September 10, 2016
One challenge a wheelbuilder faces is managing spoke windup. Windup happens when friction between spoke and nipple causes the spoke to twist instead of tightening. This is bad because a twisted spoke is not in equilibrium and will eventually unwind. When twisted spokes unwind, wheels lose alignment. Windup worsens as spoke diameter decreases, which makes thin spokes like DT Revolutions more difficult (thicker spokes build more easily). The problem worsens as tension increases, which is a bigger issue in the 11-speed era because higher tensions are typically required.
There are a few strategies for dealing with spoke windup. The first and most fundamental is to make sure nipples receive ample lubrication. Sometimes adding more lubrication during a build helps. The second strategy is to detect spoke windup and compensate. Windup can be detected by feeling the spoke rotate in tandem with turns of the nipple (a flag can be fixed to the spoke to provide a visual cue). When you start experiencing spoke windup, it’s helpful to overturn the nipple and then back off. For example to achieve a quarter turn of the nipple, tighten the nipple a half turn then loosen by a quarter turn. Windup is released during the loosening step.
Before a wheel is declared complete it should be free of windup. Windup can be freed by flexing spokes in different ways. One way is to grab roughly parallel pairs of same-side spokes and pull them together. A more drastic method is to put the wheel on the ground, touch the ground with the hub and press down around the rim. You can often hear pinging noises as spokes unwind. A wheel is complete when these procedures do not change the wheel and other tolerances are met.