Wheel building is the mark of a true bicycle mechanic.
One of the best things you can do to improve the riding qualities of your bicycle is to upgrade the rims. Of course if you have a top-of-the-line bike that cost thousands of dollars, chances are it already has good quality rims; but if your bike is on the lower end and only cost a few hundred, better rims will make a noticeable difference. A complete wheel set is expensive because if it has good rims it also has high-end hubs and other parts. If you lace your own wheels using your existing hubs and cassette with quality double-butted spokes and good rims, your bicycle will be greatly improved for minimal cash outlay, plus you gain the self-confidence that comes from the rite of passage of lacing your own wheels.
The most common spoke pattern is 36 spokes in a cross-3 pattern. The neophyte wheel-builder should master this pattern before considering anything more exotic.
1. Oil the threaded end of a spoke and insert it through one of the holes in the rear hub, from the outside toward the inside of the flange on the drive side of the hub. This will be the key spoke. Look at the rim and find the valve hole. The spoke holes are offset to the left and right sides, alternating. Lay the hub on the ground with the drive side facing up and the key spoke pointing away from you, and lay the rim so that the hub is centered within it and the valve hole is at approximately the 10 o’clock position. With the rim laying on the ground, half of the spoke holes will be pointing toward the ground, and the other holes will be pointing up. Insert the threaded end of the key spoke into the first hole that is pointing up, clockwise from the valve hole. Thread a nipple partially onto the end of this spoke, with the protrusion of the nipple pointing toward the rim. This and all nine spokes in this group will be trailing; that is, they will angle counter-clockwise from the center line of the hub.
2. Insert a spoke through the second hole in the hub clockwise from the key spoke. In other words, skip one hole and place the spoke in the next one. Skip three upward-pointing holes in the rim and insert the spoke in the fourth hole, working clockwise from the key spoke. Thread a nipple partially onto this spoke. Continue in the same manner with the other seven spokes in the group, skipping one hole in the hub and three in the rim.
3. Flip the wheel over so that the drive side is toward the ground. Look at the key spoke and determine if it is in the hole next to the valve hole, or if there is a hole between the key spoke and the valve hole. If there is an empty hole between, the first spoke in this group will go in that hole. If not, it will go in the first hole on the other side of the valve hole.
4. Find the key spoke, and insert a spoke through the first hole in the hub to the right or clockwise, but on the opposite flange. Insert from the outside to the inside, as before. Insert the end of this spoke through the rim hole identified in step three, and partially thread a nipple onto it. Continue with the other eight spokes in this group, skipping one hole in the hub and three holes in the rim. These spokes will also be trailing.
5. Flip the wheel over so the drive side is up. Oil the threads of a spoke and insert it, this time from the inside of the hub toward the outside, in any hole in the drive side flange of the hub. This group will be leading spokes, so angle it clockwise so that it crosses over two and under one of the trailing spokes, and insert it into the first hole it reaches that is on the correct side of the rim. This will be one hole removed from the nearest trailing spoke. Thread on a nipple, and continue with the remaining 17 spokes on the drive side, always angling clockwise and crossing over two and under one spoke.
6. Flip the wheel over and repeat Step 5 on this side of the wheel. This will complete the installation of the spokes.
7. Screw all the nipples down with the screwdriver, incrementally until all are just seated but not tight. Then go all the way around again, pressing each leading spoke inward until it is straight, while re-seating its nipple with the screwdriver.
8. Turn the bicycle upside down and install the new wheel. Tighten all the spokes one full turn at a time, using the spoke wrench. Continue tightening the spokes incrementally until they feel as tight as a factory-assembled wheel, occasionally spinning the wheel to check its trueness. If you work incrementally, the wheel should remain true.
9. Follow the same steps for a front wheel, except that the front wheel has no drive side. Start from either side, and proceed in the same manner as with the rear wheel.