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Building wheels is an art that takes a lot of time and patience to master. Like all bike work, the right tools always help make the job a little easier and ensures everything is correct. Read on as our friend Zachary tells why he finally decided to pick up a Park Tool TM-1 for his toolbox.
I have been building my own wheels for quite a while, starting back in high school while working at a shop. I had originally been taught by an old-school wheel builder who didn’t believe in using tension meters, saying that a proper wheel build didn’t need one. I carried on building wheels successfully for years after that, though quite infrequently, and while I never had big issues with any of my wheel builds, I did notice a couple of builds losing tension after full seasons in the Whistler Bike Park, etc. I always figured that was reasonable, and would just re-tension those wheels if issues came up.
Fast forward a bit, and I was putting together a nice set of wheels for my custom built 29er. I wanted to make sure the wheels were perfect, and some of the issues with losing tension had been exacerbated by the larger 29er wheel size, with a prior wheel (not built by me) losing tension quite often.
While buying some spokes and things, I decided to cave and buy a tension meter – in doing some research, I came across a few reputable builders who mentioned that the real advantage of the tension meter is not so much the accuracy with which you can reach exact tension, but the measured consistency across the spokes as you bring the wheel up to tension. For ~$70, I figured that this Park Tool tension meter would last a lifetime in terms of helping to build more consistent wheels without reaching the astronomical pricing of things like DT Swiss tools and other more boutique options.
The Park Tool comes in a box that is more substantial than your average cardboard box to allow for long-term storage use and includes a small tool to measure spoke gauge as well as a chart to help interpret tension readings for different spoke gauges. It is exceptionally easy to use as you are building.
In order to test my new purchase, I did a wheel build and finished it to a level at which I felt I would be comfortable calling it finished. I then tested the spokes with the tension meter to see how I had done. While the variability between tensions on individual spokes wasn’t problematic, there was certainly some variability that I wouldn’t have otherwise caught without the tension meter to measure things. I then corrected those variabilities to the degree possible, and ended up with an evenly-tensioned, straight wheel ready for ride testing.
After a year of riding on that wheel, I can say that the Park tension meter was a great purchase. I’ve since used it to correct a couple of other wheels in my arsenal and have helped a friend build 2 wheels as well. All of the wheels have benefitted from the more even tension, and my wheel from one year ago has held tension perfectly over that period of time despite being the rear wheel on my enduro bike and seeing a lot of abuse. The Park TM-1 tension meter is certainly not something every mechanic needs, and truly expert wheel builders will either want something nicer, or be alright without a tension meter. For the rest of us home mechanics with some wheel skills, it’s a great asset to building long-lasting and consistent wheels.