The Art of Turning Bicycle Wheels

Building and aligning a bicycle wheel is perhaps the noblest art in bicycle making. Here we will try to sort out the concepts and easily explain the principles behind them. This guide is at a relatively easy level and without the need for advanced tools.

Bike wheel

Why Should I Turn the Wheels?

If you notice that the bike has a slightly lumpy ride or even see that the wheels are a bit skewed, it is time to straighten them. In all probability, the spoke tension has probably dropped a bit. Continuing to ride with bent wheels often leads to the whole rim becoming bent in itself, making it difficult to save it without having an uneven and thus fragile spoke tension. Lift the bike and spin the wheels, and look closely at where the rim passes the frame to get a good reference point about whether the wheel needs straightening or not.

What Tools Are Needed?

For those of you who are home mechanics and do not intend to direct wheels all day, it is still a given that you should have a spoke key. There are simple ones for cheap money that fit several different types of spokes.

Basic Principles and Good-To-Know

Wheels consist of spokes, rims, and a hub. Half the spokes exist on the right side of the hub and the other half on the left side. The spoke ring on the front and rear wheels can often look different, as it is possible to get different properties depending on how you choose to spoke the wheel. We will not go through how to build a wheel from scratch, but it can still be good to know that not all wheels and spokes look alike.

When a quality wheel is straight, the wheel has an even spoke tension, so you should not have one side of the spokes more tightly tensioned than those on the other side. The end of the spoke against the rim is right-handed, so to tighten the spoke and shorten the distance between the hub and the spoke nut, turn it clockwise. If you want to increase it instead, turn it counterclockwise.

Replacing a Spoke

That a spoke falls off is perhaps the most common accident you will experience in addition to punctures and chain breaks, so here it can be good to know how to fix it as soon as possible to reduce the load on nearby spokes.

The first step is to remove the wheel from the bike and remove the tire, hose, and rim tape. In some cases, you also need to remove the drive or cassette to reach it. Has it come off on the right side of the rear wheel. Then measure the spoke carefully, or unfasten another spoke half a turn away from the broken one to get the exact correct length. It is always easiest when you have the measure, or the old one spoke with you when you buy a new one. Once you have the right length, reassemble them and try to pull it about as hard as the nearby spoke. When you've done this, it's time to turn the wheel!

To Direct The Wheel

If you do not have steering gear, it is next best to have the bike hanging on a rack. To be able to let the wheel spin freely in the air. Otherwise, it also works well to have the bicycle standing upside down on the floor.

  1. Remove tires, hose, and assembly line to access. If you are going to change a spoke, this is necessary to do.

  2. Feel free to drop some oil on the joints between the spoke-nut and the rim on all the spoke-nut. You do not necessarily always have to do this, but it facilitates adjustment.

  3. Feel the wheels spoke tension by squeezing them against each other in pairs. If they feel evenly tense, continue around the wheel. If one spoke is significantly looser than the other, tighten it until you think it feels as tight as the other.

  4. It's time to turn the wheel sideways. Make sure that you have a proper benchmark to see how much the rim moves sideways when the wheel spins. Use a brake pad (or your guideline) as a reference. If you have a disc brake and do not have a guide stand, you can tape something to the frame that runs close to the rim edge. Start by spinning fast and then slowing down to see where on the rim it skews the most. Grasp the spoke that is closest to where the error is the greatest.

  5. If the rim needs to bend to the right, then tighten the spokes on the right side of the hub, and loosen it on the left side. Of course, the opposite is true if the rim is to bend to the left. Start here by making some small-scale adjustments, a maximum of a quarter of a turn per spoke-nut at a time. Small changes make a real difference on the wheel! Also, be sure to adjust more than just one spoke. About five spokes nearby (two on each side of the one closest to the fault) are usually enough. Here you adjust less the further out from the "missing spoke" you come. Once you have fixed the spokes, speed up the wheel again and look towards your reference point. Repeat this step until you are satisfied.

  6. Now that we have found a position where the wheel barely wobbles sideways, there may still be faults left in height. Continue to use the same reference point and look in the same way around which spoke pair it fails the most. If the rim is too high and bounces up at this point, then tighten the tension of the adjacent spokes. Here you must tension the same amount on both the right and left hub side spokes. Otherwise, we get back to the problem of the wheel wobbling sideways. If the rim is too low, release the spoke tension instead.

  7. Repeat until you are satisfied, and as before, make only small-scale adjustments at a time.

When the direction in both sideways, and height is completed, check-in the inside that no spokes protrude through the nut. If so, file them down carefully with a metal file to avoid punctures from the inside.

Now The Wheel is Ready, And Ready To Bike Again!

We hope that this guide was helpful, and do not be afraid of the slightly "pinging" sound that may occur the first few meters you ride, which only means that the spokes sit perfectly. Be sure to keep track of your spoke voltage and adjust at least once a year, perhaps even more often, if you expose your bike to heavy loads.