There is a bit of art to bike wheel building. Very few of the steps involved will allow for a wandering mind. And yet none of them require a huge amount of concentration.
I guess there's a bit of zen involved, that meditative mindfulness where you need to keep your brain on task, but really think about nothing.
My first forays into wheel building were not long after I started bike racing, about 1990. I'd bought a new bike frame, and a new component group to hang on it. That group came with hubs, not wheels. I bought some rims, spokes, nipples, and a cheap truing stand, borrowed Jobst Brandt's The Bicycle Wheel, made photocopies of the chapter on building up a wheel, and started in on the task. I've still got those wheels, and ride them regularly. Since that time, I've built over fifteen wheels (I tried to count them in my mind this morning, and really couldn't get a 100% certain number, but I know it's at least that).
A few weeks ago I discovered that one of my wheels had failed. Or rather, I discovered WHY it had failed. And it wasn't my build. It was a titanium Nuke-Proof hub built onto a Mavic Open 4CD rim, 32 spokes laced 3-cross, and was my main rear race wheel. It had been stored for a while when I stopped bike racing, and while it was stored in a shed that had a lot of moisture and heat cycles, the bond between the titanium shell and the aluminum flange gave out. Toasted hub.
So I unlaced the wheel and tossed the hub. I bought a new hub, spokes, and nipples from Universal Cycles (great selection and quick shipping!), and last night started to build the same rim into a new wheel.
Why use the same rim? Well, it doesn't have a lot of miles on it, as bike wheels go, and I've got several other wheels using the same Mavic Open 4CD (28 spokes to 36 spokes) that have THOUSANDS of miles on them with no signs that they're getting close to the end of their life. These are about as bomb-proof as they get. The unfortunate part is that Mavic discontinued them long ago, but replaced them with the Open Pro (equally as bombproof, but more expensive).
This time, though, I'm trying an "exotic" for the first time -- mixed lacing. I decided to go with 3-cross on the drive side, and 1-cross on the non-drive side. And doing it without those photocopied instructions in front of me. So far it's going well. I should be doing the beginnings of the tensioning and multiple round/true/round/true cycles tonight. This is where the real zen comes into play.
And by Monday I should have another fully ready-to-ride back wheel again. Just in time for a nice weather day, according to the weather forecast.