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I am considering getting an older Raleigh 3-speed for everyday riding and, if I do, I think I would want to replace the steel rims with alloy rims for better braking.

This is my understanding: because of the nonstandard 110mm rear/90mm front hub spacing on these bikes I am pretty much limited to building new wheels around the original hubs and cannot just buy a factory-built wheel.

Where in Chicago can I have these wheels built cheaply? And what is a reasonable price to pay? Since this is an inexpensive bike I don't want to sink too much money into it. I've also considered trying to do the initial build myself and then taking the wheels to a shop for truing to save money. Is this a good idea or a bad idea?

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West Town Bikes has wheelbuilding classes for $75 plus materials you are taught to build a set of wheels. That is probable as cheap as labor is going to get, plus it teaches you (the basics of) how to build a wheel. Even if you plan to never build another wheel, it is useful knowledge to understand how a wheel works

I took the class in the past and can really recommend it

About 50-60/wheel and 80-100/pair plus materials is pretty normal.  

I would skip out any random builder not at a shop that you do not know the reputation of; there are a lot of shitty wheel builders out there who think they have it down.

You can lace them yourself but it is going to cost more than a basic wheel true to have them brought up to tension and finished off; there is a lot of time, skill and special tools required to get a wheel built properly and all those things cost money.

DUG, isn't there a bit of a conflict of interest here on your part? I mean, of course the guy that makes his living wrenching on bikes is going to strongly recommend against building the wheel yourself / have a non-shop person build one.

I don't entirely disagree with what you are saying, but I don't think you're being completely honest either. One can learn how to build a wheel, it does not require anything special outside of some $10 spoke wrenches and perhaps a nipple driver, which you can make yourself from an old flathead screwdriver. Yes, sure a truing stand, dishing tool, etc. would be nice, but they are far from required. Why not encourage people to try it out, or to seek out someone that can help them try it out?

Eli, check out the classes Duppie pointed out. I've heard nothing but good things about them. You'll come away more than capable of accomplishing what you need to accomplish, you'll have learned a fun skill, and saved a few dollars.

10 mm difference between the old and modern hub spacing standards seems like nothing.  I'd bet you could buy a wheel set with new hubs and spread the old Raleigh dropouts by hand when you install the wheels.

Maybe DUG or someone with more hands-on experience could confirm.

OK, first off no, there is not a conflict of interest. 

You want to go have some guy on Criagslist advertising wheel building or a friend of yours hook you up with a set of wheels go for it; I build wheels on the cheap or for barter for people quite often.  However, unless you know the person already or have an endorsement for them it is totally buyer beware territory. 

Now, as to what it takes to build a wheel pull up a chair and learn a little something...

I'll admit you are right, all that is required to build a wheel is a spoke wrench and a little bit of understanding so let me rephrase that.

Building a quality wheel requires special tools, time and skill.  

Go find me any book on wheel building, or anybody who builds wheels professionally, that does not tell you to use a tensiometer when building a wheel.

How true and round can you get a wheel without a truing stand?  

How centered can you get the dish without a dish gauge or a stand you know is centered?

Yes, you can build a wheel without any of the tools a pro would use but there is a very good chance of it being a rubbish wheel.  Tension is everything when it comes to deciding when a wheel is done and checking to see if it is going to be a stable and long lasting wheel.  Not having the ability to do so is a serious handicap when building a wheel.

I do endorse West Town's wheel building class, I did not mention it because Duppie already had.  I learned to build wheels there myself and it was a great experience.  By all means build your own wheels but do it somewhere you get taught by a real mechanic and have access to proper tools.  Building your own wheels but if you do it with only basic tools based on some video you saw on YouTube and the internet you may end up very disappointed.

I just recently rebuilt a set of wheels somebody built themselves like that that had come apart due to a lack of spoke prep and/or improper tension; it cost them a rim in the long run to not have used the proper tooling anf been taught properly.

Will G - 10mi said:

DUG, isn't there a bit of a conflict of interest here on your part? I mean, of course the guy that makes his living wrenching on bikes is going to strongly recommend against building the wheel yourself / have a non-shop person build one.

I don't entirely disagree with what you are saying, but I don't think you're being completely honest either. One can learn how to build a wheel, it does not require anything special outside of some $10 spoke wrenches and perhaps a nipple driver, which you can make yourself from an old flathead screwdriver. Yes, sure a truing stand, dishing tool, etc. would be nice, but they are far from required. Why not encourage people to try it out, or to seek out someone that can help them try it out?

Eli, check out the classes Duppie pointed out. I've heard nothing but good things about them. You'll come away more than capable of accomplishing what you need to accomplish, you'll have learned a fun skill, and saved a few dollars.

It would work but there are no really nice 3-spd wheels out there that are machine built, and that's if you consider machine built wheels nice...   That means that you are going to have to build a wheel no matter what so you may as well use the 3-spd hub you have to cut down on cost.  At that point if you are going to be building wheels why cheap out on the front when you could just build to your old hub and have matching quality wheels?

Build a set of wheels to some CR-18s and you will have a lighter bike and fantastic wheels.

BruceBikes said:

10 mm difference between the old and modern hub spacing standards seems like nothing.  I'd bet you could buy a wheel set with new hubs and spread the old Raleigh dropouts by hand when you install the wheels.

Maybe DUG or someone with more hands-on experience could confirm.

http://sheldonbrown.com/raleigh26.html Raleigh compatibility problems.

Rear Dropout/Hub Fitting

Most Nottingham Raleigh rear dropouts have narrow (8 mm) slots intended for the flat-sided axles common on Sturmey-Archer and other older British hubs. Most modern rear hubs are 10 mm, some are even 10.5 mm, so you will need to file the rear as well. I recommend doing all of the filing on the bottom of the slot. This eliminates the risk of making one side higher than the other.

Dropout spacing on bikes made for 3-speed applications is typically 114 mm (4 1/2 inches). 5-speed derailer systems usually used 120 mm. Many upgrades will call for a wider dropout spacing.

http://sheldonbrown.com/frame-spacing.html If and how to spread the rear triangle.

 

Brake Reach

The typical Raleigh-built 3-speed comes with 590 mm (26 x 1 3/8) rims, with long-reach brakes, around 75 mm at the front and 80 mm at the rear.

If you switch to 622 mm (700c) wheels, you'll need brakes with a reach of about 60 mm at the front and 65 mm at the rear (but measure -- this may vary). 700C wheels are a recommended upgrade, both for the greater variety of available rims and tires, and for better braking. Modern dual-pivot sidepull brakes with the required reach, such as the Tektro R556, will work. The larger wheels will raise the frame by 10-18 mm depending on the width of the new tires, an issue if the frame already borders on being too large.

700C wheels risk interference with the original steel fenders, but modern, adjustable plastic fenders will work fine. They also are much lighter.

If you switch to 559 mm (26" MTB size) you'll need very long-reach brakes. Such brakes are often a bit anemic due to the long arms; also, the bottom bracket will be low, reducing cornering clearance.

If you wish to use 559 mm wheels, it is often a good idea to replace the fork with a MTB fork with cantilever bosses. You then have the option of raising the front end of the bicycle, and with it the bottom bracket too, especially if you use a suspension fork. If you're handy, you can even braze cantilever mounts onto the rear. See my article on installing cantilever braze-ons. Or, you may use a home-made drop bolt.

The Raleigh Twenty has special brake-reach issues, as it was sold with either of two different wheel sizes.

This is all adding up to a pretty large undertaking. Are you attached to the idea of getting an old Raleigh? Seems like it might be a lot simpler and perhaps less expensive to get a less exotic and less vintage three speed?

Thanks for the West Town recommendation. That looks perfect for me--maybe by the time I am ready to do this they will be offering that class again.

Another much cheaper option is to keep the old wheels and replace the old John Bull brake pads with Kool Stop Continental salmon pads and see how bad it is. Often it's fine, especially if the brakes are dry and the rims are clean. Adjust cables so it's responsive and strong enough.

Or get a Raleigh with a coaster brake 3 speed. TCW hubs were bad, S3C adequate, newer ones better. See sheldon brown for more. Good luck with your project.

I find the concept of a 700c wheel on a Raleigh to be distasteful at best...

When I wanted to get some wheels laced, LBS gave me the runaround, saying they are busy, or get the spokes and rim and , and they would lace it. I went on UTUBE, and looked up some videos, what I thought was a magical procedure, was nothing other than ordinary instructions. hence, I built my 1st wheel, a 20" front hub with disc brakes, 3 cross. I also have a truing stand, spoke cutter, and spoke ruler, spoke wrenches.

   Since then(a year ago) I have built more than 10 disc brake wheels for myself. I even got me a cheap spoke threader powered by an electric drill, and started to make my little wheels(16"), as ordering spokes for small wheels is hard to find unless you order cut to order. Like the 16" wheels, spokes were between 96mm to 100mm in a 1 cross pattern. 

   Below is a utube video on lacing a 3 cross BMX wheel by an young bmxer.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbUm9NFRtHQ

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