Bike Maintenance 4 : Truing A Wheel.

16/11/2012   |   Posted by jeremy


Maintenance 4: Truing a wheel.

Today could be considered a scary one for many of you. How to true a wobbly wheel. A lot of people think of wheel truing as a bit of a black art but I’m here to tell you that it’s actually quite a simple process as long as you work methodically, take your time and don’t overdo it. Firstly I will say that this is no master class. I’m not going to get too technical, just give you the basics of getting a wheel true. I don’t want to go into detail about using dishing tools etc.; this is just about getting the thing back in line.

What tools will you need? Well as it turns out hardly any. Get a spoke key. These can be purchased from any good bike shop. Get a key that caters for different spoke sizes as the chances are you won’t know what size you will need until you try it on the spoke. You will also need a can of WD40 spay oil or something like it to ease the process, all will become clear.

So you have noticed that you wheel is running a bit out of true, what do you do.  If you can remove the tyre, tube and rim tape its better but if it’s just a little kink don’t worry too much.  Turn the bike upside down and place it on the floor, don’t forget to protect the seat and bars with some cloth on the floor first. Place the wheel back in its mounts and turn the wheel slowly and from the back of the bike looking through the frame where the brake blocks touch the rim just see where the rim becomes close to or moves further away from the rim. There will probably be an obvious point where the kink or wobble is. If you have disc brakes on your bike you will have to improvise a pointer with some tape and a couple of tea spoons taped onto the frame so you can see the same effect.

Turn the wheel slowly again and with your hand just squeeze a couple of spokes together at a time to see if there are any really loose ones. If there are just place the spoke key onto the nipple of the spoke and turn it slowly clockwise if the bike is upside down to just take up the slack in the spoke. Don’t go mad just take the looseness out of it. Do this to all the loose ones that you find. Now spin the wheel again and see if it’s any better or worse.

Now for the technical bit. Once you’ve found the kink or wobble in the rim, let’s say it kinks to the right at some point as you look from the back of the bike, you will need to adjust the spokes.

Looking at the wheel you will notice that the spokes are fitted central in the wheel rim at one end but fit to the hub, left and right side alternately as they go round. If the kink is on the right you will need to tension the spokes fitted on the left of the hub. Before you do this spray a bit of oil on to the spoke nipples that you want to work on and give it a few minutes, wiping off the excess.

Again if the kink is on the right tension the spokes on the left and if the kink is on the left tension the spokes on the right.

Our kink is on the right but before you tighten the left hand spokes you will need to loosen a bit the ones on the right side. In other words the idea is a bit like balance, in order to tension one way you have to loosen a bit the other so that the rim moves and the tension remains balanced.  Be careful here when I say loosen I mean just a quarter of a turn of the spoke key at a time.

You will need to work on two or three spokes at a time on each side in the area of the kink.  Remember just work a quarter of a turn at a time easing the tension on one side before bringing the tension back as you tighten the other side. Keep spinning the wheel after each adjustment to see if it is starting to true again using the brake blocks as a guide.

As the wheel gets more in line you could adjust the brakes a bit so they close closer to the rim so that you can make finer adjustments. Or adjust your spoons.

Top tip, If you find it all a bit nerve wracking, find yourself an old bike wheel to practise on first, that way if you mess it up completely or realise that you can’t do it you won’t have wrecked your best wheel. You can find wheels in all sorts of places these days.

Back to the truing, the key here is working methodically and working slowly so that if you make a mistake you simple turn the spokes back a bit. After a bit of practise you will be less stressed about the whole idea. Another tip is once you have done the job, just go round each spoke with the blade of a screwdriver or something metal and lightly tap each spoke. You will hear a ringing sound as you tap them and it’s a good indication that if the pitch of the ringing is the same for each spoke them the tension will also be the same.

Once you are happy replace the tyre and tube if you took them off and away you go. Just make sure that if you sprayed oil onto the spokes that you wipe the rim completely dry before riding your bike, so that you can stop as well as you go.

There is another alternative to all this. You could take your wheel into a bike shop and ask them to do it for you. Most places will only charge around £10.00 for this providing you don’t need more drastic work done.