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1. Why should I replace my chain?
2. How do I know when my chain needs replacing?
3. What do I do if my chain skips when I apply pressure to the pedals?
4. What should I carry with me when I ride?
5. What is the best kind of chain to use?
6. What do you consider your most important piece of equipment?
7. Why is PR important?
8. My first MTB race - Can you help me?
9. Can my steel frame rust out and how can I prevent this from happening?
10. How can I prevent water building up inside my frame?
11. Studding Tires
12. Any good tire-tips?
13. Clipless Pedals
14. How should I pack my bike for airplane travel?
15. Can I install a headset myself without expensive tools?
16. Wheelbuilding – can I do it myself? Is it hard?
17. What is "Chainsuck"?
18. What is "Chainline"?
19.  How do I measure my chainline?
20.  Is there an easy way to teach someone to ride a bike?

Q1 - Why should I replace my chain?

A - Chains, especially on mountain bikes have a very hard life as they are constantly being sprayed with dirt, grit, mud and water. This stuff mixes with our chosen lubricant to form a wonderfully efficient grinding paste which wears our chain and gears from day one.

As the chain wears it becomes longer thus increasing the distance between each link. This larger dimension of each link of the chain creates wear on sprockets and chainrings thus demanding their replacement too.

It has been proven that if chains are replaced before they become too worn and stretched then you will get much longer life out of your sprockets and rings. Mike usually goes through about three chains before the rear sprockets are too far gone. If the sprockets are too worn when a new chain is installed then the new chain will ride up on the teeth of the old sprockets and skip a tooth as torque is applied to the drivetrain.

How do I know what length my new chain should be?

The chain MUST be long enough to be able to be in the largest sprocket and chainring on the bike without doing damage to the derailer. Shimano says do this: Place the chain around the big sprocket/big ring combo WITHOUT going through the derailer. Match up the chain to it's shortest length and ADD TWO LINKS - which is a set of innie plates and a set of outie plates. Break the chain at this length and join it up.

BTW - the big/big combo is not to be considered a usable gear (nor is the small/small combo) but if there is not enough chain to span these two gears if they are shifted into by accident then drivetrain damage will result.

Do not be concerned if the chain droops down onto the chainstay when you're in the small/small combo. If you remove links to correct this then it obviously will be too short for the bigger sprockets. As with the big/big being an unusable gear, the small/small is not usable either. If you doubt me, just place the chain on either of these two extreme gears, squat down behind the bike and look at the horrible angle that the chain is running at. Can you say "drive-train wear"?
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Q2 - How do I know when my chain needs replacing?

A - By simply measuring the chain with a ruler or tape measure. The distance between any two pins on a new chain is exactly 1/2". As the chain wears this distance increases by a few thousandths of an inch. Over the distance of many links, this increase can be readily measured.

We take the measurement over the distance of 24 links and as the measurement of each one is 1/2" then 24 of them should measure 12". Measure the chain while it is on the bike as the derailer tension stretches the chain slightly. You may also hang the chain from a nail to give the necessary stretch.

So - measure 24 pins from center to center (or edge to edge) and the distance should be exactly 12" on a new chain and no more than 12 1/16" for a chain in use. Measure the chain often - like once weekly - and discard when the measurement reaches that extra 1/16". If you allow the wear to increase to 12 1/8" you will probably have to replace the sprockets too. Anything above 12 1/8" will have done serious damage to the front chainrings also.
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Q. 3 - What do I do if my chain skips when I apply pressure to the pedals?

A - There can be three reasons for this. Let's take the easy one first. Did you just replace the chain? Yes? Then let's check for a tight link which can be caused from the chain riveting process. Back-pedal slowly by hand while watching the rear derailer pulleys like a hawk. If the pulleys take a little "hop" while you're back pedaling then that's the sign of a tight link going through them. Relieve the tightness with the special "tight link" spot on your chain tool or grip the chain on each side of the link by hand and forcefully flex the chain sideways to spread the side plates slightly. Re-check the link by back-pedaling again.

The second reason is that you didn't replace the chain soon enough and now you have old, hooked sprockets and a new chain. Sorry - replace sprockets too!

Gulp - the third reason is serious. You didn't replace your chain waaaaaaay past the point that it was worn out and it not only toasted the rear sprockets but the chainrings too. If you compare the chainring teeth to known good ones you will see that they are worn and hooked. Sorry - be more attentive to the needs of your bike in future!!
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Q4 - What should I carry with me when I ride?

A -  You should carry at least: spare tube, tire levers, patch kit, pump, chain tool, tire sidewall boot material, 5mm allen wrench. These tools will probably save you a long walk home someday. Wrap the tube in an old sock to prevent chafing holes in it while it's jiggling in your under saddle bag.

Also you should have: water, food, identification, a whistle, bug and sun cream, money. I carry the ID and the whistle around my neck on all rides.
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Q5 - What is the best kind of chain to use?

A - We find that Sachs M-55 chains give good service, are relatively inexpensive and are easily repairable on the trail.
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Q6 - What do you consider your most important piece of equipment?

A - A small trail bell by far. The positive PR that comes from politely warning other trail users is immeasurable.

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Q7 - Why is PR important?

A - Complaints of rude and inconsiderate trail riders go a long way towards trail closures. Let's portray ourselves as polite ambassadors for our sport. The next hiker you sass just might be the land owner!

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Q8 - I'm considering entering my first MTB race and I'd like to know what to do and what to expect. Can you help me?

A - Yes, I have a few tips to give you. First off, remember that this is a mountain bike race and not WWIII. You're supposed to be doing it for fun and enjoyment so please don't take it too seriously. You should only have two goals in your first event - to finish and to enjoy the experience. Do not give yourself any higher goals as you will probably not fulfil them and thus be a failure. Unless there are less than four in your category your chances of winning a prize are slim to none.

If your race is closer than three weeks away then you have little chance of becoming a faster rider in that time and a big chance of making yourself a lot slower. Don't rush out and triple your mileage as you will overdo I tand fatigue yourself. Just carry on riding the way you are used to and you'll be OK. Your event in the Beginner or Novice category will be relatively short so you don't need tons of endurance. If you can ride anywhere for one hour without stopping then you have lots. Leave "training" to the experienced riders.

If possible pre-ride the course in the preceding week or day. Familiarity with the circuit will be the #1 thing that you can do to improve your performance. Get your bike looked at by a good mechanic at least four days before the event and do not do any adjustments or changes after that unless absolutely necessary. Two days before start drinking extra fluids - no not alcohol, stupid ! The day before the event you should pack your gear for the race - make yourself a check-list and keep it near to where you keep your stuff. Modify the list as necessary as situations dictate but keep the same list always.

On your list should be all the essentials - TWO shoes, two sox, one helmet.......get the idea? You'd be surprised the number of racers that don't start their event because they didn't have a check-list and forget something important. Make sure you have a large jug of your local water and three water bottles with you - one to drink on the way to the event, one to take with you in the race half-full and one to drink when you finish. Pack a small towel that's soaking wet into a large zip-lock bag for use after the event. You'll be thankful you've got a wet towel to wipe your grimy face when you're all done. Offer it to someone who didn't read my tips and you may make a friend for life.

Get to the race site early and register right away. Check where the start line is and double check your start time. It's nice to have a responsible person accompany you to keep track of small details like start times and car keys and to watch your bike while you go to the potty six times. Do not take food, camel-backs or tools on the race - you have no time or need for any of them as your race will be short and sweet. Plan on glugging down your half-bottle of water around the half-way point in the event at a natural dismount. Stretch your aching back at that time too and take 30 seconds for the stop. Forty five minutes before your start time go for a gentle ride for 30 minutes and get to the line or start area 15 minutes early. You'll probably be started in "waves" or categories so listen to the announcer for instructions of where to line up for your category. Do not line up at the front of your group if this is your first event as you'll probably be trampled at the start. Line up half-way down your group. Choose what you consider is the correct gear for the terrain in front of you. You will be started in groups and please listen carefully to the announcer. At the gun do not go flat out to keep up with the others. Hold back somewhat and you'll probably pick off lots that went out too fast as the race unfolds. Don't try anything in the race that you've never done before - jumping logs, wheelying steams etc. You'll probably screw up and lose tons of time if you do. Just ride as you normally would. If you want to pass someone, wait for the right moment and say politely "On your left, please." They'll let you by when it's safe. Then say "Thanks, hey - nice bike." as you pass. If others want past you - let them when

it's safe for them to go. Say "Good ride, man." as they pass. The course marshals are probably all volunteer and without them you wouldn't have a race. Say "Thanks for helping" as you pass. They'll be shocked.

Keep riding steady the whole race and don't burn yourself out, remember - your goal is to finish. You can't do worse than quit !!! At the finish don't stop on the line as there are others finishing behind you - get off to one side and have your helper meet you there with the water bottle and the wet towel. Now are you glad you took my advice? Offer it to the closest dirty-faced racer.

Find some of the others that you diced with in your race and go over and congratulate them and talk over your experience. You may make more friends for life here. Go back to the car, wash yourself down and put on clean, dry clothes and then go back to the finish and cheer on the real tail-enders. Do not let your bike go out of your hand for one second or you may never see it again. Wait around for the awards presentation even if you didn't win anything and cheer like hell for all those who did. They didn't do it for the water bottle and T-shirt they're being given. They did it for the cheers.

When the presentation is over, find out who the organizer is and go thank him/her for the race. After a weekend of listening to stupid people bitching about problems of their own making - you'll be like a breath of fresh air. The organizer will never forget your thanks. I guarantee it. On the drive home talk about the race to your partner until they say "For crysakes, will you please SHUT UP?" Then just sit there and smile. When you get home, call me and tell me how you made out.

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Q9 - Can my steel frame rust out and how can I prevent this from happening?

A - Yes it can rust through and it is preventable. Water can enter a frame from a few sources and if it's allowed to accumulate it can ruin your frame.

The best products for frame protection are from automobile rust protection applications. The newer breed of these are very thin, penetrating water-displacement oils - quite unlike the thick, tar-like treatments of several years ago.

There are two products that I'm familiar with - Krown and Rust-Chek, and they are available from the franchise rust protection dealers or some auto supply dealers. Look in your local Yellow Pages under "Rust Protection (or Prevention)" to see what's available locally. There is a product called "Frame Saver" but like fancy bike lubes it's probably a re-packaged auto product at a premium price.

I'd get a spray can of Krown and a small bottle of bulk fluid to do a frame. My dealer gave it to me for free when I got my car done by him.

The frame should be stripped completely to begin. You will need an area where you can spill oil without getting into too much trouble and some minor supplies.

I use a very small funnel with a drinking straw as a extension to get into the frame tubes. You may also use a turkey baster (not Mom's good one!). You'll need a margarine tub to drain the tubes into. A helper is handy too.

Look inside the BB shell - are there two holes leading to the chainstays? Then use these to fill those tubes - half fill with the oil, swish around to coat ALL the surfaces and drain. If there are no BB holes into the chainstays then there will be two very small holes at the dropout ends - use the spray cans and thin nozzles here.

Do the same with the seat-stays.

For the DT, ST and TT, put one finger over the hole at one end and 1/4 fill the tube from the other end. Plug this end with a finger and tumble the frame. Make sure you get all the surfaces inside the tubes. Drain well.

There - the job's done! Why not repeat annually? Your frame will never rust away.

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Q10 - How can I prevent water building up inside my frame? Why not stop it getting in?

A - Water probably enters at the seat post slot even though you take extreme measures to keep it out. It was not possible to stop it getting into my old Bonty. I'd rather put my efforts into helping it to easily escape.

Water will obviously collect at the lowest spot in the frame so I drill a 3/32" hole under the BB shell. To stop this plugging up with muck I spent years and thousands of dollars developing "Mike's Patented Jiggle Valve". I'll tell you how it operates but don't make one or I'll sue the bike from under you.

I took an old spoke and snipped 1/2" off the end with the bend. I then straightened the bend with pliers. From inside the BB shell I drop the spoke down through the drilled hole and re-insert the BB unit. That's it !! Don't try this at home as serious injury could occur and I AM a proffessional!

As you merrily pedal along the valve jiggles and keeps your hole unplugged (no the bike's, stupid).

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Q11 - Is there a way of studding mountain bike tires so that I can ride on ice?

A - Oh, yes - and here's how. The best tires of all-time for studding are old Fisher or Panaracer Fat-Trax as they had only square blocks for tread which made stud location a snap. Check around to see if any bike shops have them gathering dust. I have two sets and no, I won't sell them.

Get a box of #8 Robertson pan-head 1/2" screws and a drill-bit somewhat smaller than the screw dia.

Decide on a pattern but don't get carried away as more is not better - I have them alternating down the center and along the edges about every three inches each. That means the centre ones are 3" apart and the edge ones are 3" apart too only alternating.

Drill down through the center of the tread blocks from the outside so that you can see exactly where the screw is going to go. Install the screws from the inside and now you can see if you bought the right length. You should have about 1 1/2 mm's sticking out. This does not seem like much but they will fold over if you have more.

When all the screws are in take a caulking gun with a tube of silicone in it and put a blob on each screw head and smear it smooth with your finger. You may use a tire liner for extra protection. I made mine from slitting old inner-tubes lenght-wise.

Have fun - you won't believe the traction on sheer ice - like a lake. You won't notice any difference on snow and don't even think of riding on paved roads.

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Q12 - Any good tire-tips?

A - On yesterday's ride we had two torn tire sidewalls in 15 minutes. And it was the first fifteen minutes of a long ride too. The ride would have been a disaster but for the fact I had about three feet of duct tape wrapped around my pump waiting for such an occasion. I put a double patch on the inside for these two unfortunate fellows and away we went. Duct tape rules !

More tips - remove your tubes and baby-powder them as we had one that was almost welded inside the tire. Do not practice flat tire repair for the first time out on the trail, practice at home and then you'll see just how many tire levers you'll need for your tires and just how poor your shitty little mimi-pump really is. Get the most expensive mini-pump you can find. Wrap your spare tube in an old sock so holes won't be worn into it through jiggling around in your bag. Carry a repair kit of instant patches for your second flat tire.

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Q 13.  -   I just fitted clipless pedals recently and I'm not sure if they're a good idea.  I keep falling because I can't get out of them when I stop.  I'm frustrated!!  Can you help?

A - Ok - settle down!  Yes, I can help and I can sympathize too.  Clipless pedals are probably the best single upgrade you could do for your bike but they do take some getting used to and maybe I can give you some tips.

First of all you must keep them clean for them to release easily and consistently.  Spray them off with a hose and take an old toothbrush to them to get all the muck out and keep the pins and springs lubed with some thicker oil.  Spray the places where the cleats touch with Slick 50 (from Wal-Mart) or White Lightening chain lube.  Look after them before every ride.

Also, most pedals have adjustments for release and retention (except Frogs and Time ATAC) and these should be adjusted quite loose so that it is easy for your cleat to release.  Back the adjustments way off and only tighten them more if you pop out unexpectedly.  Give them some time before you tighten them as your leg muscles will realize that they have a job to do in keeping the foot stable and it doesn't always take a set of tight springs to hold you into the pedals.

Before you take your first ride, try the pedals in the driveway or on the lawn while holding onto something.  Practice turning the heel out to make the release at all positions of the pedal circle.  Like any new skill, it has to be practiced many times before it becomes an automatic reaction. And when you're crashing and banging over rocks and roots and you have to get your foot down in a hurry you don't have time to think.

Try releasing each foot and use both sides of each pedal just to make sure the release tensions are about the same.  You should have to use very little force to release the foot.  Practice clipping in and out a few dozen times.  When you go for your first ride, choose a grassy park.  Ride around while practicing continuously and do lots of stops and starts.

When you finally feel comfortable, venture onto some trails that are not too technical.  Keep practicing as repetition is your salvation.  You will find that when caked in mud the pedals are harder to get into and out of. This is normal and it is relative to three things - your skill, the pedals you have and the type of mud.  Some people have great luck with certain pedals and some people hate the same ones.  You may go through a couple of makes of pedal before you find the one that suits you, your style and the conditions that you ride in.  Just don't give up as they are a wonderful invention.  Check with the experts in our club - they don't have problems and it's because they have more experience than you, that's all.

Remember the important points !!

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Q 14.  -   How should I pack my bike for airplane travel?

A - Probably the best way is to pack your bike in a rigid, hard-shell case especially made for a bicycle.  These cases though, are expensive for a one-time trip.   Check into renting one from a bike shop.  I did and paid $40 for a week which I considered to be a good deal for the peace of mind that it gave.  Probably the second best way is to use a cardboard bike box from a bike shop.

This method is from Dedly Tedly Rolfes from Atlanta, Georgia

1) Get a box from the LBS, they have hundreds laying by the dumpster. My LBS charged me $5, I would bet most would just give one to you. It'll have all the packing material for protecting the tubes, plugging the seat tube and bracing the dropouts, as well as a small box for pedals, tools and small parts.

2) Take everything that's easy off your bike seat post, handle bar/stem (leave cables connected), pedals, wheels, rear derailleur (leave threaded in chain and dangling). I was able to cut down approx. 6" in length from the box once I did this, and could've gained an additional 2" if I had removed the fork..

3) Pack the pedals and all your tools, tubes and lubes in the small parts box EXCEPT the knife you'll need to open the box with when you get there. Pack the knife in your shaving kit - I used a retractable razor knife with a thin blade. Duct-tape the small box to the bottom inside of the bike box. Tape the extra cardboard from cutting the box down to the insides of the box to keep the wheel axles from poking through.

4) Pack the bike into the box. I use a bunch of foam sheeting for extra padding, but really the box itself should be adequate. Stuff a small roll of duct tape (for reclosing the box later), your helmet, shoes, water bottles, saddle bag, whatever else into the spaces. Tape the box shut. Make sure you take an extra roll of duct-tape with you as one may not be available anywhere near your hotel for your return journey.

5) Cover the ENTIRE box with duct tape. This takes a lot of tape - one entire large roll or more. The reasons for this are to cover the bike logos on the outside of the box, strengthen the box from being dragged or dropped, and to discourage anyone from opening it up to see what's inside.

6) When you check the box, make sure they put "checked luggage" tape on all sides of it, and that it goes with all the other luggage and not to some "special place". Trust me on this art.

7) Tell them it's anything but a bike. "Sculpture" seems to work very well. I almost told the lady mine was "an original Bontrager".

***On my recent trip, the guy on the way up asked "Is that a bike?" "No.   I said. On the way back I told her it was sculpture. No fees, although I had to sign a waiver in case it was damaged due to improper packing. Make sure it goes with all the suitcases and other luggage though, because on the way up some guy came up with a cart and carried it away somewhere into the bowels of the airport and my box arrived eleven hours later than I or the rest of my luggage did. Major anxiety!

Dedly Tedly.

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Q. 15 Can I install a headset myself without expensive tools?

Sure you can. It's easy if you are careful. Follow these tips -

The tools needed for my "Poor Man's Headset Installation" are:

Hammer (not too big or too small).
Plastic tipped hammer.
Two eight inch (or so) pieces of 2x4 lumber.
One workbench or other stable, raised surface.
One trusted helper who knows the meaning of the words "steady, level, left, right, up, down, turn over".
One long (about 8" or so) tapered drift-punch.

Preliminary comment - Your frame's head tube and fork crown race seat may need reaming and facing before installing a new headset. This goes for whether you use my method or a $200 fancy press. I've had many new frames both store bought and custom made and have never had to get one faced and reamed yet. This may not apply to you though. I've made some headsets fit better by using files and sandpaper but then I'm handy with tools.

Assuming the head tube and crown race seat are ready to accept the headset (at least sand any paint out of the head tube), proceed as follows.

Remove as many of the bike's parts as practical. You will have to invert the frame, so remove at least the wheels and maybe the bar/stem combo so they won't be flopping around attached to the cables.

Have trusted helper hold onto back end of frame with bottom end of head tube sitting SQUARELY on one of the 2x4's which is sitting at the edge of the bench.

Place the top cup (make sure it IS the top cup) and gently tap it to just get it started into the frame using a plastic tipped hammer. Make sure it is LEVEL by eye. Squat right down next to it and make sure. Grease it lightly before installing.

Place the other 2x4 on top of the cup and tap gently but firmly to start the cup going into the frame. This is where judgement comes in. Before you freak and rush off to the LBS remember....the constant checking and re-adjusting strategy from here on in is NO different if a fancy press is used. One must check constantly for the cup going in straight with ANY method used.

If all is level at this point then carry on tapping firmly and checking constantly. Depending on the quality of the interference fit, your taps may need to be big ones or little ones - whatever it takes. If the cup becomes un-level then hammer on the wood on the high side until the cup is level. Use care, good judgement and passion here.

Keep hammering until the cup is completely seated squarely on the head tube.

You have done NOTHING so far that you would not have done using a fancy press other that the hammer blows are intermittent pressing motions. You can get a cup going in cock-eyed using a press if you are not observant and careful.

Have the helper turn the frame over and repeat for the other cup.

For the fork crown race, get a 2x4 that is a couple of inches longer than the distance from the fork tips to the UNDERSIDE of the fork crown. Place the 2x4 standing on end on the floor and sit the underside of the fork crown on the end of the 2x4. The fork ends will not be touching the floor. Have the trusted helper hold the fork firmly and level by the legs.

Place the crown race (correct side up!) on the seat. Gently, with much care and compassion, tap the race down onto its seat with the drift punch. Go alternate sides (4 of them) to keep it level and square. Keep going until it's firmly seated. Some people use a good fitting pipe - either metal or ABS plumbing pipe here. The store-bought tool is just a fancy pipe. I've used a hammer and punch for 36 years with no problems YET!! Maybe I should buy the correct tool.. Yeah, right.

The job is done. It should take about 10 minutes tops and if you keep everything going down level then you will have no problems. But than all this advice goes for if you use a fancy press too.

****Story - I picked up my custom made mtb frame in Sept '97 and the builder told me to bring all the parts that were going INTO the frame as he wanted to install them himself to make sure they were done right. He loaded up my new Chris King headset onto his fancy press and started pressing. The cups went crooked and he had to start over - this happened about three times. We were both getting frustrated. Finally I said "Here, let me have a go" and I got my wood out of my box of parts and had the damn headset installed in about ninety seconds. The framebuilder was in awe.

Warning: If you are not observant, do not make adjustments or otherwise are ham-fisted you could wreck the headset or the bike frame. But then this advise goes for if you use my method or the world's most expensive press too.

I've been using this method for dozens of headsets over 36 years and have yet to experience even one problem. I wouldn't waste my money even on a home-made threaded rod and two large washers and nuts press.

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Q. 16 Wheelbuilding – can I do it myself? Is it hard?

Of course you can build your own wheels. There is nothing mystical about the issue – all it takes is a minor amount of equipment, some written instructions and some patience along with a willingness to learn. You will feel very proud of yourself when you take your first ride on your first set of wheels.

Wheelbuilding is equal parts of instructions, simple physics, judgement and artistic talent.

I’ve built dozens of wheels for myself and friends over thirty-six years. I won’t tell you how to actually do the job as that is well covered by people with far more typing time than I have. I’ll give you some tips that you may not find anywhere else.

The simple equipment needed is:

Your bike frame to use as a truing stand.
Your front fork to use as a truing stand.
A pair of simple inside calipers to check dishing.
A spoke wrench of the correct size.
An old Phillips screwdriver with two webs ground off.
A 4" piece of old spoke (the threaded end).
Small tin of Permatex Anti-Seize Compound.
Plastic tipped hammer.
Not much in the way of expensive tools, eh?

What you don’t need: wheelstand, dishing gauge, spoke tension meter, "Spoke Prep", electric or manual "nippledrivers".

Here are some important tips that I’ve found over a lifetime of wheelbuilding. Some may be found in the literature on wheels and some may not. Probably the most important thing to remember is not to rush your wheels. Go slowly and work with patience, care and passion. You can probably do a better job than most professional wheelbuilders as you have unlimited time to do a perfect job.

Before you begin, assemble all your tools and supplies. I sit on a low stool with everything spread around me on the floor so I can’t drop anything. You only need to put the wheels into the frame for final tensioning and truing. You have a long way to go before that stage.

Take that 4" piece of spoke and screw a nipple onto it upside down. Dip the nipple into grease and grease each nipple seat in the rim. This reduces friction for tensioning & truing.

Paint the threads of all the spokes with anti-seize compound. This allows you to easily re-true months and years down the road. Please do not ever use LocTite, as properly tensioned wheels do not need gluing together. They are also hard to re-true.

Make sure you have your spokes in four groups or bunches. Front spokes are sometimes the same lengths as non-drive rears but drive side rears are usually shorter. DO NOT MIX THEM UP!!

Make sure the rim labels can be read from the right side of the bike and the hub names can be read from the rear of the bike and that tire valves come out between the parallel spokes. Why? Re-read my sentence on "Care and Passion" – have pride in your wheels and try to do them as perfectly as possible.

With hollow rims it is easy to get nipples lost inside the rim. To make it easier to install nipples, screw one onto your 4" piece of spoke about two turns and poke it down through the rim hole.

When screwing down the nipples, do everything EVENLY all the way around the wheel so you do not get the rim off center or get hops in it.

Screw the nipples on about 4 turns – this step is not crucial – approx. 4 turns is close enough. When you have all the nipples on, with your modified Phillips screwdriver, screw all nipples down until 1/8" of thread remains. Now take them all down until two threads remain and then once again until all threads JUST vanish inside the nipple.

DO NOT RUSH or cut short the above step as it is your only means of making sure all the nipples area screwed down evenly. It ensures a hub centered perfectly in the rim.

From this point on you have NO FRAME OF REFERENCE of how much the nipples are screwed down relative to each other. You must do everything evenly until you come to final truing. Make sure from now on that you count spoke wrench turns or fractions of a turn. Example: If you turn the wrench ¼ of a turn for one nipple make sure you turn all other nipples the same.

Start tensioning the wheels (still in your lap) by tightening the nipples ½ turn each. Go around once. If they are still mostly loose, go around again with another ½ turn. If some were getting tight then go with ¼ turn all round. Remember to keep the turns even.

Keep going with this until you have a fair amount of tension in the wheels. Do not be concerned about trueness or dish at this time.

Spokes, when they are first tensioned tend to stretch somewhat. We want to take all of that stretch out of them while we are doing the actual building. If we don’t, they will continue to stretch on our first few rides and they will slacken off and allow the wheel to go out of true.

When we build, we put stresses into the spokes and other components. These stresses must be reduced and evened out as much as possible.

Also when we build, the spokes tend to dig into the relatively soft metal of the hub flanges. This takes place during the first few rides and obviously allows the spokes to loosen. We should bed the spokes into the hub as much as possible while we are building the wheels.

There are four techniques that achieve the above three steps of pre-stretching, stress reliving and bedding. Each separate method achieves more than one effect so I will lump them all together under "Pre-stressing and Stress Relieving"

Method 1. Perform this once only, just after you have got a fair amount of tension in the wheels. Where the "heads in" spokes exit the hubs – take the plastic tipped hammer and tap the spoke bend a little flatter. This does not take much effort.

Method 2. Perform this after every "round" of truing or tensioning. Grasp parallel pairs of spokes on each side – one pair in each hand - while wearing leather gloves and squeeze them in the hands as hard as you can. Go all around the wheel once.

Method 3. Perform after every round. Take a plastic handled screwdriver and force the outer spoke crosses down towards the hub with the handle.

Method 4. Perform once. Take the screwdriver handle and slightly twist the final spoke crosses around each other. Be gentle here.

***These above methods will take your wheels to the next step above average wheels built by average wheelbuilders. They will produce wheels that will not ping as you fist ride them (spokes untwisting and relieving themselves) and that will not need re-truing after the first few rides.

When you have a good degree of tension in the wheels (judgement call here), place the wheels in the frame or fork and check and adjust the dish. DISH – "centering of the wheel between the chainstays or fork blades". Measure with the inside calipers from rim wall to stay or blade. Slacken all the spokes on one side of the wheel ½ turn and tighten an equal ½ turn on all spokes on the other side. Repeat until centering is really close.

Begin to true the wheels. Work on wobbles from each side of the wheel alternately. Hold a screwdriver against the stay or blade and let the rim scrape it to indicate the high spots. Check for out of round hops. If you took my advice at the start to screw all nipples down evenly then there will be no major hops. Minor ones can be ignored.

When you have trued, stress relieved and bedded the spokes and you are getting to what you consider to be the end of the process (another judgement call) then you need to "tune" the spokes. This tells you the relative tension of all the spokes to each other. Obviously each spoke should be the same tension as all the others so that they all bear the same stress. Equal musical pitch equals equal tension! So – pluck the spokes halfway along their length and adjust as necessary. Just make sure ping equals ping instead of pong. BTW – non-drive side spokes will be less tension than drive side spokes so do not compare them.

When the spokes are tuned, then go back to truing and stress relieving and keep working back and forth until you cannot make the wheels any better. Only tune once though as the act of truing the wheels will make some spokes have slightly different tension. This is unavoidable and normal.

**Tension – probably the hardest part of wheelbuilding (it is for me) is deciding how much tension is enough. Oh, sure there is an expensive "Tensiometer" on the market built specially for this job but millions of wheels have been built successfully over the last hundred years without one.

It is almost impossible to get too much tension to the point where things start to break or crack. The nipples will round off before this happens. I usually quit when the nipples start pinging during tensioning. My final tensioning is usually down to 1/8th turns.

Eventually you will not be able to improve the wheels at all. That is the time to wipe off all the grease, mount the rim tapes, tires, tubes and cassette and go for a ride to marvel in the wonder of how such fragile individual parts have the combined ability to hold up so much weight.

For the physical act of wheelbuilding try Sheldon Brown’s website at
He also has references to internet spoke calculators. My favorite is at:

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Q. 17 What is chainsuck?

Chainsuck is what happens when you shift down from the middle ring to the granny ring and the chain does not release from the bottom of the ring and gets dragged up between the ring and the chainstay thus jamming the chain. You then fall off into the weeds.

No one seems to know why this happens but there are a few things that seem to contribute to it. If you’re aware of them and attempt to prevent them then this goes a long way to preventing the dreaded affliction.

The things that seem to contribute to chainsuck are -

Downshifting under load.

Dirty or dry chain.

Worn chain. (see faq on measuring chains for wear)

Worn, hooked chainrings (replace).

Burrs on chainrings (file them off).

Those points are in no particular order and your bike may have a number of them or maybe none of them. Some bikes just seem to suck the chain "because" and there is no reason that can be found.

Keeping the drivetrain in top condition goes a long way to preventing the problem but this is not guaranteed. My son had a bike two weeks old that sucked the chain like crazy.

There are "anti-chainsuck plates" on the market - both built into frames like Bontrager and aftermarket ones (like Ringle) that bolt onto the chainstays. I have had experience with both types and if they are not adjusted 100% then they make the problem far worse as the chain gets jammed in there worse than if there was no plate present. The aftermarket bolt-on ones seem to get knocked out of alignment with the first hit and then the troubles really start. I junked mine real fast.

BTW - some people think that chainsuck is when the chain derails off the granny ring while downshifting and gets wedged between the crank and the BB shell. Sorry, but this is not the acceptable definition of chainsuck. I guess it’s just "jammed, derailed chain".

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Q. 18  What is "Chainline"?

On most mountainbikes you have three front chainrings and anywhere from six to nine sprockets on the rear cassette. With the drive chain linking the two, obviously there has to be some relationship between the positioning of these drive parts in relation to each other for acceptable wear and shifting performance.

If we just sit and think of the setup we can visualize the three rings up front plus, let us say for simplicities sake, seven sprockets at the rear. Would you agree with me if I said the middle ring up front should line up with the middle sprocket at the back? You would? Good, then we are on the same wavelength.

As a quick chainline check, shift to the middle ring and the middle sprocket. Lean the bike against a wall and squat down behind the bike. Look real carefully along the chain from the front chainring to the rear sprocket. The chain should run straight back without angling off to the left or the right. This is pretty subtle, so check carefully.

If you have eight gears at the back then there is no center sprocket and the chain is going to be angled no matter which one you're on. Put it on the fourth from the smallest and it should angle a wee bit to the right and when you put it on the fifth from the smallest it should angle a wee bit to the left.

If the chainline is not correct and it angles off too much one way then your bottom bracket spindle is of the wrong length and should be changed. See the topic below of "measuring chainline".

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Q. 19 How do I measure my chainline?

To find this out we have to get into some fairly accurate measuring. To measure the chainline follow these steps.

The rear chainline (at the rear hub) is not variable and is specific to your frame and components so we will measure it and adjust the front chainline to match.

The measurement we need to take at the rear is from the center of the rear axle to the center of the cassette. As the rear hub is offset to accommodate the cassette then the center of the rear hub is NOT the center of the rear axle! Just take a look and you’ll see what I mean.

We need to measure accurately here. Get yourself a steel tape that measures in millimeters. Turn the bike upside down on the floor. Measure and note the width of the rear dropouts. On most modern mtb frames this is 135mm. Measure the width of the cassette and the gap between the cassette and the right dropout - to do this just hook the tape over the large sprocket and eyeball down to the inside face of the dropout. It should be close to a reading of 40mm. Take the smaller number away from the larger (135-40) and divide by two (95 div by 2) which will give you the distance from the axle mid point to the dropout face or…… rear chainline. In our example (from my bike) we got 47.5mm.

Shimano says the rear chainline should be between 47.5 and 50mm so we are in the ballpark!

Now we have to check the front chainline.

With the bike still upside down on the floor, measure the bottom bracket shell width with a ruler and put a pencil mark on the shell at its middle point. Measure from here to the center of the middle ring. You may have to pass the steel tape between the chainrings and eyeball this from above but you'll get it close with some degree of accuracy. I always measure from the 10mm mark as it's easier than measuring from the end of the tape - just deduct 10mm from your answer. Write this figure down and compare with the previous figure from the rear.

As we found before, our rear chainline was 47.5mm and the acceptable variation was 47.5 to 50 mm. If your front figure is more or less than this acceptable range then you're going to have to change the bottom bracket spindle (or unit) to compensate. Some BB units are adjustable for chainline so just move it over by the amount it's out. Just remember - if your front chainline needs to be 5mm narrower then an axle 5mm shorter will only change the chainline 2.5mm!!

Taaaa-daaaaa - we just did the "complicated" job of measuring front and rear chainlines in two minutes!

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Q. 20  Is there an easy way to teach someone to ride a bike?

It’s easier for kids to teach themselves how to ride a bike and this goes for kids of all ages (5 to 50). The learning process is made more complicated when adults offer to "help". The traditional "Training" wheels just train them to lean on these wheels on one side or the other. They don't teach balance brought on by steering correction which is the essence of two-wheeled riding. Get a bike small enough that when the seat is all the way down, junior can get two feet flat on the ground. Remove both pedals as these just add to the confusion and whack legs.

Take the bike to a quiet parking lot. Sit the kid on the bike and say "See you over the other side of the lot" and walk away. He/she will learn quickly to scoot the bike using both feet for propulsion. Give encouragement from the far side of the lot and much praise when they get there. Don’t give in to temper tantrums or you’ve lost the game. Reverse direction and try again.

After a little while they will be able to glide with feet an inch off the ground for a second or two. The odd major swerve and maybe the odd tumble will be mixed in here. Hopefully you will have outfitted them with protective equipment (fitted and adjusted correctly). Eventually the kid will be able to go for good distances with both feet off the ground - true bike balancing. Resist the urge to hold onto the back of the saddle as this just prolongs the learning curve.

Let them practice until proficient and long glides are being done. Progress to changes in direction and weaving around objects.

They will let you know when they are ready for the pedals. I'd stall putting them back on until there is good proficiency with the pedal-less gliding. Once steering and balance are perfected then pedaling will be an added skill.

That's about it. It's a short learning process with a motivated child and an adult that can restrain themselves from "helping". Have fun.

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