My PBP Bike: The Wheels

My PBP Bike: The Wheels

When I asked which part of my bike for last summer’s Paris-Brest-Paris our readers wanted to hear more about, the answer was: “Everything.” So I’m writing a series of posts about the parts of the bike. I’ve already talked about the frame and the centerpull brakes. Today let’s look at the wheels.

When thinking about the wheels for my new bike, I started with the tires I wanted to run, since everything follows from that. It was tempting to go with a really huge tire, like our 54 mm Rat Trap Pass. Our testing indicates that they don’t roll any slower, but there are other compromises when your tires get wider than about 44 mm. It’s harder to fit a rim brake around them. Fenders with good coverage start interfering with the chain. Really wide tires can be more sensitive to tire pressure, and their huge supple sidewalls tend to get deflected more on road cambers.

For a bike that gets ridden mostly on pavement, over huge distances and often at night, 42-44 mm-wide tires seem like the perfect compromise. From that followed that my new bike would have 650B wheels. Why not 700C? I like a nimble feel to my bike – not quite as eager to turn as a racing bike, but almost. Wider tires inevitably are heavier, so it makes sense to reduce the wheel size to keep the rotational inertia the same. With 700C x 42 mm tires, unless you mount them on superlight and super-expensive carbon rims, the bike tends to be too stable for my taste. It becomes too hard to change my line in mid-corner, for example, in a decreasing-radius turn or if a pothole suddenly appears in my path. Conversely, 26″ wheels will not hold their line in corners as well as I’d like.

The old myth that 700C wheels roll faster also has been disproven many times now. Whether it’s pavement or gravel, small variations in wheel size don’t affect how fast a wheel rolls. All that makes 650B the Goldilocks wheel size for 42 mm tires – just right.

Next I had to select my hubs. On the front, the choice was easy: The SON generator hubs have proven themselves over millions of miles. They have a clever pressure compensation system that keeps moisture out of the bearings – the main cause for the premature demise of lesser generator hubs. The Delux model has the least resistance of all generator hubs, and the Wide-Body puts the flanges as far outward as possible. That results in a stronger wheel, allowing me to use fewer and thinner spokes without getting too much deflection when I climb out of the saddle. I’ve found that 28 spokes are plenty on a rim brake front wheel (which has zero dish), as long as you run wide tires that cushion the blows on the wheel.

For the rear hub, I would have liked to use a modern hub, but I haven’t found one that I like. The hub bearings on my Firefly are rough after just 4,000 km (2,500 miles). Another popular brand on a test bike had the tiny 2.5 mm Allen that holds the bearing adjustment come loose – apparently a common issue. I know many riders have good experiences with these and other hubs, but I went with what has been working well for me on many bikes. I didn’t choose Maxi-Car hubs because they are ‘retro’ or ‘classic,’ but because they’ve been working so well for me.

Maxi-Car hubs go for decades without needing overhauls or adjustment. The bearings are protected by double labyrinth seals, so the grease doesn’t get contaminated. The axles are oversized, so they don’t break. The bad part is that they aren’t made any more, and they’re only available for freewheels. Fortunately, I was able to find a brand-new 13-26 Dura-Ace 7-speed freewheel to go with my hub, giving me plenty of gears.

I chose a 36-hole hub because only that model has keyhole spokeholes on the drive side. It’s a brilliant feature, allowing spoke replacement without pulling the freewheel/cassette. If a spoke breaks, you unscrew the old spoke, hook the head of the new spoke into the keyhole, and screw on the nipple. Replacing a spoke on the road takes less than 3 minutes. Admittedly, that’s less of an advantage these days, as spokes rarely break when you run wide tires that cushion the blows on the wheel, but still… Another nice feature: The spokes on both sides are the same length – if you look carefully, you can see that the keyholes don’t space the spokes evenly, but in a way that they are a tad longer than they’d usually be – making them the same length as on the non-drive side. Not having to carry two different spoke lengths is nice…

Thirty-six spokes is a lot – 32 would be sufficient. But there’s no real disadvantage to those extra four spokes: The rear wheel is in turbulent air anyhow, so the aerodynamics aren’t a big deal. And with less load on each spoke, I can use aluminum nipples, which more than makes up for the weight of the extra spokes.

Speaking of spokes, I used Sapim Laser spokes. These beauties are butted with 2.0 mm ends and super-thin 1.5 mm center sections. That means they stretch more, so they are less likely to go slack when I hit a bump, which can loosen a spoke and also fatigues them prematurely. Spokes are a perfect example where less material makes them last longer. At the ends, where spokes tend to break if they do, the Lasers measure a 2.0 mm, making them strong. And the 1.5 mm center sections also make the wheel more aerodynamic and less affected by cross-winds. Of course, they are little lighter, too. The only downside is that ultra-thin spokes tend to wind up more when you build the wheel. It’s not difficult to compensate for that: You turn the nipple a little further and then back off to unwind the spoke. You can feel how far the spoke has wound up – it’s very smooth since nothing is turning – and you stop backing off when you feel the spoke turning in the nipple.

Compared to the spokes I used in the past, Sapim spokes are super-nice. The butted ends are short, because they are made specially for each length, so you get the fullest advantage of the butting. The heads are perfectly formed, so these spokes are less likely to break. I never thought I’d get excited about spokes…

In the past, finding spokes in the right lengths required many phone calls, because no local shop has all lengths in stock. Rene Herse Cycles now stocks the spokes you need to build wheels with the generator hubs and rims we sell. I was lucky – one of the sizes we stock also works for my rear wheel.

For the rims, I chose Pacenti’s Brevet model. It’s the first ‘modern classic’ rim that isn’t suffering from cracking and/or overly deep wells.

I was also tempted by the HED Belgium Plus – they are a little lighter and maybe more aero – but they don’t come with 36 holes for my rear wheel. It’s nice to have two great 650B rim options.

I run Rene Herse Extralight tires on all my bikes for their speed and comfort. I inflate my Babyshoe Pass 650B x 42s to about 35 psi (2.4 bar) for paved rides. For rough gravel, I drop the pressure down into the mid-20s (1.7 bar). I usually run tubes – Schwalbe’s SV14A are superlight, hold their pressure for a long time, and have zero issues with splitting sidewalls, poorly vulcanized valves and other issues that can affect budget tubes.

So far, I’m totally happy with my choice of wheels. I haven’t had to touch them yet: They’ve remained true after many hard rides on pavement and gravel, and the tires haven’t had a flat yet. (Touch wood!) And every time I tackle a fast corner with a decreasing radius, the bike adjusts its line with ease, while the wide tires grip tenaciously. It brings a smile on my face.

Other parts of this series:

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Comments (92)

  • Morten Reippuert

    Campagnolo’s OS rearhubs (Centaur, Daytona, Chorus, Record) are also really nice (and very light), indestructable, does not require a lot of maintenance, super easy to service, 100% rebuildable and spareparts for 1999 hubs are still available from campagnolo/fullcrum as the axle & berring design has not changed since 1999.

    The freehub is in theory not serviceable and may not be that well sealed – in reality its quite easy to remove & press in new SKS sealed industrial bearrings in every 10-15y.

    Freehub body will fit 9-12 speed Campagnolo cassettes – or you can replace the body with a HG body (same as for Fullcrum & Campy Record level hubs). Modern Campagnolo Record 10, 11 & 12 speed chains will last forever – even longer when not used with indexed shifting.

    There is a lot of rotating weight to be saved on the hub, casette/freewheel & chain without sacrificing durability.

    July 7, 2020 at 1:44 am
    • Jan Heine

      Campagnolo hubs have four bearings – the hub shell and cassette each run on two bearings. This means that the axle has to support the load of the wheel almost in its center, and it tends to bend. There’s also not enough space for the inner cassette bearing due to the deep grooves of the Campy-style hub body. As a result, the inner cassette bearing wears out quickly. Many riders report they have to replace it annually. Fortunately, as you mention, that’s an easy task, but I really don’t like maintaining my bikes. My bike wrenching time is dedicated to developing new products, and it’s already quite enough. I like my bikes to be ready to ride with nothing but a little air in the tires, and occasional new chains and front brake pads.

      July 7, 2020 at 9:24 am
      • Morten Reippuert

        in theory yes – but i have never heard of the +1999 oversized hollow aluminum axels bending or brakeing. In real world its my experience that sealing will kill the outer cassette body bearing on long before the inner will be worn out.

        As for Campagnolo’s lower grade hubs on small diameter steel axels which uses a different casette body and bearings its true that the bearings will wear out in 1-2 years for heavy riders in moist and/or salty enviroment (assume Seattle area is similar to scandinavia and coastal germany).

        July 7, 2020 at 12:38 pm
      • Sebastian Taege

        Hello Jan, there is an interesting attempt for a different type of rear hub by Frederick Adler.

        It‘s written in german, but I assume that at least the technical drawings show the idea behind it to the readers of your blog.

        July 8, 2020 at 1:03 am
        • Jan Heine

          Interesting. We were thinking along similar lines in the past. At first, we wanted to extend the hub all the way from one end of the hub to the other. But that means you have to make the cassette body larger, and then it gets too large for the smallest cogs. Extending the cassette body all the way through the hub is the logical solution, since you can make the hub as large as you want. It’s like making the hub axle much larger, and have it rotate. To some degree, the larger hub axle is what’s happened with thru-axles. The downside is that they are bulkier, which works great with carbon (which has less density and needs to be bulky for strength anyhow), but when you make a metal frame, you have to add a lot of material, and it gets heavy.

          The more you look into this, the more you realize that the freewheel hub is a very smart design that gets around all these concerns. The drive-side hub bearing is inside the larger cogs of the freewheel, and only the small cogs, which have too small a diameter to fit over the hub bearings, are overhanging. The problem with breaking axles was simply that the hub axles were designed for 3- and 4-speed freewheels with little overhang, and they weren’t dimensioned correctly for the large overhang you get with 7- or even 8-speed freewheels. The Maxi-Car hub solved that with an oversized axle, because cyclotouring bikes had more gears much earlier than racing bikes…

          Cassette hubs were developed as early as the 1930s, but they didn’t catch on because they offered no advantages and quite a few drawbacks – on bikes with steel frames. Once you move to less dense materials, especially carbon, that equation changes, of course…

          July 8, 2020 at 7:18 am
  • Singlespeedscott

    Anything thought to designing a rear hub with the structure of A Maxi-Car using a steel freehub body like Shimano or aluminium one like Campagnolo?

    July 7, 2020 at 3:56 am
    • Jan Heine

      Freehubs are difficult to design. You either put the cassette and hub body as a unit with just two bearings (Shimano), which means there’s a bending moment in the center of the hub. Or you use 4 bearings (Campagnolo and others), but you a) stress the axle a lot and b) don’t have enough room for the inner cassette bearing, so it’s small and wears out quickly, not helped by c) the axle rather than the hub body bends. In practice, the Shimano-style seems to be more reliable. It used to be protected by patents, but those must be about to expire, if they haven’t already.

      July 7, 2020 at 9:20 am
  • Will

    I’m a little surprised you chose aluminum nipples. Most full time builders won’t touch them due to issues with corrosion which freezes them in place, leading to stripped flats and even shattering from simply riding.

    The again, if you never have to true them, the concern is almost academic.

    Why do I suspect you have a trick up your sleeve others do not know about? 😄

    July 7, 2020 at 6:08 am
    • Jan Heine

      Never had problems with that. I use blue Loctite on the nipples, which prevents corrosion. I had to rebuild the wheel of my chrome Herse when the rim cracked after a few years. No trouble loosening the nipples.

      One thing you need to make sure with aluminum nipples is that the nipples are good quality. I once bought a wheel with aluminum nipples from an unknown brand, and the heads popped off one by one, until I replaced them with brass ones. I also make sure the spoke extends into the head of the nipple, so it carries the load, and not just the nipple.

      July 7, 2020 at 8:32 am
      • John C. Wilson

        Loctite recommends #222 Purple for small fasteners and aluminum fasteners. The blue can lock up too solid, be impossible to move without application of heat. Nipples that refuse to move are not something you want to meet far from home.

        Nipples work same as any threaded fastener. When adequately tensioned they stay put, do not need supplemental anything. My wheels are simply built with oil on threads, which is cheap, easy, helps a lot with drive side spokes that need to be very tight. (Wheels like the Maxi that work w/o excessive right side tension are superior and a joy.) With aluminum nips Loctite ultimately has higher corrosion resistance.

        Any reluctant to use the light 2.0/1.5 spokes should consider that Schwinn used literally billions of 0.80”/0.60” Union spokes, using them on nearly all models. Never a problem. Many wheels still in use.

        July 7, 2020 at 11:17 am
    • Morten Knudsen

      When used with Sapim HM washers you can eliminate galvanic corosion (and it will make for a stornge wheel as well)

      July 7, 2020 at 12:42 pm
  • Dana Shifflett

    Is there any possibility you might produce/market the Maxicar hub?
    The Sapim spokes sound interesting, but at my weight/load I want 36, 40 if I can get them.

    July 7, 2020 at 6:43 am
  • Robert

    What is the hub spacing on the Maxi-Car? Did the frame have to be built to that spec?

    July 7, 2020 at 6:58 am
    • Jan Heine

      The hub spacing of Maxi-Car hubs is easy to change. Mine was 130, but I respaced it to 126 mm for 7-speed. The frame is built to that spec.

      July 7, 2020 at 8:33 am
  • john hawrylak

    Very good details with great details. Just curious about the overall weight the 42mm tires carry at 35 psig on paved roads.

    I get 170lb total weight for 35 psig using Berto’s 15% tire drop and extrapolating his graph lines to 42mm. I suspect you use less.

    PS, where did you find your 7 speed freewheel??

    John Hawrylak
    Woodstown NJ

    July 7, 2020 at 7:54 am
    • Jan Heine

      170 lb is about the weight once you add the bag and some spare clothes. The freewheel came from a top-secret source! I wanted to build the bike with all-new, currently available components, but I broke down when it came to the hub and freewheel.

      July 7, 2020 at 8:34 am
  • Pawl Bearer

    Great article! It would be wonderful if Son would make rear hubs to match the diameter their front hubs and include the same Maxi-Car drive side spoke hole features so one spoke length would work for both wheels – when built with the same number of spokes. The Son pressure compensation design would also keep water out of rear hubs! How about a very small generator inside the rear hub just for powering a taillight? No more wiring problems from the headlight to the taillight and the taillight could be left on all the time for safety.

    July 7, 2020 at 8:00 am
    • Jan Heine

      The pressure compensation system isn’t needed for rear hubs, since there is almost no air inside. Generator hub house the generator, and there’s a lot of air. When you take the bike outside (or when it gets colder on a long ride), the air in the hub contracts, and outside air goes into the hub. On most hubs, it has to go through the bearings. That means that moisture goes into the bearings, too, unless you live in the desert…

      July 7, 2020 at 8:37 am
  • Tanner Welch

    Interesting and informative, thanks for the write up. I am curious if you have done any testing or thinking regarding wheel size relative to rider size. Ryan’s Ti randoneur for example, seems like a prime candidate for 700 x 42c. Perhaps it’s an inaccurate intuition but I imagine bigger wheels ridden by someone who is 6’4” (or taller) would handle similarly to smaller wheels with a smaller rider (you on 650b). Does the goldilocks range of wheel/tire size change if the rider is say 5’, what about over 7’? The custom bicycle world (and maybe eventually the industry) seems to be getting more comfortable and active about different wheel size for different applications and even frame sizes but rando rigs seems to be utterly set on 650b. Curious about your thoughts…

    July 7, 2020 at 8:05 am
    • Jan Heine

      The rotational inertia is independent of rider size. Unless a taller rider wants a more stable bike, they’ll choose the same wheel size as a shorter rider. If anything, a taller rider’s center of gravity is already a lot higher, making the bike yet more stable.

      So wheel size should be chosen for the desired handling characteristics, independent of rider size. For very small riders, that may not possible, as you run into problems with toe overlap, so you’ll compromise.

      The 700C wheel size was developed for tires in the 25-30 mm range, and that’s where it gives the best handling for most riders. Some riders may prefer more stability, as a bike that locks onto a given radius and ‘corners like it’s on rails’ gives them a sense of security, but most riders prefer a more nimble handling.

      July 7, 2020 at 8:50 am
  • Masato Y

    Jan, thank you very much for your great article! I see that you use Schwalbe’s SV14A superlight butyl tubes, but have you or anyone on your team used latex tubes, especially when thinking about hysteresis?

    July 7, 2020 at 8:26 am
    • Jan Heine

      During our first roll-down tests of bicycle tires, we tested latex tubes, and found no benefit for performance. The (relatively thick) Michelin latex tubes were slightly slower in two wheel sizes. This result was statistically significant, so it’s not just noise in the data. Add to that the air loss, which is an issue during long rides… On the plus side, latex tubes are a little more comfortable, at least compared to standard butyl tubes.

      July 7, 2020 at 8:53 am
      • Raymond

        Do you have, or know of any, feedback on the Tubolito?

        July 7, 2020 at 2:11 pm
        • Jan Heine

          All riders I know who’ve used them seem to have abandoned them. Ever since our tests showed that different inner tubes have only very small effects on rolling resistance, I haven’t been too keen on experimenting. I’m more interested in big changes in bicycle performance than in ‘marginal’ gains that are too small to make a difference.

          July 7, 2020 at 3:15 pm
          • Raymond

            Cool. Thanks. I have been using the Schwalbe lightweights you guys sell and I’m very happy with those. I was given two tubolitos, brand new and haven’t installed them. The people you know who have given up on them – was there any safety concern?

            July 7, 2020 at 4:03 pm
          • Jan Heine

            I don’t recall any safety concerns. Maybe readers who’ve used them can chime in…

            July 7, 2020 at 5:58 pm
          • Stuart Fogg

            I used Tubolito tubes for maybe 6 months. They’re not as stretchy as butyl tubes so installing them is a bit more difficult – they don’t want to stay inside the tire as you pull the bead over the rim. They’re expensive but less so from European retailers. The reason I gave up on them is I get a lot of flats had bad luck getting patches to hold. I don’t want to deal with slow leaks or replacing expensive tubes after every flat. If they could improve the patches I’d reconsider.

            July 8, 2020 at 10:50 am
          • Raymond

            Thanks Jan. Thanks Stuart.

            July 8, 2020 at 1:12 pm
  • Raymond Schwarte

    Thanks for this article. What’s your thinking in lacing pattern. It looks like the rear wheel is outside drive laced on the drive side, inside drive on the non drive side. What’s the reason for this?

    July 7, 2020 at 8:26 am
    • Jan Heine

      I used to build all my wheels with symmetrical lacing, but in reality, it doesn’t seem to make a difference. With Maxi-Car hubs, figuring out the lacing pattern is more complex, since the spokes on the drive side have to exit the keyhole spoke holes in one direction.

      July 7, 2020 at 8:56 am
  • Matt

    Great blog Jan. It’s always fascinating to hear the thought processes of someone who knows so much about bike/component design and is a strong rider! Thanks for the insights into your wheels and your sweet PBP bike.

    July 7, 2020 at 8:37 am
  • Pk

    Huge difference between bike equipment refined and developed by people who buy it, ride it and fix it vs. wiz-bang stuff drawn up by dreamers, ridden by pros, and chucked in the trash when it breaks.

    July 7, 2020 at 9:01 am
  • Jacob Musha

    I’ve never used them, but I have seen the Sapim CX-RAY referred to in various places as “the best spoke in the world.” Is there a reason you chose the Laser instead? If nothing else, the CX-RAY makes it easier to avoid wind-up.

    July 7, 2020 at 9:38 am
    • Jan Heine

      The CX-Ray is basically a Laser that’s been squished to make it bladed. I’m not convinced of the benefits of bladed spokes. They may improve aerodynamics very slightly if the wind is coming from the front. If you’re a pro racer time trialing at 50 km/h (31 mph), that’s usually the case – you go so fast that even a slight cross-wind doesn’t change the angle of attack.

      PBP on-the-road speeds are more like 28-30 km/h (17-19 mph), so crosswinds change the angle of attack, and bladed spokes will be oriented incorrectly and most likely increase drag. (I haven’t been able to find any studies of this, as nobody seems to have tested the same wheels with round and bladed spokes.) With PBP usually having cross-winds, bladed spokes seem like a sub-optimal idea. Plus they are expensive!

      Windup actually is a bigger problem with bladed spokes – they have a thin cross-section – and if the spoke isn’t perfectly aligned, you get more drag. At least with the CX-Ray, you don’t have to slot the hubs, since they aren’t that bladed!

      July 7, 2020 at 10:05 am
  • Jeff B

    I know this may be more about cranks than wheels, but with the Maxi-Car set at 126 are you able to get a lower Q factor than the advertised 142mm or does the needed clearance for the wide tires and fender negate any extra room there may have been. I think I remember reading about you filing the ends of the crank to achieve more clearance too.

    July 7, 2020 at 10:21 am
    • Jan Heine

      The cranks use a 107 mm BB, since I ride on the big ring most of the time, and I wanted to optimize the chainline for that. This means that the large-large combination works well without excessive cross-chaining. (Fortunately, One-By drivetrains have made people realize that cross-chaining isn’t the big deal that it was imagined to be in the past.) I’ll talk about that in more detail when I cover the drivetrain.

      July 7, 2020 at 10:31 am
      • Bern

        Perhaps modern chains do not care so much about cross-chaining, but in the more competitive era of Shimano, SunTour, Regina et al there were considerable differences in the side-to-side flexibility of various chains, which certainly affected their ability to deflect sideways across the range from smallest to largest cogs.

        July 7, 2020 at 11:28 am
        • Jan Heine

          Back when freewheels had 5 or 6 cogs, cross-chaining was over a much smaller range. Old randonneur bikes are designed to be ridden in all gears (with the same chains), and it works fine. The fear of cross-chaining is mostly a remnant of the age when racers were so concerned about mechanical resistance that they even tried to avoid derailleurs that ran the chain over pulleys…

          July 7, 2020 at 12:12 pm
          • John C. Wilson

            Cross chaining was feared back when ‘normal’ still meant fixed gear. Less than perfect chainline causes all sorts of trouble on a fixed. Riders who grew up on fixed were reluctant to fool with what worked. An extreme example would be the Tri-Velox shifting system in which the chain was always in same plane and the sprockets moved side to side. Quite a lot of odd engineering to make that one work.

            It takes a long time for norms to change.

            July 9, 2020 at 10:51 am
        • Morten Reippuert


          Campagnolo is no longer discouraging cross chaining since the introduction of their second generation 11-speed from 2015.

          On the other hand i believe that Shimano is still blocking cross chaining in their DI2 firmware.

          July 7, 2020 at 12:52 pm
          • Jan Heine

            All Di2 bikes I’ve tested allowed me to ride in the big-big gear combination. I probably didn’t try the small-small, since that is less useful.

            July 7, 2020 at 1:12 pm
      • Bill V.

        Curious to know if there was any consideration given to thru-axles versus the traditional quick release? Thx!

        July 7, 2020 at 8:27 pm
        • Jan Heine

          Thru-axles makes sense for disc brakes, but not for rim brakes. Also, thru-axle standards were developed for carbon frames, so they’re rather bulky. If you use them with a steel frame and fork, you end up with a lot of extra material and thus a lot of extra weight.

          July 7, 2020 at 9:01 pm
  • Robbie Fargo

    Thanks for sharing more of the details of your great bike Jan.

    I’ve been on the lookout for a similar maxicar with a BSA threading but they are rather rare! It would be wonderful if someone was to rejuvinate the brand and introduce some modern hubs with a thought to excellent bearing life and field serviceability.

    July 7, 2020 at 10:21 am
  • John H

    Hi Jan,

    There appears to be a bolt extending down from the quick release skewer. Is this part of the Maxi-Car hub?

    July 7, 2020 at 11:32 am
    • Jan Heine

      That’s a stand the photographer (Nicolas Joly) uses to keep the bike upright. The photos were shot in a tent at the PBP start, so there was only limited time.

      July 7, 2020 at 12:05 pm
  • Heinrich

    I have heard that the newer latex tubes from Vittoria hold the air better. On top of that, at lower air pressures that wider tires require, latex does not lose air as drastically. There are some websites that show the rate of air loss, and air loss diminishes quite rapidly at lower air pressures. Have not come across studies of air pressure loss at much lower pressures (~ 30 psi). I am guessing that it might not be much and you could probably ride couple of days without pumping up the tires.

    Additionally, nowadays people are much more vigilant about the psi and pumping up tires regularly, so the hassle of latex might be worth it. Maybe it is time for BQ to do another study with the latest latex tubes and also track the air loss at lower psi? Too bad Vittoria does not make their excellent latex tubes at wider width. Maybe a market opportunity there.

    July 7, 2020 at 12:25 pm
    • Karl

      …and include the new generation inner tubes like Tubolito. Lighter, more puncture resistant and less rolling resistance seems to good to be true?

      July 7, 2020 at 1:41 pm
  • Andrew

    Quote: ‘Speaking of spokes, I used Sapim Laser spokes. These beauties are butted with 2.0 mm ends and super-thin 1.5 mm center sections. That means they stretch more, so they are less likely to go slack when I hit a bump‘

    Do you mean that steel spokes have elastic properties, and grow in length when placed under particular loads, and return again to a shorter length when the load is lessened?

    That *seems* unlikely.

    July 7, 2020 at 2:37 pm
    • Jan Heine

      All spokes stretch as you tension them. Spokes break from fatigue as they get unloaded at the bottom of the wheel with every revolution. The more the spoke stretches, the less it gets unloaded. That is why thinner spokes fatigue less. However, thinner spokes also are less strong at the ends, where spokes break if they do. Butted spokes were invented more than a century ago to combine the fatigue resistance of a thin (stretchy) spoke with the strength of the thicker end. So in effect, a Sapim Laser 2.0-1.5-2.0 mm spoke is stronger than a 2.0 mm straight gauge spoke or a 1.5 mm straight-gauge spoke.

      July 7, 2020 at 3:19 pm
    • Ken Freeman

      Andrew, this is simply the principle of a spring. All metals have some elasticity, the property that they stretch a certain amount when subjected to a certain force, be it compression, tension, or twisting. The amount of force is related to stress, and amount the metal changes shape or dimension is the strain. If the stress is not too big the change is completely reversible. If the stress gets too big the change in shape or dimension will not reverse (this is “cold-setting”), but this change in the metal can be planned by the mechanical engineers who design innovative bike frames and parts.

      July 7, 2020 at 4:26 pm
  • Allen Potter

    Gotta ask: can you reveal your source for that nice freewheel? This is becoming a bit of a struggle. This might be like asking someone to tell where they hunt mushrooms, but I thought I’d give it a try. Any ideas welcome!

    July 7, 2020 at 4:47 pm
    • Jan Heine

      It’s just the luck of a draw. There’s no reliable source, unfortunately. Making freewheels is one of those things that works only if you make huge quantities, so it’s not something that can be tackled easily. What is more realistic is making new cogs, since Dura-Ace freewheel bodies don’t really wear out. There are plenty of new freewheels with less-than-useful cog combinations (like 12-21) that could easily be put to use with a new set of cogs…

      July 7, 2020 at 6:19 pm
  • Tim Sharp

    What is the Quick release this wheel uses?

    July 7, 2020 at 7:48 pm
    • Jan Heine

      I don’t know. It’s a set Peter Weigle gave me – the same as he used on the Concours de Machines bike.

      July 7, 2020 at 7:48 pm
      • Timothy Sharp

        Thanks Jan.

        July 8, 2020 at 5:42 pm
  • Will Haltiwanger

    I am building a new bike with the HED Belgium Plus rims in 700C. As a retired engineer I question things, and one has been the custom to run the same size tire front and back. In normal condition 2/3s of the weight is on my rear wheel which has to carry more weight and the force of propulsion. No wonder the rear wears out a lot sooner. I currently run the Rene Herse extralight tires in 32mm front and 44 back. I put 40-45 psi in them on the road. This seems to give good ride and grip but jacks up the rear of the bike a bit. This has made me wonder about putting a 700C on the front and a 650B on the rear. You don’t need to tell me I am crazy, I already know that, but would appreciate any thoughts.

    July 7, 2020 at 8:15 pm
    • Jan Heine

      I find that comfort on the front is more important than on the rear, so I’d rather run a wider tire on the front, too. Clearances are mostly limited in the rear, not the front… but there are many ways to build a bike.

      In theory, you might run into trouble as the different-width front and rear tires have different radii, and thus will lean into corners differently. I don’t know whether that’s enough to be felt while riding.

      July 7, 2020 at 9:03 pm
      • Will Haltiwanger

        I agree that comfort on the front is important. That is what started me down this path. I realized that one reason I and others had hand discomfort was that the front tire, being lightly loaded, wasn’t absorbing the road shocks. There seemed to be two easy ways to compensate: lower the front tire pressure or run a smaller front tire. Either way will allow the front tire to absorb more of the harshness.

        While going to larger tires front and rear at lower pressure will improve comfort overall you still have much less compliance on the front tire unless you also run the front at lower pressure, thus different handling response and a rougher ride. By running a smaller front tire with similar pressure in both I should get similar ride and handling characteristics front and back as both tires are loaded about the same amount of their capacity.

        If I notice any handling issues I will report back. Thanks for all the info.

        July 8, 2020 at 11:27 am
        • Jan Heine

          Agreed that front tire pressure always is a compromise between low for comfort/compliance and high enough to support the entire weight of the bike and rider when braking hard. That said, I don’t think a smaller front tire will be more comfortable. With a bigger tire, you’ll find that the pressure/weight curve is much flatter, so the difference between front and rear optimum inflation is less, and getting it ‘exactly right’ isn’t as important. That’s the big reason why I love 42-44 mm tires – inflation pressure almost doesn’t matter. I can run 25 psi or 35 psi, and the bike rides fine either way.

          July 8, 2020 at 11:54 am
    • Eric Hancock

      I’m not quite sure that custom is universal. It is common on the road to run a larger rear tire and quiet common on mountain bikes to run a larger front tire.

      I’d also question the assumption that 2/3 of your weight is on the rear. When braking and descending you certainly experience different distribution than when cruising along on a flat; these are two scenarios where you pretty clearly want traction and sufficient suspension from the front tire.

      July 8, 2020 at 9:59 am
      • Will Haltiwanger

        Weight certainly shifts with braking so you need enough air pressure to handle that. I have never had a problem with the front tire under maximum braking. Since I used to do some significant descending on 23 mm tires I don’t see why I would have a problem with a 32 mm with proper inflation.

        The 2/3 isn’t an assumption, it is what I measured by putting a bathroom scale under each tire as I sat on the bike in normal riding position.

        Thanks for your thoughts.

        July 8, 2020 at 10:56 am
  • Maciej

    Hi Jan,

    You say that for you a bike is too stable: “…unless you mount them on superlight and super-expensive carbon rims…” – I am thinking about tire/wheel choices for my gravel/road bike and am currently running the 3T Discus C35 LTD rims which weigh around 1350gr for the set (disc version). Curious to hear what your experience of those superlight rims is and from what weight this starts to make a noticeable (positive) difference in terms of stability and handling. Are you taking about something like Lightweight wheels category (1015gr for a set)?

    July 8, 2020 at 3:23 am
    • Jan Heine

      It’s mostly the rim weight that matters for rotational inertia, and those aren’t too different because they are constrained by engineering. There’s only so much you can do to a rim with a conventional shape. (Deep-dish aero rims are a different story and handle differently anyhow.)

      For most of us, the extra stability with larger wheels isn’t positive, but something we don’t like. We want the bike to be stable enough to hold its line in corners and on straights, but not so stable that we have to fight it when we want to change our line in mid-corner.

      Generally, that means that 700C wheels (with lightweight tires) work well for tires between 25 and 35 mm on aluminum rims, and between 32 and 44 mm on carbon rims. 650B is at its optimum with tires in the 35 to 45 mm range (aluminum rims) and with 42 to 52 mm (carbon rims). Wider than that, and I’d go with 26″ wheels, as I’ve done on my Firefly.

      July 8, 2020 at 7:24 am
      • Maciej

        Thanks for your thoughts, Jan, much appreciated.

        July 9, 2020 at 8:20 am
      • Stuart Fogg

        Can frame geometry adjustments cancel the effects of the greater rotational inertia of larger diameter wheels? Or would that just introduce another set of problems?

        July 9, 2020 at 7:20 pm
        • Jan Heine

          We’ve thought about this, and there doesn’t seem to be a way: If you change the trail, you also change wheel flop, and the two cancel each other to some degree. That is why wheel size appears the main determinant for stability during cornering…

          July 10, 2020 at 12:33 am
  • Mike Runge

    “These beauties are butted with 2.0 mm ends and super-thin 1.5 mm center sections. That means they stretch more, so they are less likely to go slack when I hit a bump, which can loosen a spoke and also fatigues them prematurely. ”

    If your impact is e.g. 0.5mm, you are right.
    If your impact is e.g. 800N, the bigger and the thinner spoke both are about the same amount near 0 tension – even the thinner one compacted more 😉

    July 8, 2020 at 7:05 am
    • Jan Heine

      You’re not looking at a single spoke in isolation (your 800N example). The entire spoked wheel works together, but you’re pushing on only one side of the rim. Add to that the rim stiffness and the fact that most bumps do have a finite height, and you can see why thinner spokes with more elongation detension less than thicker ones.

      July 8, 2020 at 8:09 am
      • Mike Runge

        Are you really sure?
        I’m familiar with the physics of a wheel as a whole, but Im always struggling on this specific point, when the discussion is around “Do thinner spokes help on the non-drive side or is that one of the many wheelbuilding myths?”

        July 9, 2020 at 1:28 am
        • Jan Heine

          Actually, I haven’t calculated all the physics around this. For me, the three easy-to-understand factors that are enough to use butted spokes:
          1. For the same tension, the thinner spoke elongates more, so it’s less likely to go slack if you hit a big bump. That means it’s less likely to come loose. Once a spoke goes slack, even for just a split-second, the nipple unwinds, and then the spoke goes slack more often, etc. This isn’t just a theoretical concern – it’s happened to me several times after hitting bumps big enough to pinch-flat the tire.
          2. Butted spokes save weight, but are as strong.
          3. Butted spokes are more aero.

          No. 1 is also the reason why some builders like to use thinner spokes on the non-drive side with highly-dished wheels, but I don’t usually do that…

          July 9, 2020 at 6:49 am
  • Bertrand

    I do not understand the use of blue loctite on spokes. I built one wheel like that and it prevents the initial ping! of spokes and nipples bedding In during the first ride. It also makes adjustments weird because the spoke twists wit the nipple. A drop of tri-flow works better.

    There’s so much tension on the thread that Loctite is absolutely not necessary.
    What’s the reason for using it?

    July 8, 2020 at 10:03 am
    • Jan Heine

      The ‘initial ping’ happens when you build the wheel with windup left in the spokes. If you take out the windup, there won’t be any noise as the spokes unwind when you first ride.

      You are probably right, any lubricant should keep the nipples from corroding onto the spokes…

      July 8, 2020 at 10:17 am
  • Stuart Fogg

    How long do your rims last with wear from rim brakes? And what pads do you use (I assume that makes a difference)?

    July 8, 2020 at 10:56 am
    • Jan Heine

      I brake hard, so I use the front brake almost exclusively. (The rear wheel barely touches the ground when braking hard.)

      My rear rims last forever, my front ones about 15,000 miles here in the rainy Pacific Northwest. On flat terrain and in drier climates, I’d expect them to last much longer. Swapping a rim is a 15-minute job using Jobst Brandt’s method of taping the new rim next to the old one, loosening all the spokes and then switching them over. I use Kool-Stop salmon-colored pads.

      July 8, 2020 at 11:51 am
      • Stuart Fogg

        Thanks for pointing out that rim swap method! My own 15-minute jobs tend to run more like 15 hours. 🙁

        July 8, 2020 at 12:28 pm
        • Jan Heine

          That tends to happen, but in this case, it really took just 15 minutes for me to replace a cracked Velocity rim. As long as the rim builds up straight, building a new front wheel is really straightforward. The biggest part is figuring out the lacing, but if you just swap rims, you don’t have to do that.

          July 8, 2020 at 1:13 pm
  • Garth

    The Shimano Deore LX HB/FH-M550 hubs from the ‘90’s are neat. You can have a 130 or 135mm axle with a 7-speed freehub. Originally they came with the Uniglide freewheels but you can also fit the brand new Hyperglide freewheel. I don’t think these new freewheels are the smoothest quality, but l like the rim dish you end up with. They’re pretty affordable, I think the hubs are forged.

    These also come with a grease port, and the hub polishes up nicely.

    I thought that would be neat if you could respace adapt the 5-speed Grand Bois freehub to a 130mm hub for less wheel dish.

    July 8, 2020 at 8:07 pm
  • Bertrand Fleuret

    Even when taking out the windup (which is guess work anyway) and pushing hard on the hub to make the spokes and nipples ‘ping’ and ‘pop’ there is still a lot of that happening in the first 10 minutes of ridding, with weight of ridder etc. in my experience anyway.
    Loctite makes everything sticky, even if you work fast it seems to set in before the wheel is done. I find it impossible to get a feel for where things really stand and want to be. When making adjustment the spokes just twist with the nipple.

    One puts oil between nipples and rim for the same reason, it helps everything move freely, find it’s place and easy to tension.

    I find that after a wheel has been used in real life and re-adjusted / tensioned etc. Then it doesn’t change one bit.

    July 8, 2020 at 10:07 pm
    • Jan Heine

      When I started building wheels, mine also pinged during the first meters as the spokes unwound and the nipples unscrewed themselves. After the first ride, I trued my wheels to get them true again.

      If you take out the windup, you can build wheels that are good for 10,000s of miles without needing a spoke wrench. As to what to put on the spokes, it doesn’t really matter with brass nipples, since brass is self-lubricating. With aluminum nipples, you’re mostly trying to prevent galvanic corrosion between the stainless steel spoke and the aluminum nipple. I used to use Wheelsmith’s Spoke Prep, which has a consistency like latex paint. A friend and master wheelbuilder used Loctite (the stick, not the liquid, in case that matters), and I’ve been using that.

      July 10, 2020 at 6:19 pm
  • Mike Runge

    Regarding #1
    My understanding ist, that his is directing the varying forces away from the critical spoke bends to the simpler straights. The spokes elongates and slacks where it it easy and therefore there a less stress changes at the bends.

    Still searching for a simple explantion to buy your “does not slack” argument … 😉

    July 9, 2020 at 8:55 am
    • Jan Heine

      As I understand it: If the spoke stretches 1 mm for a given spoke tension, you need to compress the wheel only 2 mm on bump for it to go slack (assuming the wheel has no inertia, so two opposing spokes detension equally). If you make the spoke thinner, and it stretches 2 mm, then you have a bigger margin of safety.

      July 9, 2020 at 10:17 am
  • Conrad

    For those that cant source a Maxi Car or 7 speed freewheel: Shimano dura ace is awfully good. My 7400 rear hub probably has 175,000 miles on it and it is still perfectly smooth. Never had a mechanical issue with it. I repack the hubs once a year, its a 15 minute job. You can still find 8 speed cassettes. I prefer loose ball bearings; they are easier to service. Banging out worn out cartridge bearings and pressing in new ones is a much bigger job. On the other hand, with a Maxi Car or Chris King you might not ever wear out the cartridge bearings but I think the Chris King classic is no longer offered and a Maxi Car is even harder to find.

    July 9, 2020 at 9:46 am
    • Garth

      For 7-speed cassettes I buy an 8-speed, take off the 12 tooth and trade the 13 tooth for a proper 13 tooth with the locking teeth. I think I ended up using a very thin shim. I suppose you could respace the sprockets of a 9-speed cassette with 7/8 speed spacers.

      July 9, 2020 at 7:49 pm
  • John Irvine

    Very informative! How much weight is in your bag? Would 28 spokes be OK for more loaded front ends – a couple of low rider panniers and a medium HB bag? I ask because I’m about to build a wheelset for my Bridgestome RB-T tourer and have some nice 28h hubs I wouldn’t mind using.

    July 9, 2020 at 11:29 am
    • Jan Heine

      I carry up to 10 kg (33 lb) in my bag at the beginning of a big ride, but usually it’s less than half that. With panniers and a camping load, I’d got with 32 spokes, but if you’ve got 28 holes, they’ll probably be fine.

      July 9, 2020 at 12:41 pm
  • dvd.srd.grc

    Hi Jan
    This is David from Madrid (Spain), avid CX cyclist and follower of your blog and contents.

    Love your machines: 2017 Concours des Machines and 2020 PBP looks really effective and thoughfully built.

    I would like to ask something to this community, any help will be really helpful.
    For the last 6 years I use a 2014 Ritchey Swiss Cross Canti, at the begining was my competition rig but now more and more it becomes my do-it-all bike (competing,
    training, adventure) and she is really fantastic except for one thing: narrow wheels.

    Now riding 35c Bon Jon Pass on Ultegra wheels (32c tubulars on Zipp wheels for competition) is not enough for gravel journeys with friends and start to think to go to 650b for more cushion (also for off season off road training).

    My question is: how to adjust the brakes reach for 650b wheels in a 700c wheel bike and make it work.

    Thanks in advance for your help.

    Stay safe, regards

    July 9, 2020 at 11:44 am
    • Jan Heine

      We tested the Swiss Cross a few years back, and it was a really fun machine! Going from 700C to 650B is a big step (19 mm), and beyond the range of pad adjustment on most cantilever brakes. That’s one advantage of disc brakes – you don’t really need to commit to a wheel size when you build the bike. Of course, you could take off the canti posts and braze on new ones in the right location on the rear, and get a new fork on the front. But that would still preclude switching back and forth between wheel sizes…

      July 10, 2020 at 6:22 pm
  • Mark

    A side issue: I’ve followed your blog for some time and am curious about your average mileage per year. Any chance of some ball park figures by, say,, bike (Mule, RH, test bike etc), type of ride (commuting/hauling, randonnée, touring etc), and location (USA, Japan, Europe …)? Apart from riding lots, I’m also interested in how you train/maintain yourself, eg, do you have rest periods away from riding during the year? Do you do other forms of physical and mental training, eg, yoga? And how has your approach to maintaining physical and mental sharpness for riding changed over the years? For that matter, how do you organise your days—testing bikes & components, dealing with manufacturers, touring, travelling overseas, and writing a blog must take considerable time & organisation. I don’t mean to be prurient. I’m just intrigued. Perhaps these and other matters could be a topic for another blog entry (more work!)

    July 9, 2020 at 4:32 pm
    • Jan Heine

      That’s a big topic! Like most of us, I don’t get to ride as much as I’d like. Fortunately, between bike tests, product development and simply riding for the fun of it, there’s still a lot of riding. I do like to take December off every year to recover and rejuvenate. When I’m training for an event, I also take every 4th week off to recover… I do believe in peaking for an event rather than riding at the same intensity all year. It’s like the seasons, and it’s fun to have that late-summer speed that is so much better than the early-season form.

      As to mileage between different bikes, it’s hard to keep track. I’d say the Herse gets the most miles because it’s the most versatile. In summer, the Firefly sees a lot of use, but it’s pretty much put away during the rainy and dark winter months.

      July 10, 2020 at 12:36 am
  • Michael Banks

    700c wheels roll faster an old myth? I understand your logic behind your preference for 650B, but I believe your measurements on “rolling faster” do not upturn the well documented physical principals that show larger diameter wheels have lower rolling resistance i.e. faster rolling, all other factors remaining equal.

    July 9, 2020 at 9:38 pm
    • Jan Heine

      We’ve tested this many times – 700C, 650B and 26″ wheels roll at the same speed. It’s as simple as that.

      Physics indicate that a larger wheel should have a (very slightly) lower rolling resistance. At the same time, a larger wheel has a (very slightly) greater wind resistance. In practice, the two may cancel each other, or the effects are too small to measure. Sort of like removing 1 g of weight from your bike makes it faster – just not enough to measure.

      July 10, 2020 at 12:29 am

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