Fix a wobbly wheel for under $10

Fix a wobbly wheel for under $10

Over enough years, every rider has had it happen sometime. First, you start hearing the “thwip, thwip” sound of your rim hitting the brake on each wheel revolution. Even carefully re-adjusting the wheel alignment doesn’t help because…the wheel is bent. This will make the brake pads more sensitive.

What now?

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Well, now you have a choice. You can pay for a new wheel, pay a local bike shop to fix your wheel, or “true” the wheel yourself.

If you’re buying a new wheel, expect to spend at least $80. Sometimes it’s even more.

If the wheel is fixable-it generally looks good but has a wobble-you can expect your local bike shop to charge $20 – $30 to true it using professional equipment like a truing stand for the perfect line and roundness.

Or… the $10 solution to warped wheels.

But the fastest, cheapest way to fix it is to do it yourself with just a leg strap and a spoke tool. This can be done even when other options are not available.

Spoke wrenches don’t have to look like ours above. They come in many shapes and sizes, are universally inexpensive…

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spoke wrench collection

…and can even be discreetly part of something else, like this D-ring.

spoke wrench in a d-ring

But even the most powerful tool will not be of any use if you don’t know how to use it. Your leg strap will be used on the appropriate brake grip for the problem wheel on an inverted bike, pulling your brake pads in just enough to rub at the worst point on the wheel. You now know where the problem is, and which side of a pull (left or right) needs to be fixed.

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Your spokes on your rim alternate between the ones that attach to your axle’s left side and those that attach onto your axle’s right side. These spokes are known as the left and right. You will straighten your wheel by loosening and tightening spokes, as long as you remember these 3 rules:

  1. Remember clockwise or counter-clockwise (anti-clockwise in the UK and Australia). To pull to one side, tighten that side’s spoke-clockwise turn, as seen from the rim/tire side. Only half-turns or quarter turns are enough.
  2. Loosen as you tighten. Every time you tighten a spoke, loosen a nearby opposing spoke by the same amount. This keeps the rim from getting overtightened and “out of round.”
  3. Cinch the brake tighter every time you get the rim to stop rubbing on one side.

That’s a lot of words. Here it is in action, with an out-of-true wheel we caught during our Flatbike 14-point quality check for incoming CHANGE bikes. (It can’t go to a customer, so we used it as a demo opportunity.)

In a quick 15-minute effort, we got a massively out-of-true wheel to be safe on the brakes. Observant wheel-truing experts will notice that, even with this massive improvement, the wheel still is still what we call “out of round.” To fix that without a truing stand, use a piece of masking tape like this.

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To fix out-of round, you’ll be tweaking both side spokes at a time, 1/4 turn or less. This takes longer and requires more patience than side to side, so make sure you have some music playing.

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But the end result is a perfectly trued wheel, and a lot more life out of your current wheel and brake pads.

See you-but won’t hear you coming-out on the roads!

Bob Forgrave

Bob Forgrave




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