Sweet Silent Coasting

I’ve reconfigured the ANT Light Roadster into a single speed coaster brake bicycle.  That’s overly dramatic.  I built and installed a new rear wheel.  A simple project, but I enjoyed the process and am happy with the result.  While it was fun to have a fixed gear bicycle in the rotation, I wanted to enjoy coasting and a second brake on this beautiful bicycle.  Coasting and two brakes make bicycling more relaxing, and I enjoy relaxing.

I am new to wheel building.  I built four in 2008 and this coaster brake wheel is my fifth.  Each time a wheel comes together, I feel like I am watching a good magic trick.  I know it is not magic.  I owe it all to great instruction from Jobst Brandt and Sheldon Brown and I am using quality parts and tools.  Simple as that.

As I wrote before, I bought from Guy Doss a Velosteel coaster brake hub and Phil Wood cog, then endured an excruciating wait for delivery of a Velocity Synergy rim and Wheelsmith spokes (only six days–Niagara Cycle always ships fast–but it felt like an eternity with a lonely hub waiting for a job).  When the rim and spokes showed up last night, I didn’t hesitate.  With packing materials all over the living room and obligations to work, dog and dinner neglected, I hustled downstairs to build a wheel.

I did two things before lacing the wheel.  First, as recommended by Jobst Brandt, I bent the spoke heads about 45 degrees (straightening them some at the standard 90 degree bend).  According to Brandt, thin flanges (like those found on Velosteel hub) won’t support the spoke head as well as thick flanges.   Spokes are made to work with as many hubs as possible, so the bends at the head are made to fit thick flanges.  Brandt’s modification provides better support.  Without the modification, there is a greater chance of spoke breaking.  [Update:  What about spoke washers?  I wonder why Brandt doesn’t mention them on the page describing the spoke bends?  Next time.]

Second, I coated the spoke threads with Wheelsmith SpokePrep.   This was a first for me.  I used oil on the spoke threads and rim eyelets for the first four wheels I built.  Oil worked fine as I built the wheels and I’ve had no issues with durability (but then I don’t really put anything to the test in a macho sense), but I still wanted to give SpokePrep a try.  I hold Wheelsmith in high esteem.  If you are considering using SpokePrep, though, know that there are some pretty spooky warnings in the instructions.  You don’t want it in your eyes, on your skin or in your lungs.  I took care when applying the stuff to the threads and propped open a door as it dried.  No extra limbs thus far.  Had I known about the toxicity before I bought it, I might have passed.  Pricey and toxic is not a great combination.  Also, I didn’t notice that the build was easier.  That said, I did build to a higher tension than I have previously.  Maybe I would have had a tougher time without SpokePrep.  Hard to say.  Anyway, the higher tension should make for a more durable wheel.  I will probably appreciate SpokePrep more over time.

An hour into the job, the prep work was done and the wheel was laced and lightly tensioned (fast for me, but experienced builders surely work more quickly).  I would have kept at it but I smelled roasting eggplant.  I finished my current lap around the spokes and headed upstairs to save the eggplant from an ashy grave.  It was perfect!  Back to the wheel while the eggplant cooled.  

I worked another thirty minutes until Lacey came home.  It wasn’t easy to leave the wheel unfinished, but I was able to hold off until first thing this morning.  With Lacey asleep I suffered from no divided loyalties.  The wheel had me!  Another thirty minutes and I was done.  I wish it had taken longer.  I don’t know when my next wheel project will present itself.  Oh well.

All in all, the build was incredibly easy.  All five wheels I have built have been easy.  Maybe I’m just lucky.  I am using nice rims with high spoke counts (three with 36 holes and two with 40).  Maybe lower quality rims or rims with fewer spokes are harder to get right?  Anyway, at 75% of full tension, this wheel was in very good shape without any real truing.  Just even tensioning.  A few minor adjustments were all that were required after I brought the wheel to full tension and relieved stress on the spokes.    

I had ordered a new tire, but it wasn’t here and the wheel was ready!  No need for patience–I mounted the tire from the existing rear wheel on the Velosteel wheel and installed the wheel on the ANT.  I was  so proud to see the new wheel in place.

In lieu of the steel strap that came with the hub, I secured the hub’s brake arm to the chain stay with a rubber coated steel strap.  Same weight of steel, but a much better shape for my chain stay.  I drilled out the small holes to accept the bolt that came with the hub (the bolt was good quality, beefy and included a nice nylock nut).  I also added one wrap of rim tape to make the fit extra perfect.

I can’t recommend highly enough MKS chain tensioners.  They make mounting a nutted wheel so much easier (it doesn’t move as nuts are tightened) and you can be sure the wheel will stay put.  A nice present to yourself and your bicycle.

I am also happy that I moved up a tooth on the rear cog.  I had 18 teeth on the Phil Wood fixed wheel but went with 19 on the Velosteel coaster wheel.  With fixed gear, if your gear is too easy you may struggle to keep up with your pedals as you go downhill.  Not a concern when you can coast, so I gave myself a one tooth present.  Why not?  I am in no hurry.

Verdict?  The wheel rides great!  Brakes work great!  Coasting is silent!  What’s not to love?  I read that some of the Velosteel hubs come from the factory under lubricated so I opened mine to have a look.  Looks to me like Guy was in there and substituted in Phil Wood grease in all the right places.  That’s quite a service for such an inexpensive hub.  A labor of love, to be sure.  Or maybe the factory uses green Phil Woodish grease?  Tough to say.  Either way, things looked good and greasy in there.  Hooray!

What else?  Dinner was fantastic.  Three Indian dishes (eggplant, kidney beans and butternut squash) and spiced rice.  That sounds like a lot of work (together with wheel building), but the whole of the cooking didn’t all happen in an evening.  I had pulled the cooked kidney beans from the freezer the day before.  I had roasted the squash the day before and the eggplant in the afternoon.  With those three foundational tasks complete, finishing an Indian vegetable dish, even three, is pretty quick and easy.  About 15 minutes for each.  Fun, too, since Lacey was helping.  Great to be able to cook together (20 years of practice makes (nearly) perfect).

Back to work.  Have a wonderful day.


4 responses to “Sweet Silent Coasting

  1. After 40 yeas and thousands of wheels, I have a couple of observations. First, thanks for purchasing a Veosteel hub from Elegantwheels.net!

    I having built hundreds of wheels with and without Spokeprep, and it more than pays for itself in time saved alone.

    I don’t think that altering the spoke bend before assembly is necessary, careful prestressing and cold setting will achieve the same result. Phil Wood and Sapim spokes have shorter bends, and fit the flanges of the Velosteel tightly.

    That magic feeling never goes away. I always find the trasformation from loose parts to a wheel nothing short of miraculous.

  2. Hi what type of chain did you use?

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