Today, we answer one of the great seldom-to-never asked questions in our business: why are your new wheels likely to be streaked with oil, and why do the nipples maybe have a little grease on them?
It wasn't hard to find pictures with some traces of this.
We don't see a whole lot of factory built wheels brand new out of the box, but when we do we're dumbstruck by the absolute lack of lube on the nipples and threads. We always correct any factory built wheels we sell before we ship them out, and it's always a chore. So much friction between the nipple and the rim, and the spokes always want to spin when you turn the nipples. It's super obvious why the factory builds are this way - so that your wheels are sparkling clean out of the box - but it's bad practice applied in pursuit of the good outcome of a clean out of the box wheel.
Greasing the nipple-to-rim connection is important for a few reasons. For one, it insulates against corrosion caused by dissimilar materials. You don't want your wheels to become a battery because of galvanic corrosion. Removing the friction in that interface also allows us to do the build better, as small adjustments (and we make some tiny ass adjustments) are really only possible when you have low friction.
Likewise at the nipple-to-spoke interface, you need lube. Lube helps prevent windup, which means fewer adjustments to remove windup, which means a quicker build (good for us) and less stress on the individual components during the build process (good for you). It also reduces the likelihood of spoke threads seizing into nipples. We did a crash replacement rebuild on a four year old wheel a few weeks ago where, once the thread lock's hold (more on this later) was broken, the nipples turned on the spokes as though the build was brand new. Truing isn't usually necessary on our wheels, but there are things that happen that can require truing, and it's awfully nice to be able to do that without coercing the nipples to turn.
We put a drop of wicking thread lock into each rear non-drive and front drive side spoke at the nipple, as extra insurance against the nipple unwinding on the spoke. That stiction is easily broken with a spoke wrench, but it's crazy effective against randoms loosening. We're also starting to experiment with Sapim SILS locking nipples, and it seems like we might find a place for those. More on that in a different post.
Of course, we do care quite a lot about your initial impression when you pull the wheels out of the box, and we'd love to have them be sparkling clean. We spend time wiping them down prior to putting them in the box, unfortunately some residual oil leaks out during shipping, and some grease might sneak through on the nipples. A quick wipedown with a sponge or brush and some soapy water will remove that right away.