In discussions about wheelbuilding, I had frequently heard about Musson's book. However, between the canonical “Art of Wheelbuilding” by Gerd Schraner and Jobst Brandt's “The Bicycle Wheel”, Musson is generally the lesser known. I myself have read Brandt and didn't like it much because of its more theoretical-technical approach. For step-by-step instructions I have mostly relied on Sheldon Brown's (and now John Allen's) online instructions. Those I found sufficient yet not ideal: The instructions are obviously clear enough to have allowed me to build up a number of wheels over the years. But it wasn't always a smooth process, for example several times I had to un- and re-lace wheels because the valve stem had ended up in the wrong spot.
Musson's book is clearly written from a practical perspective, drawing from his experience as a professional wheelbuilder. He often quips about how there are ways of doing things different from the ones suggested by him, but that more often than not they in the end all result in wheels that work.
After a quick introduction and outline of the book, the first substantive chapter discusses the different components of a wheel and the key concepts relevant to building a wheel. Supported by a number of helpful illustrations and photographs, I found this chapter to have just the right amount of detail both for first-time and more experienced wheelbuilders. Once again, the pragmatic approach becomes evident in the discussion of where to put pulling and pushing spokes, a topic that has inspired much heated discussion and little consensus over the years:
For your first wheels lace them as Option A ... For your next set of wheels lace them as Option B. If you are a disc brake user, then lace your third rear wheel as Option C ... By doing this you will understand how to lace the different options and have proof that they all work the same. (p. 32)The following chapter then discusses the different options for building a wheel, for example how many spokes and which lacing pattern should be used for which application. Chapter 6 is probably the most unique among wheelbuilding books. Here, Musson discusses the tools needed for building wheels. But not only does he discuss commercially available tools; he also provides detailed instructions how to build a nipple driver, a wheel dishing gauge, and even a truing stand. So far I have built the former two, and I agree with his assessment that they are equivalent or even superior to their commercial counterparts such as the Park Tool WAG-2–and certainly much cheaper. I have read similarly good things about the design of his truing stand and will probably build one myself at some point.
|Almost completed dishing gauge|
Determining the correct spoke lengths is discussed in its own chapter. Musson strongly advocates for not relying on manufacturers' numbers or ones found on the internet. Instead he describes in detail how to measure both hubs and rims and consequently calculate the correct spoke lengths (an online calculator is provided on his website). At this point, the reader should have all the ingredients required and be ready to start actually building the wheel, which is discussed in the following two chapters. Chapter 7 discusses lacing the wheel. Musson's instructions here are very easy to follow, and for the first time I was able to effortlessly lace a wheel correctly on the first try, even getting the "read-the-hub-label-through-the-valve-hole" thing right. Tensioning and truing the wheel is the topic of chapter 8. Through my volunteering at a community bike shop, I'm much more experienced with truing and tensioning than with lacing, and therefore a lot of the information presented by Musson wasn't new to me. Still, he offers a lot of little tips and tricks borne out of many years of building experience, for example using little “flags” made out of masking tape to make spoke torsion visible.
The final substantive chapter discusses repairing existing wheels, dealing with broken spokes, worn rims, or shot hubs. Chapters 10 and 11 provide a few additional illustrations and a one-page wheelbuilding checklist.
An additional strength of Musson's book is its publication method: Musson self-publishes the Professional Guide as a PDF file without digital rights management. In contrast to many other e-books, this allows reading the book on many different devices and also easy printing. The typesetting and image resolution is very good for a self-published book. An additional advantage related to this way of publishing is that it allows easy updates to the book. Its first version appeared in 2005, and the book that I bought is already the sixth edition. Compared to Brandt and Schraner, it is apparent that Musson takes into account recent developments such as off-set frames and rims popular with fat bikes. Buying one copy of the book entitles readers to all future updates and also to access to a website with additional materials and a support forum.
All in all, Musson's book is excellent, and I wish I had bought it earlier in my wheelbuilding career. I highly recommend it to both novices and somewhat more experienced hobby wheelbuilders who are primarily interested in building wheels-that-work without necessarily caring about the finer theoretical details of the process. Wheelbuilding as craft, not science or art.
Roger Musson, The Professional Guide to Wheel Building, 6th edition. Self-published e-book. 115 pages, £9 ($14 USD).