Wheel Building On The Road In Guatemala

After turning my front rim into taco salad in a recent crash, it was time to practice my wheel building skills!


Taco salad after the crash. Fortunately, the hub dynamo and spokes survived!

Risks Of Touring On A 29er

I knew I was taking a risk by touring Latin America on a 29er mountain bike, as larger diameter wheels are a rarity here. Still, I was willing to take the chance in exchange for the fast rolling fun of my big wheels. Anyway, it was clear I wouldn’t be able to source a suitable 700c rim in Guatemala. I checked out several online UK and US stores to find out which one had the cheapest worldwide express shipment. I found that Chain Reaction Cycles UK offer DHL Worldwide Express at a good rate. The worldwide shipment meant I was exempt from UK VAT, but the Guatemalan customs ended up being 30%, so it actually cost a bit more than I expected in the end.

Unfortunately, Chain Reaction didn’t stock my beloved (and cheaper) Rigida Sputnik rim, so I opted for a DT Swiss TK 540 29er Disc Rim. The dimensions of this rim are basically the same, so it should work with the same spoke lengths, tire, etc.

I wanted to buy new spokes to ensure a solid build, but the lengths I needed were not in stock at the time. So, I had to re-use my existing spokes. Some were a little bent out of shape, especially around the threads and elbows. Fortunately, I was carrying enough spare spokes to weed out the worst of the bunch.

Wheel Building Notes

In order to rebuild the wheel, I required the following:

  1. Copy of Wheelbuilding by Roger Musson
  2. Truing stand
  3. Spoke wrench
  4. DIY nipple driver
  5. An experienced wheel builder (if possible)
  6. Dishing tool (if possible)
  7. Spoke tension meter (if possible)


The nearly finished ‘new’ wheel after a few hours of lacing and truing

Our new friend from WarmShowers.org (Carl Sands) recommended we head over to Solo Bicis in Quetzaltenango (Xela). The owner and head mechanic is Edvin Barrios, a former pro mountain biker who competed in many big races across the US and Guatemala whilst sponsored by Cannondale. Edvin has been a bike mechanic for about 20 years and has built many more wheels than me!


Roger Musson’s Wheelbuilding, a must have for all wheelbuilders


Hanging out with the owner of Solo Bicis, Edvin Barrios, a former pro mountain biker who was sponsored by Cannondale


Edvin helped with some finishing touches in fine truing and tensioning.


Solo Bicis is the local bike shop of choice in Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala. This photo is geotagged if you want to see the location on the map. The address is 4a calle 21-25 Zona 3 Quetzaltenango, telephone 50733898, email solobicis@gmail.com

After paying the extortion tax for my rim at the DHL office, I headed over to Solo Bicis with all my parts and a copy of Wheelbuilding loaded onto my Kindle. Having this book at hand was really helpful for jogging my memory on the prep work, lacing and pre-tensioning of the wheel.

Once I had completed the lacing and made sure all the spokes we tightened equally, I threw it on the truing stand to work in the radial fine tune truing and dishing. Edvin was right there to give me some expert advice.

Final Tips For Wheel Building

Here are some tips from my experience rebuilding my front wheel.

  1. Read and re-read the entire ‘Building’ section of Wheelbuilding. It helps to have a thorough understanding of the process before attempting to build or re-build a wheel;
  2. When re-building a wheel with used spokes, Musson recommends that you leave the spokes in the hub if possible. This ensures that the existing bends of the spoke elbows are taken into account (they are different for inner and outer spokes);
  3. Use motor oil to lubricate the spoke threads, nipples and rim eyelets;
  4. Use a nipple driver to achieve uniformity when taking up the slack after lacing the wheel. This is really important in getting the wheel near true before putting on the truing stand;
  5. I didn’t have a dishing tool or a spoke tension meter, but I think these are more of a ‘nice to have’, not absolutely necessary;
  6. Don’t rush it!


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