I ride bikes, which means I sometimes need to replace my wheels. Because hand-built wheels last longer than machine built wheels and because I’m a geek and a cheap one at that, I have built most of them myself. Usually it’s a straightforward and pleasantly predictable chore.

Then there was the time I fell victim to the School of Complication (S of C). You see, I had taken a rim and hub to the bike shop and asked them sell me the correct length of spokes so I could build up the wheel. On geared bikes, rear wheels are flatter on the drive side than on the non-drive side, to allow room for the cog. It’s called dish. To make a wheel dish properly you use shorter spokes on that side. Until my run-in with the S of C, I had never struggled with dish because if you start with spokes of the correct length and tension them evenly on both sides, the wheel will dish itself as you build it.

Not this time. Using the spokes they had sold me, I built up the wheel, but as I was finishing it up, the drive side would not dish. I checked my work, and it was all solid. Hmmm … Thinking that I could work around slightly wrong-sized spokes, I tensioned the drive side as much as I could without having the spoke threads poke through the nipples (heheh – she said nipples) and still, it would not dish.

So, grumbling the whole way, I took the wheel back to the shop, explained the problem and told them that I needed spokes of the correct length. The kid behind the counter insisted that I just needed to approach the build in a more nuanced fashion. I countered that, according to the laws of physics and mathematics, it’s possible to build a wheel and have it dish up with zero application of black magic, or other mystical forces. He insisted that I simply didn’t know how to build a wheel and that it is supposed to be more complicated than I was making it. See, S of C!

Resisting the urge to tell him to pull up his pants and learn some respect for his elders, I countered that I had built numerous wheels and had never found it that complicated. I thought about pointing out that maybe the complexity he was experiencing was more a function of his intellect than any inherent difficulty in the task, but I finally settled for handing the wheel over to him so he could see for himself that it was a hopeless case and needed shorter spokes on the drive side.

He insisted that with his (completely unnecessary and misnamed) dark-arts wheel building skills he would be able to dish it with the existing spokes. Tune in next week to see how this little story turns out, and to learn about another simple joy – cold brewed coffee.

Posted by lesherjennifer

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