In this weekly column, our expert mechanic Daniel Slusser answers your bike maintenance questions. If you have a question for Daniel, please post it on our Facebook Wall or e-mail Daniel directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: I have always wanted to know how to true wheels. But the thought of wrecking a wheel has prevented me from experimenting with the process before receiving some instruction. Can you give me any tips to get me started? From: Dave
Answer: So you want to reinvent the wheel? Don’t worry; truing wheels isn’t as hard as most people would have you believe. If you can tune a stringed instrument there is a strong probability that you can also true a wheel. But this is not a necessary prerequisite skill. The trick to truing wheels is to make small adjustments.
If you don’t want to invest in a truing stand you can use your brake caliper to do the work for you on a road bike. Simply adjust the barrel adjuster on the brake caliper so the pads are closer to the rim in order to better gauge how far off your wheel is. If you have a disc brake equipped mountain bike, you can use a zip tie wrapped around your seatstay or fork lowers for the same purpose. Just cut it short and use the tail as your gauge. As you work around the wheel you can rotate the zip tie so that the end of the tail moves closer to the rim as you progress with your wheel true.Now before truing any wheel, make sure your hub bearings are adjusted correctly. If the wheel wobbles at the axle and you try to true it, you won’t get anywhere with your wheel true.
To adjust the spokes just turn the nipples counter clockwise in order to tighten them and pull the rim toward the side you want it to go. If you need to pull the wheel right, tighten a spoke coming from the right hub flange in the offending area, and vice versa for left. Avoid turning a single nipple more than a quarter of a turn for the first 10 wheels you attempt to true. This will help to keep you out of trouble. Also, avoid loosening spokes opposite the ones you have tightened. Loosening spokes can lead to uneven spoke tension that can weaken your wheel, make other spokes break, or cause the entire wheel to de-tension.
Always start on the area of the wheel that is furthest out of true. Don’t worry about getting this area perfect. Just get it better than the next area that is out of true. Then move on to the new worst area. Continue to do this as you work your way around the wheel until you are done. This will keep adjustments small thereby preventing you from getting into trouble. More importantly, following this procedure will help to maintain more even spoke tension around the wheel.
Remember that all of the spokes work together to hold a wheel straight, round, and true. Much like a V8 engine that can still run with one cylinder not firing, a wheel can still function with areas of wildly uneven spoke tension. But, also like the misfiring V8, the wheel won’t work very well and will likely face a serious breakdown in the near future. So keep your adjustments small, start on the biggest problems first, and don’t let the tension get too uneven.
A practice wheel is also helpful. 32 or 36 spoke wheels are the easiest to learn on.
If you do get into trouble, just go to the best mechanic in your area and he or she will be able to get everything straightened out (pun fully intended) so just give it a shot!
Daniel Slusser is a professional bicycle mechanic with over ten years of experience. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from HSU and a master’s degree in history from Cal Poly University. When he is not riding, wrenching, or writing he enjoys spending time with his wife and two children.