How to lace a wheel from scratch.

How to lace a wheel from scratch / adding a 21″ rear to your xs650.

When you look at many bikes, you may notice not many people are leaving their wheels chrome anymore. However, lots of guys haven’t tackled the job of learning how to build wheels, so they just paint the hub, the spokes and the rim as one whole piece. If you like the painted spokes look, that’s wonderful, but if you prefer to take your build cred and detail to the next level you’re going to have to learn to build a wheel. This way you can use new spokes that shine and still paint your hub and rim. So here’s what you do.


Step 1

Once you have your new spokes and painted or powdercoated parts, get them together. On a 36 hole xs wheel, there are 2 different spokes required per wheel. Look at the head of the spokes – you’ll see one spoke has a longer head. You’ll get 18 of each. Divide them up into 2 piles – 18 longer heads and 18 shorter heads. You’ll notice that in the massive Fong Bros assembly palace, we work only on the finest Persian Rugs. You’ll need the spokes with the short heads and the hub to start with, so put the others and rim aside.

Step 2

You’ll start on one side of the hub and put the spokes with the short heads into every other hole (starting with any hole)going from the outside of the hub toward the inside. Pull each spoke all the way through skip a hole and add the next. You’ll put in 9 on the first side. You have to do the same thing on theother side, but don’t flip the hub over  to add the spokes yet. On the second side, you have to start from a specific place or your wheel will not go together correctly. Keeping your hub  parallel to the ground (like resting on a bearing) with the spoked side up place one of the spokeheads at the 6:30 clock position. If you can envision a line dropping down from the spoke you”ll see there are holes on the other side of the hub at the 6:28 and 6:32 position, but not directly under 6:30. Make a mental note or mark the 6:28 hole. This is the one you’ll use to start the other side. Lace these spokes in the same way – use short heads and go from the outside in, skippi
ng a hole each time. In picture 2 you’ll see how it should look (push all the top side spokes in this direction (counterclockwise) and the lower spokes the opposite direction(clockwise)

Step 3

Now get your rim. Find the valve stem hole (It’s the big one). You will see next to the valve stem a pattern of spoke holes begins.  The pattern is made up of 4 holes – left right left right (with both left holes facing each other and both right holes facing each other) Then the pattern begins again. On a 36 hole rim you can count this pattern 9 times and you end up back at the valve stem hole.

Step 4

With your hub on the fine Persian rug, or workbench, or floor – again resting on its bearing and with top and bottom spokes going in opposite directions, carefully place the rim around the spokes and hub. Now is the time to look for your 4 hole pattern on the rim (you’ll see the pattern has 2 upper holes and 2 lower holes since the rim is resting on it’s side now. Of the 2 upper holes, find the one that appears to be facing the upper spokes. One will look like it lines up and one will look like it’s going the opposite way. Place a spoke into the hole that looks like it lines up and put on a nipple. Turn the nipple 2 turns once the threads engage. Go in order to the next spoke on the top and go over 4 holes on the rim (it’s the same hole in the next set of 4 pattern. Put a spoke in and tighten the nipple 2 turns. Finish all 9 spokes (2 turns per nipple)

Step 5

Do the other side (you can flip the wheel over if you want). Again, you’ll see that only one hole logically line up to these spokes – the one on it’s side of the rim and that faces it. Put these spokes in and tighten 2 turns. In part 2 you’ll see what the wheel should look like with the first 18 spokes, then how to finish.


here’s how your wheel should look. I guess I forgot to mention the sweet hardwood floors in the FB styling salon.
Okay now where did I leave off? I don’t remember the step number so we’ll just call this step 7. So let’s start step 7 . Ready, here we go.


Step 7.

Go get a beer or soda or something. While you’re up, get those spokes with the longer heads. You’ll need them. Start on either side of the wheel and using any hole in that side of the hub, place a spoke through the hole from the inside out. You’ll turn this spoke so it goes in the opposite direction of the spokes that are also on this side of the rim. In other words, they’ll criss cross. (pic2) You’re going to see (Hopefully) that this spoke will point to a hole in the rim on it’s side of the wheel. If you can’t figure out which hole that is, it’s 6 away from the spoke next to it that it criss crosses. Add a nipple and tighten it 2 turns. Finish this side of the rim by continuing this pattern.


Step 8

Now for the final side. You’ll only have holes on one side of the hub and every 4th hole on the rim. Place a spoke into a hole, go the opposite direction of the spokes on this side you’re working on and place it in the hole in the rim that is waiting for it. Add a nipple, tighten 2 turns. Put in the rest of the spoke the same way.


Step 9

Admire your wheel Big Boy!


Step 10

Yes your spoke are VERY loose. Maybe even some nipples popped off because you tought you had them engaged, but later found them on the floor. Don’t worry, put them on and tighten 2 turns. It is CRITICAL (or just makes it WAY easier) to tighten them all the same amount. Go around the rim and tighten each spoke 6 turns. Still loose? Give each another turn or two. If you tighten them all the same amount, your wheel will be pretty true (straight). Get them good and tight. Adding some lube to the threads is a wonderful idea. They should vreak a little when you are getting tight enough. Look on the web for how to trrue a wheel. It’s much easier than you think. Yes, this is the wheel I’m using on my current bike which is hopefully to be done in a month and is/was going to be used in the how to articles by the Fong Bros. More to come. Bye now.


Fong Bros (Denis)


  1. Great and easy to understand article for lacing up a 36 hole rim. Check How To True Motorcycle Wheels.

  2. tadd442 says:

    You didn’t show the “Fine Corinthian Leather” that went with the Fine Persian Rug and sweet hardwood floor!

    Awesome article!

  3. Blackwidow says:

    Good tech info

  4. Bodhi says:

    Good stuff Fongs, glad you posted this as i’ll be needing it soon. I’ve got a technical question for you.

    I’d like to put an 18″ rear rim on my front hub for a wider look however the spokes will need to be 1/2 inch shorter.

    They seem to only sell spokes as per make and model. So Short of cutting and running a die over 36 spokes where/how can I get the correct size for this set-up ?

    unless there’s another way….

  5. fong bros says:
    They make spokes for any combination. It’s kind of expensive though at about 95 dollars a wheel, and sometimes you have to drill your wheels to enlarge the holes for the nipples.

  6. PVKM says:

    Nice write up. Thx.

  7. DADDYG says:

    ITS about time we get back to OLD SCHOOL. Its a dieing art with all the custom wheels and mags out there.

  8. you can call up buchanan’s to get custom spokes sent out to you. just tell them what you have, and they send it out. they have pretty much done every configuration ever imagined. great write up Fong Bros.

  9. Bodhi says:

    I checked Buchanans but they ain’t cheap ( I am)

    I was looking for a more “off the shelf” idea for a fat front tire other than buying a Harley wheel or having the spokes custom made
    and may just end up cutting and re-threading a set of spokes.

    now i just need a small enough thread die.

  10. Bodhi says:

    Actually I just found a rim that measures 19×2.15 w/36 spokes

    that’ll cost $90 , but I can use stock spokes and run a 120/90 up front

    that’s 4.5 inches instead of the stock 3.5.


  11. Spun says:

    Thanks guy’s, this site just gets better and better. What other articles might you have in store for us in the future?

  12. Ted says:

    @ Denis – Great article man. I’m sure it will help a lot of dudes out. I ended up going with a 21 inch 36 spoke dirtbike ram on my ride. I dig the cream-colored Rams but I can’t wait to see what they go on.

  13. steve says:

    Great how-to. Next article should be how to cut and re-thread spokes on the cheap.

  14. smokinjoe says:

    I just picked up a ’75 and it’s going to be my 1st build of this magnitude. How do I know which spokes to get for a stock hub and 21″ wheel? Where do I find this stuff? Everything else I’ve done, I’ve either bout the stuff, or built it myself from looking at pics.

  15. FongBros says:

    Call Buchanan’s and they already have the measurements. They will want to know the width of the rim, which is usually stamped on it somewhere.

  16. smokinjoe says:

    Thanks, Man!!!

    I actually did a little diggin’ the other day and saw that Mike’s XS also has wheels and spokes. I guess it’s just a matter of which direction I want to take it. Maybe I just need to build 2 or 3 more bikes….I already have 3 and this one makes 4. This is one expensive vice……but, like I said before, I haven’t had a chance to really build one.

  17. FongBros says:

    If Mikes has the spokes and rims and it’s cheaper go with that. I’ve bought numerous spoke kits from Mike and he’s replaced missing or miscounted pieces no questions asked. Some of the sets would have too many of one spoke and not enough of the other. That’s happened 3 or 4 times.

  18. Justin says:

    This is the easiest write up on lacing I have read!! I just laced my wheel in a 1/2 hour!

  19. Denis (fong bros) says:

    Justin- that’s outstanding my man. Hopefully more builders will try this. Once you do a few, you’ll find it just gets easier and easier everytime. I will tell you though that I made a mistake on my second wheel for this bike because I wasn’t paying attention when I started the second side. I was off by one hole and well, let’s just say I had to take it apart and re-do it. Some spokes megatight and some sticking an inch out of the wheel. but it’s together now.

  20. Dustin L says:

    Great tutorial, i will be doing this very thing in a couple weeks, perfect timing. Can anyone account for the finish on the mike’s xs spokes. All it says is chrome vandium which im not familiar with. is is shiny? Can you polish it? It took me twenty minutes on a polisher to get one spoke to look OK. I just want to buy some new ones and his appear to be the best deal. Also, does anyone know if the spokes changed from a 79 XS650 to an 80 XS650? I found a chrome set from thialand i think but they are for a 79. Mine’s an 80. The heads on the spokes to not appear to be bent enough for outside set of spokes. They would be around shipped. I’ll be cutting my spoke teeth on this XS wheel. Thanks for the how to and all the help.

  21. Nick says:

    I just laced up a set with mikes spokes. They were better quality than I was expecting. There are shiny.

  22. Dustin L says:

    Did you get the stainless or the bright cadium set? I’m not sure what cadium is but from the picture it looks like a zinc plating.

  23. Irish Jay says:

    I have a 21″ Sportster (front) rim, and a 1982 64 hole, XS650 Heritage Special wheel hub. I am wondering if I need to fill in empty holes in the rim, or leave them alone, as your photos show? GREAT article!

  24. Ted says:

    Your rim and hub should have the same number of holes to work.

  25. Fong Bros says:

    Yes, you need a 36 hole hub and 36 hole rim for this specific pattern to work.

  26. Lefty says:

    Great how-to. Do have a problem though… Rear when together great, I ran out of threads on the front. Could I have laced it with the the spokes in the wrong set of holes? Everything lined up and it is a symetric pattern. I have every nipple bottomed out and when I stand the wheel up the whole hub and spoke assembly shifts downward. They appear to be .25″ too long. Or perhaps I was sent the wrong spokes? Like I said, the rear went together great and it appears to be the exact same wheel as in the pictures. Any help would be great.

  27. Denis (fong bros) says:

    I would have to say if they are all evenly tightened and the pattern is correct, the spokes are the wrong length. On my partner Tim’s red primer 62 bike, when we did the front wheel, the spokes were too long because the diameter of an xs1 front drum Is just a little different then the rear. I was able to continue tightening and then had to grind off the extra length that stuck out of the nipple.

  28. Lefty says:

    same thing happened to me. The back went great and trued fine. Front was like it was one hole off. I ripped it down and started over and it worked fine. I took pictures fore and aft and you can see that the spoke angle was a little shallower the first time so like you said, I think they were one hole off. Email me and Ill send pictures. dustindjcl@hotmail

  29. bryan says:

    I’m in the midst of the same problem. Rear rim went great (guide on my iphone at the workbench) but second wheel seems to be one off. I suppose it’s because on the second rim I assumed I just knew what to do….probably didn’t pay enough attention and made a stupid mistake….

    Thanks for the guide! It seems to be the only one on the web, and its thorough.

  30. fongbros says:

    Just remember everyone, when you start the other side, mark the 6:28 hole before you flip it. If you flip the hub and use. 6:28 on the top you are actually at 6:32 and it will lace wrong.

  31. Lefty says:

    The best advice I can give is do the back first and follow the thread closely. When you get to the front, if it seems like it is going together really easy, you might be off a hole. Thanks Denis for the tutorial, mine turned out pretty cool lookin. Satin black rims and hubs with mikes cad plated spokes. Thing should be making noise here in a week or two. Wouldn’t have known where to start on the wheels without this how-to.

  32. nixs says:

    How do you know what length spokes to get….for example im thinking of doin a 23″ up front. I could probably just measure distacne in three spots with the hub in center of rim. Though maybe spoke co. had a chart.

  33. Denis says:

    NIxs, I don’t know what length to get. I leave that to the people who have the formulas already. I either buy pre-made kits from Mikes or custom order from buchannans. if you call Buchannans, they ask you a couple questions and make the spokes. If it’s a hub they never did before, you send them the hub and they get the formula.

  34. Greg says:

    Thanks for the great write-up. I’m about to lace up one of my wheels, but my biggest concern is getting the spoke tension right. How cirtical is it and how do you tell when it is right? I’ve heard you can just bang them with a wrench and they should have a nice high pitch, but I’d hate to do it wrong and have the wheel come apart on me? I saw Buchannans sells a spoke torque wrench, but only for getting them close and then you still have to true it.

  35. NIXS says:

    Dennis_Yeah good call i was up late that night!!! damn third shifts. I’ll call mikes tomorrow not sure if they have long spokes for my application but worth a shot. The dudes at buchannans will be the money shot if mikes falls through. I ended up with an akront and sakugara basically the same thing. I have one or two flat spots to tend to though. The pics on ebay looked great hahaha! Did your Panasonic chair come with the “fine white glove delivery”…if not you got ripped off! Thanx man

  36. Barney says:

    I just used this tuitorial. Awesome pictures. Thanks!

  37. Oli says:

    Hey guys, this seems like the right place to get an answer to my dilemma! I am about to buy some new DID Motocross rims that are the same diameter but a little larger than stock, and am planning to lace them to my 1976 cb400f hubs and spokes. Does anyone know if motocross rims have NON-compatible holes or Nipples that would prevent me from doing this? (I plan to use new stock cb400f spokes and nipples to avoid paying for custom made spokes).
    Great tutorial btw! I will definitily be using it!


  38. Rick S says:

    If I’m going to lace a 19″ wheel onto the back of my XS where there was a 16″ wheel and I will be using that hub, How do I determine spoke length? It can’t be as simple as adding an inch and a half to the length, can it? At $80-90 a pop for spoke sets…I gotta get it right the first time

  39. NIXS says:


  40. Nemo says:

    This tutorial just saved my life a little! Thanks for creating it.

    XS wheel is now laced up, trued, and ready to go. Never thought I could do it myself.

  41. Adz says:

    Thanks heaps for this !
    Just spent the afternoon lacing my new 21″ akront loop to Xs rim, once I got the first 18 spoke pattern sorted was very straight forward !
    Pulled wheel down and re done twice more, with out instructions !
    Would have not attempted to try this without this walk through, so thank for taking the time to take pictures and write words !
    Ps your bikes are great 🙂

  42. Darrin says:

    thinking of doing this on my xs400. has an 18in now what spokes are used for the 21in rim. thanks a bunch very helpful.