Wheel disassembly (how to remove the nipples and spokes)
Moto Guzzi V700, V7 Special, Ambassador, 850 GT, 850 GT California, Eldorado, and 850 California Police models
Gregory Bender's technique
Moto Guzzi used good quality components when they put together our wheels: Borrani rims, stainless steel spokes (except for V700), brass nipples, and heavy duty hubs. Even the choice of straight pull spokes meant very little needed to be done in the way of wheel truing maintenance. It is no exaggeration that the spokes on most original wheels have never been touched since they left the factory.
All that being said, there are times when you'll want to completely disassemble a wheel. Perhaps you want to replace the zinc plated spokes on your V700 with stainless spokes. Or perhaps you want to thoroughly polish all the components individually (much easier to do and much easier to get high quality results). Whatever the reason, here are some tips and tricks I've learned along the way that should make your life easier (and prevent you from destroying the spokes and nipples in the process).
- If you don't have a spoke wrench, get one. A crescent wrench is not a spoke wrench and will only destroy the nipples. I've found that the Rowe spoke wrench works well. While I'd like it to fit the nipples a little tighter than it does, I've yet to round over a nipple using it.
- You'll also want a propane torch. You don't need anything fancy, just a basic model from Bernzomatic is fine.
- If you haven't already removed the tire, tube, and rim strip, start there.
- Take time to document your wheel. All Borrani rims should have a marking stamped into the lip of the rim. This marking will only be on one side of the rim. On the wheels I've disassembled, I've found that marking to be on the right side of the wheel (as if the wheel were mounted and the rider was sitting properly astride the motorcycle). But check yours, it only takes a few seconds to visually verify and document your observation.
- You'll also want to verify that the rim is centered with regard to the hub. That is, our wheels do not have an offset. This is easy to determine by placing a straight edge across the hub (a carpenter's level works well) and then measuring the distance to the lip of the rim.
- You'll likely find a build up of crude in the well of the rim (where the rim strip sets). Sometimes it isn't so bad, but I've seen huge build ups in this area. It needs to be removed. I've found the quickest and easiest way is to use an 8 inch wire wheel on my bench grinder. I just hold the rim up to the wire wheel and let it remove all that nasty material. When I'm finished, the inside of the rim looks pretty good. The wire wheel won't get into the space immediately surrounding each nipple, but you can get pretty close. Just don't overdo it and
scorethe inside the of rim by using massive pressure or a wire wheel made of super-duper stiff wire.
- While I've not found any need to, if you really want to clean closely around each nipple, you can use a cup-shaped wire wheel with a Dremel tool (have a look at model numbers 531 Stainless Steel Brush, 536 Brass Brush, 404 Nylon Bristle Brush, and 442 Carbon Steel Brushes).
- With the inside of the rim cleared of build up, start soaking all the nipples and all the spokes with your favorite
get em looseconcoction. I've had very good luck using a 50/50 mixture of ATF and acetone. The mixture is inexpensive to make and highly effective. You will need to reapply the penetrating fluid a couple times each day and let the wheel soak for several days. Keep rotating the wheel into different positions each time you reapply the penetrating fluid so it has a chance to soak in. Again, make sure you get the nipples AND both sides of the hub through which the spoke protrudes. This will make a bit of a mess, so place the wheels on top of cardboard or inside a plastic tub. Do not skip this step and do not think that five minutes is long enough. Let it soak for at least two to three days. The longer you can soak it, the better off your will be. I recently soaked a wheel for over a month and every nippled spun off exceedingly easy and all but three or four spokes came out of the hub without any need of heat. The longer you soak, the better off you'll be.
- Alright, we are finally ready for disassembly. This is really a several step process.
- The first step is nipple loosening, not nipple removal. Start by loosening each nipple using your spoke wrench. Some will likely seem quite loose and easy to rotate. Others may appear stuck. With the ones that are stuck, work them back and forth carefully to try to loosen them up. Re-applying penetrating fluid immediately before you turn them may help a bit. You can also apply heat (using your propane torch) directly to the nipple. The brass nipple will expand much more quickly than the stainless steel spoke and this should greatly help you remove the nipple. Of course, be careful using a propane torch around penetrating fluid...most are quite flammable. Sometimes the entire spoke will rotate within the hub, preventing you from loosening the nipple. In this instance, you'll need to grab the shaft of the spoke tightly with a Vice-Grip. I prefer to grab the thickest portion of the spoke, nearest the hub. If you grab it tightly, it will not rotate and the spoke will remain largely unmarred. Finally, once a spoke is loose enough, you can spin it using a flat-tipped screwdriver on the head of the nipple. I like to loosen each nipple until four or five threads of the spoke are visible. This leaves plenty of threads still engaged with each other and gives me sufficient room to start driving the spokes from the hub.
- Please avoid any temptation to grab a hammer and begin pounding on the spokes as if you were trying to drive a nail out of a block of wood. Oh, you can do it, but you'll bend a lot of spokes in the process. Instead, use your propane torch to thoroughly heat the hub around a spoke. I find that 30 to 45 seconds of direct heat around each spoke is usually sufficient. Then, use a small-ish hammer to strike the head of the nipple. Be careful to strike squarely and with nice, even blows. You won't be lightly tapping, but you also should not be delivering heavy wacks. Somewhere in between is where you'll want to be. You'll find some spokes move very quickly and easily. Others will require additional heat. Take your time here and you'll save yourself from buying a lot of new spokes. Remember, heat is your friend. Use it.
- With all of the spokes now driven down a bit, we can remove all the nipples and then remove the rim (there should be sufficient clearance).
- With the rim removed, fully screw the nipples back onto the spokes.
- Now continue heating the hub around each spoke and fully drive out each spoke. Once again, go slow and heat is your friend.
- Final thoughts: I really can't emphasis enough the importance of soaking everything for several days AND how much using the propane torch helps. Furthermore, if you haven't figured it out from reading through the description, this process can take a good long while. Just heating up the area around each spoke requires 30 to 45 seconds. Multiply that by 40 spokes and you've got 20 to 30 minutes just in pointing a propane torch at your hub. You may get lucky and have a wheel apart in less than an hour. But everything would pretty much need to fall apart for that to happen. More than likely plan for several hours per wheel. Your patience will pay off, though, in being able to reuse all of your original spokes and their original brass nipples.
Joe Tokarz's technique
Thanks to Joe Tokarz for sending me this information in a private e-mail. In Joe's own words:
Fast Wheel Disassembly
Age has never been a friend of spokes and nipples. Nipples get stuck on spokes and spokes get stuck in wheel hubs. I learned the hard way that it takes much more effort and time trying to salvage spokes (either plated steel or stainless) instead of replacing with new stainless. Out of 80 spokes and nipples some are bound to be damaged or unyielding. A wise man told me that the time it takes to lace a wheel using new stainless spokes is the same for using salvaged spokes but the results pay off in dependability and fresh good looks that will last 40 years.
Fast disassembly is done by cutting the spokes. The trick is to cut the spokes at a spot just above the nipple using an angle grinder fitted with a cut off wheel. That allows for the thick part of the spoke to clear the wheel hub so it won't interfere with the adjacent spoke. Always wear eye protection and gloves for this task.
To drive out the spokes use a small size 1⁄4 inch drive socket that just fits the spoke diameter and add an extension. Use a small hammer to tap the spokes out.
All that's left is cleaning and polishing the wheel hub and rim. Lace the new stainless spokes and nipples using recommended thread oil.