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The choice of worthwhile technical books about bicycle wheels is limited, but the one with the most obvious title, The Bicycle Wheel, by Jobst Brandt, was always one of the best. This reprint makes it available to a whole new audience. Some aspects may be less relevant today, but overall it is still an informative and useful offering.
Not many out-of-print cycling books warrant a return to the market after being unavailable for a few years; The Rider by Tim Krabbé is one that made the grade recently, and now The Bicycle Wheel is another.
It can still make a valid claim to be 'the definitive text on wheel-building' for those with an interest in the subject, even if the increasing dominance of factory-built 'wheel systems' mean that fewer high-end conventional wheels are actually being built.
If you are part of the small group of people who want to learn how to build a conventionally spoked wheel, but only want to learn from a book – then this is a good choice. Speaking as someone who is the proud owner of no fewer than four other books dedicated to the subject, this has certainly guided me more than any other.
If you want to do the job properly, you need more information than is typically provided in a general maintenance manual – and this provides enough to satisfy most people.
However, I suspect there is another audience out there of those who just want to understand the principles of conventional wheel construction – without necessarily feeling the need to build one. For that there is probably none better. It's fairly technical in places, such as with some advanced equations – but you can still understand the concepts without having to master the algebra.
From its first appearance in September 1981 until the last reprint in 2003, The Bicycle Wheel explained Brandt's strongly held views about wheelbuilding. This is a 'facsimile re-edition' of the third and final edition – and it is an exact copy, right down to the blank 'notes' pages at the back.
It is great to see the iconic technical illustrations by Sherry Sheffield again, confirming that good line drawings normally beat photographs for clarity – which is why they were used by Lennard Zinn in the excellent Zinn & the Art of Road Bike Maintenance.
Not content with being an authority on wheels, Brandt also joined forces with the legendary Sheldon Brown on his eponymous website to lay down the law on many other aspects of cycling.
Be warned, if you start looking around that site you will find numerous time-consuming avenues to explore. You will also find that some thoughts have aged better than others – just as is the case within the book.
For example, Brandt may have been justified in railing against the early 'disk and other streamlined wheels [that] have been allowed in bicycle racing', but I like to think that he would be more impressed by the performance of some of today's offerings.
Or take the idea that 'experienced riders usually choose 36 spokes for durability'; it was true at one time, but has now been made virtually impossible by the withdrawal of that option by most hub and rim manufacturers.
I remember the furore at launch when Brandt explained that 'the wheel stands on its spokes', meaning that 'the bottom spokes support the wheel'. In case it wasn't clear, we were assured that 'the concept that the hub hangs from the upper spokes contradicts all measured and computed behaviour of bicycle wheels'.
If nothing was going to convince you, Brandt asserts that 'this misconception is similar to the belief ... that the sun rotates around the earth'. This one idea has led to heated (and often ill-informed) debate ever since, and no doubt the book's reappearance will re-ignite it. It's all good publicity, I suppose.
Unfortunately, Brandt never got around to updating the book for a fourth edition before he died (in 2015), so things like carbon rims, which are commonplace today, are barely mentioned. That's a pity, because it would be good to have his authoritative commentary on later developments.
Welcome return of a seminal work on wheels and wheelbuilding
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road.cc test report
Make and model: The Bicycle Wheel by Jobst Brandt
Size tested: 160pp
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
From the publisher:
We are offering a very limited-edition reprint of Jobst's classic text THE BICYCLE WHEEL, according to Sheldon Brown, 'The near-definitive text on the theory and practice of building spoked bicycle wheels."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Title: The Bicycle Wheel
Author: Jobst Brandt
Publisher: Isola Press
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes, if I hadn't already bought an earlier edition.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes – selectively.
Use this box to explain your overall score
If I had scored earlier incarnations of the book at the time, it would have been 10; however, some parts are a bit dated now, which reduces its usefulness slightly.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding,