Four Clear Signs Your Bike Wheels Need Truing

If you enjoy biking, you know that your wheels are vital for a great ride and for bicycle safety. Truing is a matter of tightening the spokes on a bike’s wheels to make them truly round and allowing them to roll straight, without wobble. A good bike mechanic can take care of this for you in about half an hour. You can also learn to true your own wheels. But how can you tell when it’s time to true your wheels?

Four clear signs your bike wheels need truing: Four indications that you need to do this include:

  • Rattling sounds when riding
  • Constant, rhythmic rubbing
  • You notice a vertical deformity
  • Your spokes have lost their rigidity

When you’re new to truing, it’s a great idea to have your work checked by someone experienced before rolling out on your newly-trued wheels. Even as a beginner, it will become evident that truing is necessary if your rim is bent. The higher tension in certain spots and lower tension in others will make for an unsteady ride. We’re going to show you how to get a smooth, straight ride in no time!

Four Signs Your Bike Wheels Need Truing

The wheels of your bicycle are a vital element comprising the vehicle. If they falter for whatever reason, you could be involved in a severe accident resulting in serious injuries. It’s a definite hazard to neglect the care of this component.

In saying that, a critical aspect of wheel maintenance includes ‘truing’ which is the process of adjusting the spokes via tightening (or loosening) as required in order to create a straight form for the rim and an overall strong structure. 

For many new to riding, truing may be a novel concept for which they are unable to determine if the wheels are in or out. Some signs can help you sense when your bike needs truing. 

1.  You Hear Rattling Sounds When Riding

Generally, when you ride, there won’t be sounds coming from the wheels or the bike for that matter. If you notice a ‘rattling’ or a ‘humming’ constantly as you’re riding, it could be a few different things, two of which include the chain or the wheels.

In many cases, the spokes are loose for which the ‘nipple’ or threaded nuts at the base of the spokes need tightening through the process of truing. If they are loose, they will rattle because they’re offering literally no strength to the structure of the wheel as if there were spokes there at all.

2.  You Notice a Constant, Rhythmic Rubbing

If you notice a consistent rubbing with the wheels in a rhythmic, annoying sensation, frequently riders tend to believe that the brakes have a part in the issue. But in most cases, it’s actually the wheels themselves. When wheels lose true, the shape of the tire changes, and the rim deforms, causing it to favor the more tense side, leaning in that direction and pulling the bike that way.

You will feel the tire begin to wobble, and the rubbing sound is the wheel brushing against the brake. Correcting the untrue side is the only resolution as it will fix the shape of the wheel.

3. You Notice a Vertical Deformity of a Wheel

A standard wheel deformity shows ‘vertically,’ where a wheel is not perfectly shaped round, causing it to roll shakily in an up and down motion. It has the potential for affecting the rim brakes due to the fact the rising and falling movement of the rim as the tire goes around disallows contact.

To find a vertical deformity, flip the bike over on its seat and spin the wheels. A bike with this condition is not safe for a number of reasons, not only due to the stopping power being decreased but the questionable integrity of the wheel.

4.  Your Spokes Have Lost Their Rigidity

The spokes of a wheel should be solid and strong, not wobbly or sagging. There should be none that you can manipulate with your hand. If any spokes are noticeably sagging, the strength of the wheel is compromised, particularly if you happen to be in a situation where you may be missing a spoke or two.

The reasons for less than secure spokes can be many, but one is a potentially stripped nipple, which results in a disconnection from the rim. The wheel may still be true, but that doesn’t mean that it will remain that way for very long. Neglect could result in having to replace the entire wheel.

True Wheels Are Safe Wheels

A bicycle is comparable to any vehicle driving on the road. It is your responsibility to follow all the same laws of the road and safety precautions. So, you must engage in proper care and regular maintenance to ensure your safety when riding, especially if you tend to operate the bike in dense traffic.

What Does It Mean To ‘True’ a Bike’s Wheel

When pedaling a bicycle, the wheels are responsible for moving you forward on whatever surface you’re riding on. Wheels that are adequately shaped in a round, straight form will add to the ideal performance and smoothest ride.

Truing consists of adjusting the tension of the spokes by either loosening or tightening the ‘nipple’ which is a threaded nut located at the end of the spoke.

The wheel’s ability to spin straight can be significantly affected by the spoke. Spokes may need adjustments on the rim to ensure the wheel is trued. Not all wheels are fitted with spoke. Bicycles that offer a big disc or blades will require a replacement if the wheel is out of whack.

The wheels carry a great deal of responsibility when riding, one of which is assisting the braking process as a means of slowing the vehicle down. If the wheel were to wobble for any reason in a side-to-side movement when in motion, or if it were ‘out of true,’ there could be an issue with slowing the bike down when braking.

‘Truing’ needs to be done periodically to ensure that the rim remains straight when it spins in between the brake pads. For bikes that are not ‘true,’ adjusting the brake pads can prove to be a challenge.

How Often Should Bike Wheels Be Trued?

How frequent you have to true your wheels depends on the quality of your wheel.

  • If you have a higher quality wheel, you should only need to true them once following approximately 200 miles (ca. 322 km) of riding regardless of the weight of the rider or amount of abuse the wheels encounter.
  • For lesser quality wheels, it’s a good idea to continue to check them every few months for safety purposes. You should likely true them two times in their lifespan, once after approximately 50 miles (ca. 80 km) of use, and then the recommendation is 1000 more.

These are standard recommendations for any person’s body type, any bike wheel size or brand, and regardless of the amount of harsh abuse or road conditions. The only time this may change is if you run over something that jars your wheel or you are engaged in an accident. In those cases, you would have to check immediately to see if your wheel needs fixing.

Why It’s Worth It to Go to a Pro

One variable that affects how often you need to true your wheels is how well the job was done in the first place. All other factors equal, how long your wheels stay true may depend on who does the service, how much experience, and how well the service is performed. 

Having a reputable, reliable, experienced individual does the truing, you can expect high-quality tires to go up to 10,000 miles (ca. 16,093 km) for front wheels.

Keep in mind that it is recommended for the wheels to have proper pre-stressing of the spokes along with the truing when you initially buy them for added stability. If you feel confident that you can handle truing without the need to take it to an expert, make sure to view tutorials or watch someone who is experienced in doing it efficiently.

DIY Truing

For biking enthusiasts, their bicycle is something that they treasure and care for as they would with any automobile engaging in regular tune-ups and proper maintenance when anything goes wrong.

Every component on a bike determines what type of experience the rider is going to have from the seat to the handlebars and, most importantly, the wheels. If anything were to go wrong with the wheels, it has the highest potential for causing a hazard resulting in an accident and potential for injuries.

For this reason, the wheels receive a significant amount of attention from the tire itself to the rim and the spokes. 

  • Spokes: The spokes are a prominent element of the wheel. When they come out of true, they cause a wide range of difficulties for the wheel resulting in a bad ride. It makes the process of truing one of the most important of the maintenance techniques for a bike, but one, if done correctly, that only needs doing once. It is also one that many riders can do as a DIY project if they take the time to learn the skills to do it the right way.
  • Key: Truing involves using a ‘key’ that can be purchased at specialty bike shops. This key should always accompany the enthusiast during trips for situations that may arise on their journey. There are a variety of different key sizes, so it’s essential to know which one is appropriate for your particular bike. 
  • Stand: Purchasing a stand for the process can make it much more straightforward, but these can to be costly and bulky. Only worry about getting a stand if you regularly engage in repairing bikes or may build bike wheels from the ground up.

Even if you are an enthusiast, truing is only something that you’ll do once, maybe twice, depending on the number of times you need to replace your bike or your wheels. Investing in a stand would make more sense if you are an avid rider or own a bike shop.

Truing is about precision and requires a great deal of practice to get the technique down. To get your wheel and the spokes in ‘balance,’ it requires skill and patience in the process.

When you’re working on one side of the rim tightening a spoke there, it is going to pull to that side. If you loosen one, it’s going to do the opposite. You should not over-tighten one side and under-tighten the other in an effort to create the ideal shape for the wheel. The idea is to produce even tension throughout each spoke. 

Cyclists agree that truing is an ‘art’ that takes time to develop. Before you start on a prized possession, you should practice on a piece that has no meaning. And if you don’t feel confident, go to a shop.

Why Wheels Become Untrue

In many instances, when you take a bike to a workshop to find the wheels have become untrue, sometimes, the theories as to why this happened will often be placed on all the wrong reasons.

Frequently there will be accusations of having hit a pothole. Or perhaps there will be the suggestion that the tires you have are much too light, and you need to consider much more durable ones. Some unnecessarily blame an out of whack wheel on the weight of the rider. None of these things will genuinely be the reason for the wheel coming out of alignment.

It’s All in the Spokes

Metal wires deemed spokes connect the hub to the rim of a wheel on a bicycle that is designed in such a way that it remains lightweight. The spokes themselves, on their own, are not of sturdy material and could easily be bent. But when you apply tension to them, they develop immense strength for which it would take incredible pressure to snap. 

As the wheel goes around, which is its sole purpose in making the bicycle move, the spokes experience the loads both cyclic and off, and there is compression at the bottom and under tension at the top. When the tension becomes too low at the point where they are on the bottom, slack develops and potential for them to break free from the nipple resulting in further loss of tension.

When spokes have this loss of tension, this affects the integrity of the wheel. The wheel is knocked out of alignment, causing a need for the spokes to be put back in true. A majority of issues with a wheel becoming untrue is due to the tension of the spokes.

The Danger Of Riding On Untrue Wheels

Safety is the ultimate priority when riding on a bicycle. It’s why you wear the proper gear, including the helmet, why you follow the laws of the road, why you have your bike go through tune-ups and regular maintenance. You’re in danger of serious injury from crashing on a bicycle as compared to other automobiles. So, knowingly riding on a bike that is of an inadequate condition is not wise. 

There may be a situation arise where you find that your bike has become untrue, though, and you must ride it in order to return home. And without a key or a means to fix it, you may have no alternative. Is it safe to do so?

The rule of thumb here is to consider the reason why the wheels are untrue to determine whether riding on the wheel it will pose any type of danger. There is potential for the rim to collapse based on missing spokes weakness or spoke weakness, which could be the result of unequal tension. 

For a bike with rim brakes, the wheel can ultimately be affected, causing it to move from side-to-side, which may end up loosening it from the hub. Hub nuts coming loose are noted as extremely dangerous. This is a situation that needs immediate attention. You don’t want to continue riding on this wheel.

Summary

As a whole, the concept of truing a bicycle is something that a genuine bike enthusiast would surely understand and ensure takes place upon the purchase of a new bike before they begin to ride. A novice is not going to be aware of the importance that spokes play as a safety feature on a bicycle.

For some who have ridden bikes for many years, the spokes may have really never been given a second thought. Understanding the importance spokes on a bike play and the fact that truing only takes one application, maybe two, to maintain the integrity of your bike’s wheels and, therefore, your safety, it is a no-brainer. It’s imperative if you’re going to participate in any kind of sport that you take the time to understand every aspect thoroughly from the equipment on. It could take just one incident to have genuinely serious consequences.

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