Friday, July 11, 2014

Thoughts on 27 inch wheels

Almost all the old ten-speeds I work on come with, or are set up for, 27 inch wheels.  Since wheel building is not a skill I have acquired, yet, I have two choices when it comes to wheel-sets 1) work with the existing wheel-set or 2) purchase a new wheel-set.
New WheelMaster wheel from Amazon

The good news is that original 27 inch wheels on old 10 speeds, built with steel/chromed parts, are pretty bullet proof and in combination with most of them spending long periods hung up in a garage/shed/barn/basement means they are probably in decent shape.  This means that with some TLC they can re-used.  While I am no wheel smith I have learned some skills to put an old wheel back into service.  My usual process is to;
  • Open up hubs and clean axle, bearings and races.  (replace bearings as needed)
  • clean up rims and spokes -remove surface rust and any grime on braking surface
  • Grease and adjust hubs - no slop-no grind as my friend Hugh says
  • Drop of oil (I use 3-in-1) on the joint between the spoke nipple and spoke to prevent them freezing up
  • Put wheel in truing stand to check for true and adjust as needed
The steps above also will reveal if a wheel has any problems that might have escaped your first look.  I use Zinn and the art of Road bike maintenance as my basis for this work.

The exception to the rule of re-using the existing wheel-set is if a wheel has rust issues, I am not talking about surface rust on the rims I mean deep rust on the inside of the rim (if water has collected there) or on the spokes/spoke nipples.  If you do have rust issues then a new set of wheels is a good idea.  There are pros and cons to going the new route;

  • shiny and new
  • allow rims, alloy hubs, stainless spokes make the wheel lighter and more rust proof than the original steel wheels
  • factory trued
  • new parts haven't endured the stresses of 30 or 40 years of use
  • not too expensive
  • Tend to come with hubs adjusted waaaay too tight even a novice could tell that they are tight and not spinning smooth
  • They are miserly with the grease
  • added cost to the rebuild
With new wheels I always plan that I will need to open up the hubs to add grease, which is fine because I would have had to adjust them anyway.  Two birds with one cone wrench.  Since the bike I am working for my Niece had no wheels at all I bought new ones for the her campus bike project.  And of course the hubs on both wheels were too tight and additional grease was needed.  SOP.
Hub tools
And after a little extra work and some new rubber I ended up with well greased and adjusted new wheels for my nieces campus bike project.
new wheels and rubber and some other goodies


  1. I'm curious why you choose to stick with the 27's instead of switching to the 700c. I understand that caliper reach might be a problem, but I found that my '81 LeTour accepted the 700 wheel without a problem. Since then (I'll be writing about this soon) I have added some really fat tires and a little work with grinder and monkey wrench got the brake calipers to stretch down to the rim just fine...albeit with no small amount of trepidation on my part.

    But going 700c opens the door to an unlimited supply of tires in varying widths and tread design and while I am aware that there remains a plethora of choice in 27", it is a 700c world, these days. (650b is back with a bang, but still...)

    Certainly, if you are not replacing the wheels for any particular project, I get it. But while I will always have a special place in my heart for the big wheel, my brain-guy dictates that, money being spent, I go will go to the "modern" rim.



    1. A great question Tim Joe, I could say I am purist with the old 10 speeds and like to remain true to the original 27" wheel size, I could say I didn't want to hassle with finding (readily available) longer reach center-pull brakes to accommodate 700c, and while the above is true what it really came down to is getting this project out the door as cheaply as possible. The new bolt on 27" wheel-set cost me $65. The bolt on, as opposed to quick release, hubs in addition to costing less also add an element of security -harder to remove- which I think is important in a campus environment. So FWIW that was my "logic" in going with new 27" wheels. I also when with some Kenda K40 27x1 3/8 tires which will give her the equivalent of 700x37mm rubber to float over the mean streets of Corvallis with.

  2. "Two birds with one cone wrench." Ahh, love that one.

  3. Not sure if my comment went through before- just wanted to thank you for sharing all this great info on your blog- the 27" wheel posts have been especially helpful, and have kept me hopeful that i'll be able to complete my a mini-rehab for a neat little 81 Nishiki I found at the Goodwill. As a rookie, there've been many discouragements along the way, but with research and patience I've been able to find my way through (very satisfying) but when I got to finding tires for the 27s all the info I found basically told me to switch them out for 700s, which i simply could not afford to do right now. I was SO bummed (I wanna ride with my kiddo as much as possible before the summer runs out) to think i'd just have to wait to be able to purchase new wheels/tires/ and then possibly new brakes and all that! But you've geven me hope,sir! Thanks! You taking the time to put together this blog is much appreciated!

    1. Johanna you are most welcome! I am glad the post on 27inch tires helped you out. Congrats on your Nishiki rehab I am going to be posting about a Nishiki Sports I rebuilt at some point. Nice bikes. Hope have a fun summer of riding with your kiddo.