"This blog contains the writings of NTWS’s chief wheel-builder Noah Smith, who also happens to be our chief of rambling-on, chief of pontificating and chief geek. The points he tries to make always come back round on themselves, kind of like wheels"

In tune with the machine

One thing I really enjoy about building wheels is listening to the spokes as they come into tension and into tune. From the dull “dunk” after lacing to the higher pitched “ting!” it’s a pleasing transformation, especially as I am a rather musical fellow (I am very precise when tuning my guitar, I can’t stand to have it out of tune). I remember my friend’s dad telling me he had built a couple of wheels and stopped adding tension when the spokes reached a healthy C#. Not the most precise method but a lot cheaper than a spoke tension meter.

I suppose this is where the word “tune” in context of making something works properly comes from: to take something that is not correctly set up and take it to that sweet spot of perfection. When things are working properly it is so much better than when they are not, its playing a sweet face-melting shred fest of a solo compared to an out of time attempt when all the wrong notes are hit. This is why I believe all riders should gain some mechanical know-how on their bicycles, for their sake. Why suffer the eternally clicking gears? Or the creaky bottom bracket (long live BSA standard)? Or even, Merckx forbid, the out of true wheel? Why when with good care and some simple maintenance you could have a bike which just flies and all you have to do is enjoy the ride. It is so much more enjoyable.

But am I being too basic when saying it must be you’re bicycle that is the one in tune. As a machine, the bicycle is a very odd and unique. Or maybe instrument is the correct word. I say this because while one can spend many hours fettling, tinkering, swearing and sweating to make their bicycle a silent speed machine, the rider is essentially the main component of the bicycle; they are the engine, the literal beating heart. Do we all need a bit of tinkering too? Is it worth spending hours on the bike when we are the ones not working? Maybe, like the chain and cassette, we should wear in together? Some interesting thoughts, but in the end hopeless ones as we are not androids, we are flesh and blood.

The human body is not a machine, body parts wear that cannot really be replaced, organs stop working as they once did and eventually we break down completely. So when I say we should be in tune with our bikes, it is not as simple as making everything work properly, it’s about making sure everything works together. Maybe that slammed stem isn’t great for your back; maybe your saddle is wrong. What I’m trying to say is that your bicycle should be right for you. Make sure your bike works but also make sure your bike works for you too. In the end it’s all about having fun, if you’re not grinning you’re not winning.

Yours in cycling,

Noah Smith

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