Quick Fix: True A Bicycle Wheel Without Tools & Get Back Home

how to true a bicycle wheel on the road or trail without tools so you can keep riding

I carry a mini tool on virtually every ride, so it was with some surprise that I ended up stuck on the side of a road when a wheel went out of true enough that the tire started rubbing the frame. Turns out, my mini tool didn’t have spoke wrench slots built into it. Surely, I thought, this was a fluke and all the other myriad pocketable multi tools I have included them, right? No. In fact, of the fifteen or so mini tools I have laying around, very few actually do.

This can happen for a number of reasons – you hit something, someone hits you, or spokes just gradually detension. Whatever the cause, it can quickly ruin a ride and leave you calling the support vehicle (aka: significant other).

So, the easiest fix is to make sure your tool has spoke wrenches. Failing that, here’s an easy way to get back on the road…

how to true a bicycle wheel on the road or trail without tools so you can keep riding

Using the pics here as an example, my wheel would have been out of true to the left, with the tire rubbing the left side of the frame. That means the right side spokes were too loose. To make them able to be tightened by mere fingers, you need to release the tension on them so the nipples will spin easily. That’s as simply as pulling the wheel as far to the right as possible, which is very easy by grabbing the wheel and chainstay and squeezing them together. The fork legs work just as well for front wheels.

You’ll want to squeeze at the point where the wheel is most out of true first, tighten the nipples as much as you can by hand, then give it a spin. If it’s still too close for comfort, pull the area just in front and behind the section you just fixed and tighten a few more spokes. Test again by spinning the wheel. Assuming the wheel isn’t destroyed, that should be enough to let the wheel spin freely and get you back home.

The bike shown here has disc brakes, which means there are no brake calipers to clear. With rim brakes, you may need to open up the calipers so the rim clears the brake pads. If the wheel’s too wobbly, you may even need to undo the cable and open them all the way up, relying on the other brake to stop you. Not ideal, sure, but better than walking home, right?

Comments

Gunnstein - 06/30/14 - 8:27am

Duly noted!

dave - 06/30/14 - 8:36am

this is great info, thanks!

Mario - 06/30/14 - 9:21am

Doubt it would be very true after such an operation. Sure it might suffice but this is no way to true a wheel. Inprovisation at best.

nash - 06/30/14 - 9:24am

Or just don’t ride sh1te wheels, If your a big guy (14 stone plus) racing wheels don’t belong on your bike, ride 36s.

If your a massive Jabba the Hood with pee wee herman bike skills and cant hop a curb, I believe some BMX company released 96s you may use.

shore - 06/30/14 - 9:26am

That’s going to be a bit tough to do if your nipples have spoke freeze/thread locker on them.

Fattylocks - 06/30/14 - 9:31am

I learned something new today. Excellent! Now I can start drinking.

Dan - 06/30/14 - 9:39am

Interesting tech. Skeptical on how well this would work. I imagine you would have a horribly under-tensioned wheel from the start to be able to twist a nipple by hand and absolutely no corrosion on the threads. Rule of thumb, check your wheels.

wallymann - 06/30/14 - 10:37am

uh, carry a spoke-wrench!

goodadvicebadwheelbuild - 06/30/14 - 10:43am

If your wheels are assembled without spoke prep or some kind of thread treatment take that nonsense back to where ever you bought it.
You shouldn’t be able to turn your spokes by hand.
If you can, someone needs a simple lesson in wheel building.

AlanM - 06/30/14 - 10:51am

Bike Rumor commenters never cease to amaze me. Someone offers some free advice on how to maybe save your butt on a ride, and you still find a way to be critical and come off like snobs. Well done!

Ripnshread - 06/30/14 - 11:16am

As someone who has litterally built 100′s of wheels…this should not be possible. As some commenters have said, the spoke/nipple interface should have some type of spoke prep or thread locker. The fact that these looks like pre-build wheels seems like Reynolds had a major oversight in QC. Locktite 242 was my brand of choice. A drip on the outside interface of each spoke/nipple and spin the wheel to get it down to the threads.

That being said, the above procedure could work with a dry interface. Its probably why the rim lost tension in the first place.

satisFACTORYrider - 06/30/14 - 11:25am

i don’t think the comments are critical or snobbish. if you can turn true your wheel solely by hand after having a similar issue then more power to ya. it doesn’t really present a solution but rather points out serious lack of prep.

Topmounter - 06/30/14 - 11:25am

Better tip:

If your multi-tool doesn’t have a spoke wrench, then pick up a Park Triple Spoke Wrench ($10) and shove it in your sack. You’ll forget it is there until you need it.

david - 06/30/14 - 11:26am

Its a get you home fix guys, not a wheel building masterclass….. duhhhh.

Genius quite frankly and worth a shot if your wheel is that bad, saves walking miles if you can limp it home at the very least. If your wheel is wrecked, its worth a shot, if it doesn’t work, at least you tried.

Dork - 06/30/14 - 11:34am

Wheelbuilders flinching left and right..

Your wheel tension is too low! The weight of your repair kit is also too low.

Ride hard, and ride well. Bring tools so that you can continue to do these things, and so that you can help people by the wayside trying to repair themselves without tools, for lack of forethought.

mateo - 06/30/14 - 11:43am

Just to be different… nipples shouldn’t NEED thread compound to keep tension.

RUSTYDOGG - 06/30/14 - 12:10pm

I love to twist my nipples. There I said it.

ATBScott - 06/30/14 - 12:13pm

While I’m always in favor of ways to make it home under my own power instead of having to call for a ride or walk and shred cleats, here’s another chime in for “carry a multi-tool that has a spoke wrench, or better yet, a spoke wrench!” Even if you don’t know how to use it, there is a chance that someone may be with you or pass by that DOES know how to use it. If you have the tool, better chance that it will be put to use. If you know how to use the spoke wrench, you might just save somebody’s ride. You could be rewarded with beer!

Still, for low-end or less-than-ideally-built wheels this is another way that you might limp home with a wheel that can still be saved by your LBS. For all the “racers” out there that ride stripped-down while training, beef up your seat bag with some tools. It’s a training aid. You don’t need it for a race (if your wheel did that in a race, your race is over) so you might be a watt or two ahead of your training effort.

Mario magic - 06/30/14 - 12:20pm

Nice tip! As long as you have exposed nipples…..I’m glad all my wheels don’t have hidden nipples

Dork - 06/30/14 - 12:37pm

I’m glad my wheels don’t have paired spokes…

CRBN - 06/30/14 - 12:59pm

Spoke nipples rarely can be tightened by hand not to say… never! Useless article!

Wookie - 06/30/14 - 1:42pm

Articles like these boost job security for mechanic’s everywhere. Keep ‘em coming.

robert - 06/30/14 - 1:43pm

if you have s chain breaker, and no spoke wrench, you can use the chain breaker to tighten on to the nipple and twist… you may have to go quarter turn at a time, but it gets you home… had to do that once.

adam - 06/30/14 - 2:31pm

Better Advice: Take the wheel and smash the bent part of the rim on the pavement so it goes back to shape. Then, when you get home throw the bent wheels out and buy better wheels.

No wheel should ever lose tension to such a degree that you can hand tighten a spoke… unless its taco’d or otherwise rendered completely broken. I have NEVER seen a spoke lose tension JRA.

Psi Squared - 06/30/14 - 4:10pm

While it is no doubt joyous and satisfying to jump on the wagon with everyone else and criticize this hint, I’ll just say this could come in handy for those without spoke tools on their rides when a spoke breaks.

I think you have to be either under general anesthesia or just be one of those people that gets off on giving criticism to realize that this tip doesn’t apply to folks who have chain tools on their rides.

MotoPete - 06/30/14 - 5:52pm

Many riders overlook the simple soulution based of scientific principles. Air is a major force pressing evenly around the circumference of the rim, thus reducing tension on the spokes all around. Just spin the wheel so the tire contacts the ground in the affected area. Then lean the bike over in the same direction as the error in rim, while at the same time pressing down on the bike to decrease the volume of air in the tire at the contact patch. To finish just let a little air out while holding bike in this position. Just do not get crazy and let all the air out. This is where a riding partner can really help with an extra hand and/or pump. Simple science allows the spoke tension to effectively increase, at the site of decreased tire pressure and volume. Typically this technique will require you to repeat this procedure multiple times on wheels with larger errors, as only small changes in tension happen with every executon of this method.

thesteve4761 - 06/30/14 - 5:56pm

So, just a guess here, but did one of those awesome new Reynolds wheels at Presscamp not do so hot out on the road?

Dork - 06/30/14 - 6:41pm

If I had room, I would bring a tensiometer with me on my rides, just to check wheels for other riders. The vast majority of wheels out there are under-tensioned, just because so few are ever brought up to the rim’s ideal amount of tension before they’re installed, and also because fewer and fewer instances where a wheel is trued are followed up by a tension check and/or retensioning.
When you’ve got a rim at it’s ideal tension, say 1-1.1kg/f (~100-110nM/f) for the average medium duty aluminum rim, that’s been properly stress-relieved (squozen spokes, etc), with a sensible spoke count, you will never see it go out of true or lose tension, short of a catastrophic impact or crash. If you were to try and bend the rim to the side and mimic the wheel being loaded, you would definitely not be able to move the nipple by hand, because the tension is still at a sufficient level in that spot to support the wheel structure under load. Balanced tension allows every spoke in the wheel to support the rest by loading and unloading an extremely slight amount of tension relative to the total tension, and this slight amount doesn’t even come close to allowing things like spoke bends to cold-work themselves, or for nipples to loosen. This is why properly built wheels can last for years and years without much upkeep. If your wheel is going out of true, check tension. If you’re breaking spokes, check tension! It’s totally preventative maintenance, and a proper investment in your wheels.

thesteve4761 - 06/30/14 - 6:52pm

@MotoPete, Can you please share the number of your dealer? I want whatever you are smoking.

Ripnshread - 06/30/14 - 7:25pm

@MotoPete: If that was a troll…best ever…I read it like 3 times to make sure I wasn’t the one who was high. If not…NO…just no.

@Dork: 100% Exactly on the money. The only thing that is truly “custom” in my mind about a wheelset is the tension. All the other parts are off the self. But getting a good tension that will both support your weight and riding style while staying true and round is the only way to customize a wheel. Everyone should know what they like their spoke tension at for a given wheel. And they should check it like they check their tires for air.

Ripnshread - 06/30/14 - 7:40pm

Oh and Tyler, the fact that you could do this in the frame just by squeezing with your hand? I’m feeling like April fools here…try that with any other wheelset you have put some miles on and has been worry free. Then come back to us and tell us how often this technique could be practically used.

mudrock - 06/30/14 - 8:37pm

Tried it with my wheelset (Stans ZTR Crests build by my LBS) and couldn’t flex them enough to de-tension the spoke. I think Tyler’s wheels weren’t built very well, plus the lack of spoke prep.

JP - 06/30/14 - 10:30pm

Cool idea…that is a seatstay being grabbed with the rim.

fast foreward freddie - 07/01/14 - 1:20am

I’m curious why a bike with such little tire clearance has disc brakes.

Paniagua - 07/01/14 - 1:32pm

Wings’ wing, that seatless frame thing, THIS, another step lower for BR’s credibilty

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