message-ID: <sN4Ba.17566$>
Date: Wed, 28 May 2003 15:42:16 GMT

John Sergeant writes:

> How much of a "factory" or "machine-built" wheel is made by a
> machine, how is this done and how much is touched by human hands?

Think of it as you would a sewing machine that requires human
interaction while the sewing is done entirely by the machine, the
fabric being guided by hand.  The same is essentially what a wheel
lacing machine does.  There are two machines, a spoke lacing machine
and a tensioning and truing machine.  The latter operates without
human intervention.

The tensioning and truing machine is the culprit in the so-called
machine built wheels.  The tighter the spokes are made the dumber the
machine gets, as adjustments begins to enter spoke twist magnitude.
Ultimately the machine turns spoke nipples with no thread motion at
all, only spoke twist.  To avoid arriving at this time wasting
tension, the process is often stopped at lower tension.

I have talked to the Dutch companies BMD and Holland Mechanics, the
major manufacturers of wheel building machines.  Neither was willing
to discuss a solution to this and stress relieving problems because
they can't imagine anyone understanding anything that they don't know
about wheel truing machines.

Jobst Brandt
Palo Alto CA

Subject: Re: Factory/machine built wheels
Message-ID: <vpfBa.17808$>
Date: Thu, 29 May 2003 03:47:39 GMT

Kraig Willett writes:

>> I have talked to the Dutch companies BMD and Holland Mechanics, the
>> major manufacturers of wheel building machines.  Neither was
>> willing to discuss a solution to this and stress relieving problems
>> because they can't imagine anyone understanding anything that they
>> don't know about wheel truing machines.

> If I was a well known company that was the leader in the industry, I
> wouldn't want to talk to anyone about _technical_ matters -
> regardless of who they were.  I would make an exception, though, if
> the person I was talking to had signed a confidentiality waiver.

> The benefit/risk ratio is diminishingly small for the company
> involved to be discussing these issues with anyone (I imagine this
> is why Jobst sees so much "resistance" from the industry).  From the
> mfr perspective, I see the potential for a lawsuit - and the (US)
> courts have indeed seen them.

That is a scenario I have met with when talking to Shimano whose
response was different than that of the spoking machine people who,
even though they claim to have read my book, did not understand stress
relieving and therefore did not understand how to incorporate it into
their tensioning machine.  It's not that they didn't talk about it but
rather that their lack of understanding became apparent.  Spoke twist,
their main enemy, is easily solved but talking about it brought out
such a strong defense of the superiority of their machine that the
concept went right by them.

> I wouldn't look at it as being snubbed by a bunch of "idiots" - I
> would look at this situation as a company looking out (rightly so)
> for its best business interests.  Next time you would like to
> discuss something technical with them, Jobst, I would suggest
> mentioning that you would be willing to sign a confidentiality
> waiver.

The tone makes the melody and the tone was not intelligent discussion.

> If you were to sign that document, I imagine you might be treated
> differently.

That was not their concern.  The owner and chief engineer of BMD, who
came from Holland Mechanics, did not seem even slightly interested in
having me sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).  He didn't want to
know because it was something he didn't understand.

> The company that I work for strictly forbids technically
> related/"idea" discussions with anyone until the confidentiality
> waiver/NDA's (if it proceeds that far) are taken care of.

So do they all.  It is the same at Hewlett Packard and after first
contact with a purveyor of an interesting technical concept, it is
evaluated and an NDA is signed.  I have been in on these many times.

Jobst Brandt
Palo Alto CA

Subject: Re: Twist Resist (was Spoke Prep - cheap replacement)
Message-ID: <xL6ud.10557$>
Date: Fri, 10 Dec 2004 01:14:05 GMT

Terry Morse writes:

>> Just the same, oiling the threads before building is useful in two
>> ways.  It assists in tensioning for minimal spoke twist and it
>> prevents fine grit from washing into the interface on wet roads.

> Speaking of spoke windup, have you seen or used the Twist Resist
> tool?  It's mentioned on the American Classic website:


> It's a gripper tool that holds the spoke while the nipple is being
> tightened.  Seems it would be useful when building with very thin
> spokes.  Conceptually, it should eliminate the need to back-twist
> the nipple to take out the spoke windup.

Just looking at the picture makes me cringe.  Beside the cost, this
turns a one-handed job into a two-handed one, and doesn't even
guarantee no twist depending on how tight the gripper is applied.
Long ago, when building 24-spoke track wheels with 1.5-1.8mm spokes
(essentially Revolution), I tried holding spokes with pliers with
serrated jaws and discovered how hard it is to prevent twist.  Even
smooth tipped ViseGrip pliers didn't do the trick.

I found that unloading the spoke to be adjusted a better method, and
with a rigid truing stand this is easily done.  Since one usually
holds the wheel in position with the other hand, that hand can be used
to displace the rim toward the side from which the spoke approaches.
This is easily done without any any special maneuvers.  In contrast,
imagine how hard it would be to grip the spoke near the nipple with
Twist-resist and turn the nipple with a spoke wrench.

As I mentioned, this year at InterBike, an engineer from Holland
Mechanics wheel building machines called me over and asked me to tell
him once more about making machine built wheels as good as hand built
ones.  He wrote it down and said that this time they were going to do
something about it.  My suggestion was to include a pneumatic piston
that radially presses against the rim at the spoke being adjusted so
that its nipple can be turned freely regardless of tension.

Along with this, they must also devise a tensiometer that can tell
when the wheel is tight enough.  Spoke nipple torque is not a good
measure of tension.  That problem is of course as important as the
first.  This shows that after my yearly harangues about this, they
noticed they had a problem that customers knew about all along, that
their machine built wheels needed SpokePrep so to speak.

High tension is where it's at!

Jobst Brandt

Index Home About Blog