Truing bicycle wheels is an essential skill to master if you're a regular cyclist regardless of whether you're a novice or a pro.
You may say why I should learn this difficult process of truing a bike wheel when I can take it to a wheel truing service center or a bike repair shop.
The answer is that you save a lot of money down the road and it’s nevertheless one skill you need to possess if you are a regular cyclist to keep your ride in top-notch condition.
Your bicycle wheels get exposed to damage due to hitting potholes, running on rough, bumpy and jumpy terrains such as mountain roads with gravel, pebbles, rocks, etc. Therefore, you will occasionally get the damaged or deformed rim, spokes, and other essential wheel components. Therefore, it is important to learn wheel truing.
In this article, you will learn in detail about the major parts a wheel is composed of, how they work together, what adjustments you need to make to true your bike wheel in case they need truing services.
The wheel Parts
A typical modern bicycle wheel consists of four major components – the rim, the spokes, the nipples, and the hub.
Rim is the outermost metal part (usually made of aluminum) on top of which the tire is mounted. It is the large hoop.
Spoke nipples are tiny screw-like bodies that secure each spoke with the rim tightly. It is responsible for keeping the required tension.
Spokes are the metallic rigid wires/rods that go from the rim and center them into the hub.
And finally, the hub is the central major part where all the other major parts of the bike are connected such as the axle, gear components, bearings, etc. This is where the spokes get attached through a hub shell with two metal flanges.
When Do You Need to Use Your Bicycle Wheels?
Under normal circumstances and smooth pitch blacktop roads, the wheel remains unaffected as it remains true by keeping the tension required, and the rim stays aligned. However, it is a different story when it comes to rough roads and trails that have bumps and jumps, uneven pitches, potholes, rocks, gravels, pebbles, etc.
This causes the spokes to get loose rendering the wheel to "Wobble or Warp" from side-to-side. This is when truing the wheels is needed. Truing, simply put, is straightening and tightening the tension of the spokes so that the misalignment of the wheel and the wobbling effect goes away.
However, if your wheel (and its rim) is extremely deformed or bent due to an accident or serious impact, truing might not be possible. Check to see for dents and bulges within the rim and significant deformation in the roundness of the rim and wheel. If so, you may need a rim or wheel replacement.
What Does Truing Bicycle Wheels Means?
A typical bicycle wheel consists of a rim that contains the spokes which are responsible for keeping a steady and strong tension to keep the wheel aligned and in shape. The spokes are connected via the central hub. Each spoke is connected to a section of the rim.
The spokes connected to the one side of the hub flange pull the rim to that particular side. The spokes are attached to the rim in an integrated pattern to keep a balanced pull from both sides to ensure a fair and even tension throughout the wheel.
If the tension is impacted due to weakened or loose spoke, bringing it back to normal is the process called “Truing”.
Turing a wheel requires a special tool – a spoke wrench often called spoke key, also called nipple wrench. There are different sizes spoke wrenches available depending on the spoke nipple size. Standard nipple sizes include 3.23mm/3.3mmm/3.45mm/3.96mm or you can buy a multi-sized spoke wrench. Besides the spoke wrench, it is helpful to have a truing stand that makes the truing quick and easy.
How to True a Bike Wheel with Truing Stand
Finding the Point of Wobble
The first thing you need to do is to find out the location on the wheel or rim which causes the wobble. You can notice wobbling by letting the rim spin and check to see if it runs in a straight circular motion without touching the brake pads too often. You may use a laser pointer or line pointer in the middle of the tire to check the wobbling.
Hang the Wheel on the Truing Stand
For optimal working experience and the best result, it is recommended to use a truing stand but not mandatory.
Adjust the Nipples: Tighten or Loosen
You do “Truing” by adjusting the tension between the rim and spoke by tightening or loosening the threaded nuts called nipples.
How to True a Bike Wheel Without a Truing Stand
Things aren't always as expected. It's not always the case that you will be able to take your bike home and do the truing of the wheels. Sometimes, while you're riding your bike, you hit a deep pothole and the immediate result is that your wheels are refusing to spin. You wouldn't have your handy truing stand with you while you're on the go.
But you need to fix it to get home. The following are the steps to true your bike wheels if it is crooked or deformed and is not aligned while on-the-go. The process is quite similar to the above, it’s just that you may not have all the tools needed to do it perfectly but can do away so that you are just fine to reach your destination.
Does the Wheel Still Spin?
The first thing to do is to check whether the wheel affected or wobbling is not moving at all or partially movable. Spin the wheel if it rolls within the frame or brake pads with partial obstruction, in other words, if the part of the rim touches the brake pads or is very close to it, then you need truing.
Check the Spokes
After detecting where the wobble happens, to be more specific, where the rim gets close to the brake pad or away from the brake pad, inspect the spoke tension opposite side of the detected area or the center hub to feel for the tension whether it is too tight or loose.
If you haven't had any major impact or collision, one or two likely spoke has weakened in tension due to rough rides. Tightening them might be just enough for you to true the wheel back again and get yourself home for a more rigorous inspection.
Adjust: Increase or Decrease the Tension Using Spoke Wrench
Once the problematic one or two spokes are identified, use the spoke key to tighten or loosen the tension. Do the tightening or loosening with a quarter to half turn twist. Do not overdo.
Viewing it from the rim, without a truing stand, the tightening is in the clockwise direction and the loosening is in the counterclockwise direction.
Check the Result and Adjust Further if Needed
It's best to go through all the spokes and check the tension of each if you have the time. Do the above steps for all the spokes and adjust the tension accordingly. It's really important to do these adjustments in small increments. Spin the wheel and test the improvements.
Call in a Professional if the Wheels Are Not Moving at All
If you've faced a terrible impact with a curb and your wheels are so heavily damaged and are not spinning at all. You may have no choice but to call in a professional or have your bike towed to a bicycle repair shop.
Truing might at first seem a bit daunting task to handle and advanced skill to possess, however, it will save you money in the long run and at times when you need to do it yourself such as while you're on-the-go. It is nonetheless a satisfying feeling to be able to do it yourself. If you are a regular biker or a professional cyclist, this is one skill you need to master as things do go wrong at unexpected times. This article should allow you to true your bike wheels when you need it the most.