Tech Tuesday – Five Minute Wheel True

Jan 17, 2012
by Richard Cunningham  
Wire-spoke wheels are simple, strong and lightweight, but each component depends upon its neighbors for protection. As long as the spokes are evenly tensioned and the rim is round, the force of an impact is distributed around the circumference of the wheel. As stress and damage cause individual spokes to loosen, the job is shouldered by fewer spokes in tension. If you let all the spokes go slack, then the job of supporting the rider and his or her botched landings goes to the few spokes that happen to oppose the vector of force – which usually results in broken spokes and game over.

Without belaboring the point, a quick check of your spokes and the condition of your wheels is a good idea. If you do find a few loose spokes and a wobbly rim, use the following five-minute wheel tuneup to get all the bits spinning in a perfect circle again. Tuning a wheel is as easy as restoring the spoke tension and tightening right-side spokes to move the rim to the right, or the left-side spokes to move the rim to the left. The key is to make everything happen in order so that fixing the wobble doesn't result in uneven spoke tension. You may be surprised at how simple the task can be..

Tip: Some wheels, like DT Swiss Tricon, have powerful locking fluid applied to the threads that requires advanced truing techniques and should be left to a proper mechanic. Also, if you get lost in the process of tensioning or truing a wheel, admit defeat and stop right there. Your local bike shop is well equipped to true wheels and it is a lot easier for a mechanic to fix a slightly wobbly one than a wheel that a customer has ‘trued’ to destruction.

Warning: Never use pliers to tighten a spoke nipple unless your wheel is only one ride away from destruction anyway and you have already stripped the working edges of the nipples.

What You ll Need Proper spoke wrench. For standard square nipples choose the type that grabs three corners. Park and DT Swiss make the best. Some spokes use tiny hex nuts and others use splined nipples. - If your wheels have bladed spokes you ll need a second slotted tool that prevents the spoke from twisting as you tension the nipple. - Mavic top and Shimano lower left wheels are shipped with both a slotted and a splined spoke wrench. - Not shown but quite handy is a felt-tip pen to mark the apex of a wobble in the rim that needs straightening.
What you'll Need:
- A proper spoke wench. For square nipples, use the type that grab at least three corners (Park Tool and DT Swiss make the best).
- Some wheels use tiny hex nuts and others have special splined nipples.- If your wheels have bladed spokes, you may need a second, slotted wrench to keep the spoke from twisting. Mavic (top) and Shimano (lower left) are equipped with slotted wrenches.
- Not shown, but handy, is a felt tip pen to mark the apex of each wobble.

Pinkbike's Five-Minute Wheel True

checking runout with spoke wrench
Step one: Assess the wheel. Put the bike in a stand or simply turn it upside down and give the wheel a spin. Runout (sideways wobble) over one millimeter (1/16-inch) is worth fussing with. At or below that threshold is a perfectly acceptable wheel for disc-brake bikes. Finally, watch the rim as the wheel spins for any significant flat spots. The rim must be round to remain strong. A little flat spot can be nursed for a long time, but a big one usually means game-over and a rim replacement.

check spokes for tension
Step two: work around the wheel and squeeze each spoke. You are searching for either a loose pair or a loner that is significantly looser than the rest. It may help to squeeze the spokes of a good wheel to establish a base line.
Tip: Plink each spoke with a fingernail and listen to the tone. All the spokes on one side of the hub should ring about the same. A significantly lower note signals a low-tensioned spoke.

Start at the valve hole
Step three: Begin at the valve stem and work around the wheel, tensioning the slack spokes. Tighten the nipples one-half turn and then reverse about a quarter of a revolution. This unwinds the spoke and ensures that you are turning the threads each time. Bring up the slack spokes about 90 percent of the properly tensioned spokes and don't worry about rim runout yet. If you have bladed spokes, grasp the bladed part close to the nipple with the slotted wrench and only tension the spokes one fourth revolution at a time.

Step four: With the bike in a stand, or up-side down, brace your hand against the frame or fork and place the spoke wrench just close enough to the side of the spinning rim to hear it grind against the largest wobble in the wheel. Rock the wheel back and forth until you find the spoke nearest to the apex of the wobble. Hold that spoke or mark the side of the rim with a felt tip pen.

work in threes
Step five: Always work out rim runout in groups of three spokes. The middle spoke at the apex of the wobble is flanked by two spokes that originate from the opposite side of the hub. First loosen the spokes (or spoke) from the hub flange that is closest to the apex of the wobble about a half turn. Next, tighten the spokes (or spoke) that originate from the opposite side of the apex the same amount. Recheck the runout and repeat until it shrinks to about a millimeter and then move on to the next wobble. Work around the wheel in sequence until you have reduced each trouble spot to about a millimeter on both sides of the rim.

plinking the spokes
Step six. Recheck spoke tension with a feel or a plink test. If the spokes are closely matched, then you are done. If there are some low-tensioned spokes left, then begin at the valve stem and tension every spoke one-fourth turn. This will bring up the tension in the entire wheel and help push the rim outwards to stretch the errant ones.

recheck the runout
Step seven: Give the spokes a final plink test and spin the wheel to assess that the runout is within a millimeter or so. If its within 85 to 90-percent of new, you are gold.

I think I'll use those wheel truing tips to...

Past Tech Tuesdays:
TT #1 - How to change a tube.
TT #2 - How to set up your SRAM rear derailleur
TT #3 - How to remove and install pedals
T #4 - How To Bleed Your Avid Elixir Brakes
TT #5 - How To Check And Adjust Your Headset
TT #6 - How To Fix A Broken Chain
TT #7 - Tubeless Conversion
TT #8 - Chain Wear
TT #9 - SRAM Shift Cable Replacement
TT #10 - Removing And Installing a Headset
TT #11 - Chain Lube Explained
TT #12 - RockShox Totem and Lyric Mission Control Damper Mod
TT #13 - Shimano XT Crank and Bottom Bracket Installation
TT #14 - Straightening Your Derailleur Hanger
TT #15 - Setting Up Your Front Derailleur
TT #16 - Setting Up Your Cockpit
TT #17 - Suspension Basics
TT #18 - Adjusting The Fox DHX 5.0
TT #19 - Adjusting The RockShox BoXXer World Cup
TT #20 - Servicing Your Fox Float Shock
TT #21 - Wheel Truing Basics
TT #22 - Shimano Brake Pad Replacement
TT #23 - Shimano brake bleed
TT #24 - Fox Lower Leg Removal And Service
TT #25 - RockShox Motion Control Service
TT #26 - Avid BB7 Cable Disk Brake Setup
TT #27 - Manitou Dorado Fork Rebuild
TT #28 - Manitou Circus Fork Rebuild
TT #29 - MRP G2 SL Chain Guide Install
TT #30 - Cane Creek Angleset Installation
TT #31 - RockShox Maxle Lite DH
TT #32 - Find Your Tire Pressure Sweet Spot
TT #33 - Three Minute Bike Preflight Check
TT #34 - MRP XCG Install
TT #35 - Stem Choice and Cockpit Setup
TT #36 - Handlebars - How Wide Affects Your Ride
TT #37 - Repairing A Torn Tire
TT #38 - Coil spring swap
TT #39 - Trailside help: Broken Shift Cable
TT #40 - Installing a Fox Float Air-Volume Spacer
TT #41 - Replace the Seals on Your 2011 RockShox Boxxer World Cup Fork
TT #42 - Clean and Lubricate Your Fox F32 Dust Wiper Seals
TT #43 - Thread Locker Basics
TT #44 - Install a SRAM X.0 Two-By-Ten Crankset
TT #45 - VPP Suspension Bearing Service
TT #46 - Rotor Straightening
TeT #47 - Finding and fixing that creak
TT #48 - Bleed and Service Magura Marta Disc Brakes
TT #49 - Cup and Cone Hub Basics
TT #50 - Install and Adjust Pedal Cleats
TT #51 - Cup and Cone Hub Rebuild
TT #52 - Converting Mavic Crossmax SX Axles
TT #53 - Cassette Removal and Installation
TT #54 - Cane Creek AngleSet Installation
TT #55 - American Classic Tubeless Conversion
TT #56 - Wider Rims Are Better and Why Tubeless Tires Burp Air
TT #57 - Pedal Pin Retrofit
TT #58 - Bleed RockShox Reverb Remote Lines
TT #59 - Cutting Carbon

Author Info:
RichardCunningham avatar

Member since Mar 23, 2011
974 articles

  • 34 2
 it was so very hard for me not to pick the "....poop on" answer!
poop humor never gets old!
  • 26 0
 I have built and trued many wheels in the past four years. A couple little pointers that help me:

1. when using aluminum nipples, a little drop of light oil prior to turning will save many nipples.

2. 1/4 turn backwards before tightening will save many aluminum nipples.

3. On stubborn wheels, a slight overtension, then releasing tension for final truing sometimes works. It helps prevent spoke windup.

4. Use the right spoke nipple wrench!!!! There is no such thing as "close enough" unless you want to have to buy all new nipples and start over.

5. On really stubborn wheels with seized spokes, use oil on both ends of the spoke nipple and the nipple rim interface, pluck the spokes like instrument strings, let it sit for 1/2 hour, then try to loosen then adjust the spokes. DO NOT USE WD-40 or other penetrating sprays. They will remove the little bit of lubrication held in the nipple interface.

6. For wheel assembly, I have used light weight fork oil wherever the spoke, hub, nipple, and rim touch.

7. The last step is to put the wheel on the floor and pressure/release the wheel from all different angles around the rim to release any residual spoke windup. Recheck trueness and adjust again if necessary.
  • 12 0
 a very simple tip i use to mark the rim where the wheel is rubbing is use chalk instead of the marker pen used here because it stays on sold when the wheel is spinning and will rub right off when your done
  • 20 2
 I want a video, dang it.
  • 4 1
 I almost always use a drop of Triflow on the nips before I start truing a wheel, especially if it's a particularly dirty or old wheel. Just make sure you wipe off any excess oil before you ride, or you may end up getting it on your brake rotor.
  • 2 1
 TRIFLOW! the best lube for stubborn nips. DETENSION~ all those clinks and pings you hear when you inflate the tire or sit on the bike the first time are the spokes unwinding and can effect your spoke tension, a light blow with a rubber mallet where the spokes cross and/or standing the wheel on the ground and leaning into it will help detension the spokes ( try not to side-load the wheel you could damage the rim or bearings). Great article- Good advise... even if I did poop on it.
  • 1 0
 A preferred way to detension the wheel (that doesn't involve a mallet) is to hold the wheel against your stomach perpendicular and then press down on the rim with your elbows while holding your hands on the rim at the 2 o'clock and 11 o'clock positions. You should get some nice pings from this method.
  • 1 0
 15 years of wheel building experience... I usually employ 2 or three different methods of detension including what you speak of but the mallet works well. I also strike the spoke at the hub flange to seat the spoke head and relieve the tension where it wants to bend towards the center of the rim. This actually strengthens the spoke. My methods are race proven and I have very few re-trues and spoke failures are virtually non existent.
  • 2 0
 Experience exshmerience. I'm sure the mallet works fine for you but I will only take a hammer to my wheels when they are severely bent or if I am seating a spoke head with a punch.
  • 1 0
 A good squeeze on pairs of spokes works well. The handle of a screwdriver pushed firmly into where the spoke crosses is good for a detention too.
A little copperslip (copper grease) on spoke threads is good for ally nipples as it has quite low "sticktion" and doesn't degrade. Helps prevent any long term bi metallic corrosion
  • 8 0
 If you are new to this, practice on your little brother's ride or neighbor's beater bike before trying it on your fancy smancy wheelset. Here's the line: "Hey, this wheel is a bit out of true, but I can help you out with it!"
  • 7 0
 cable ties are nice to use as well,cut them off when you're done,
  • 4 1
 I used a mavic d321 on a hope big un hub (front wheel) that I used from 1998 all the way up till oct 2011, just by checking the spokes once a week made it last that long and its still going, I use a coat hanger wire tied to the forks/frame and about 5mm out from the rim to find the small wobbles, but most of the time I just use feel.
  • 5 1
 I rubber band a ruler to the fork lowers or rear if the tire is off and I don't have my stand around, but when the tire is on I use zip ties on the fork or frame.
  • 3 1
 Really good write up. Wheel building and truing are well worth learning. My wheels are cheap and last a long time because of a little investment of time to learn this stuff. Stan's ZTR Flows with Hope Pro 2 hubs -- sturdy and worthy.

Best text of all time on pinkbike....LOVE IT.

"only one ride away from destruction"
  • 6 1
 This is going to make guys like me real busy at bikeshops fixing all these messed up wheels!
  • 1 0
 It is when folk turn thier spokes the wrong way and make them worse!
  • 1 0
 Its when folk take no care and their spokes and nipples corrode into each other (mostly cheap bikes).
  • 2 0
 Once you have trued a wheel or two its not that tricky. The real art was back when rim brakes where more common you had to be spot on not just left or right and up and down.
anyone who has built wheels will know getting it not to wobble is the easy bit, its getting the tension just right for vertical alignment that is tricky. Thats when you really appreciate a good rim to start with. (and the right size spokes (for any builders out there who have accidentally mixed up their spoke sizes in a drawer))
  • 1 0
 I have had to build and re build a wheel a couple of times due to messing up my spokes before, sob sob.
  • 2 1
 does it make a difference if you true your wheel with the tire and tube on? Does the added pressure help, hinder or make no difference at? Ive never tried to true my own rims, and if its not necessary to take the time to get rid of the tire and tube and then put it back on after, it would make the time between rides slightly less Smile
  • 3 1
 It is easier to do it with the tire and tube off, and in a truing stand. If you look straight down the rim to the marker, the sliver of light you see is more accurate than this method. This method works if you notice the problem away from the garage, or if you don't have a stand.
  • 1 0
 LET THE AIR OUT, on machine built, single wall rims (most stock wheels) a sharp nipple can cut through the rim strip and puncture your tube or just damage it enough to get you out on the trail before it lets go.
  • 1 0
 They are usually rebated
  • 3 1
 a cut down zip tie on the frame / fork against the rim will show you where it runs out of true. If your building from scratch get an electric screw driver, saves lots of time !
  • 1 0
 Still got a little black and decker one for just that purpose.
  • 1 0
 Similiar to what Richard was saying about 'working in threes', if you are out on the trail and break a spoke, especially if you are still running rim brakes, you need to loosen the two spokes either side of the broken spoke. This will bring the rim back to true. Now you can make it home but ride gently because 10% of your rim has little tension on it.

If you can't remove the broken spoke, bend it and hook it/zip tie/tape it to another spoke so it doesn't do any more damage as it flails around.
  • 3 1
 If you do this everytime, your pretty little wheel could go a VERY long way. Never had the strongest rims and I've always had a good couple of season on each of them!
  • 2 1
 I would and have done this on J hook type spokes. But my new bike has direct mount hubs and I have no idea how to tension them. Then again they have taken a dogs abuse and have absolutely no sign of a buckle. All is well.
  • 2 1
 It should be the same principles simooo - maybe a specific spoke key if the spokes are a proprietary diameter.
  • 1 0
 I just googled a little, and it looks just like the spokes should infact be easier to tension than regular J hook type spokes. Sweet Smile
  • 1 0
 Wheel truing is finnicky business. Even though I know how to do it, and do it often on my shitty hardtail, I'd still rather pay someone to be responsible for anything that goes wrong on the money pit DH sled.
  • 2 0
Blame game!
  • 2 0
 Yep! But really, it's more a matter of the peace of mind that someone who knows their shit has done a job on my wheel that they are willing to stake their reputation for knowing said shit on.
  • 2 0
 Paying for the expertise. Cant say fairer than that.
  • 6 4
 like my grand ma ma use to say, "ain't nothin' a lil' bit of duct tape won't fix ya"
  • 4 3
 and if you don't believe me... you can just gyeeeet out!
  • 3 2
 Been truing my own wheels for years, nice and easy on my old V-braked cannondale as the brake blocks give perfect reference points.
  • 11 11
 Very true. Bring back v brakes
  • 6 2
 Why would randybadger get neg props for saying that ?!

The world's gone mental !!

Shame on you pinkbike, shame on you Frown
  • 1 0
 Thanks for the support. Think some people might take things a bit too literally
  • 3 2
 I agree, randybadger said: "Very true. Bring back v brakes".
  • 1 0
 You know what I could do with on my dh rig right now instead of discs?
  • 4 0
 @ randybadger, Rachel Atherton ?
  • 3 0
 I was going to say v brake but I am sure to get neg props for clearly believing the foolish statement I would have just made.
In all seriousness I think British mild sarcasm might get culturally lost in translation. (I really don't mean that in a bad way either )
  • 3 0
 Yes it really does get lost in translation and its hard enough to portray in text to begin with.
  • 2 3
 Truing wheels Italian is a stupid thing to advise someone who doesnt know how to build wheels... Just use the spoke tool as said to find al issues, seriously though think logically how a spoke works and you will be fine, there re much better guides than this though, also buddy spokey's are also awesome, no idea how pink bike forgot to mention them... and dont use sharpie on your rim, it wont come off, just use the spoke tool and work it out, it isnt that hard, or use chalk to find issues instead of the spoke tool, it comes off easier, and can be done a few times as the wobbles shift about
  • 3 2
 Sharpie comes off your rim just fine with some rubbing alcohol, buddy.
  • 2 0
 chalk is easier though dont you think? just seems a lot of effort to mark the apex of a bulge?
  • 1 0
 GT85 also works.

I much prefer to use the stand/my finger/that sliver of light as mentioned in another comment. And i dont mark the apex, i go from where it begins to go out of true, then hold that spoke, then spin it towards me until it goes back to the centre. Then you can do 1/4 and 1/2 turns.

1/4 turn = minor adjustment
1/2 turn = significant adjustment
1 turn = major adjustment.

I mostly use quarter turns as a small error is much easier to correct.
  • 1 0
 or find where the rim is out and just slam it against the ground or a tree, that will get you home when your wheel is whomped!
  • 1 0
 That felt pen to keep track of which spoke needs fixing is a simple but useful tip. I usually use masking tape but marker easy and faster.
  • 1 0
 How about a short audio clip of what the plucked spoke should sound like? Them all being the same could just mean they are all wrong.
  • 1 0
 Its different for many wheels due to all the different rim/hub combos and spokes lengths/tensions and what not.
  • 1 0
 yea true, but it wouldn't be that different. Could use my guitar tuner, haha.
  • 1 0
 Haha! Best tool to use is the park spoke tension checker and table.
  • 1 0
 ''that's extra tool kit grows every bike gets better....and all my girlfriends hate me! it's better than paradise,thanx pink bike''
  • 2 1
 thats how i do it, but i use masking tape to check to see how the rim is going, its more persicse than holding something
  • 9 2
 HAHAHAHAHAHAHA......... nipples
  • 2 1
 Yesterday i was wondering, how to true my rims without taking the wheel off!!! cuz i really need, PINKBIKE you are officially my salvation!
  • 1 0
 great tech Tuesday, will be doing this!
  • 2 1
 Lolly pop stick works as a good truing guide or just you finger if your steady enough
  • 1 1
 Great article... so many people are afraid to work on their wheels, it's nice to see it in 'black and white' where just about anyone can get the idea.
  • 1 2
 im a noob at truing wheels. but i got a question.

is it better to true a wheel with the tire on or off? Im thinking with the tire on the tire could throw the truness of the wheel off. is that right?
  • 1 0
 No. The only case to not have a tyre on is when building from scratch.
  • 1 0
 or if you use a truing stand and the wheel won't fit with the tire on. Not usually an issue, and especially if you run tubeless it's a MASSIVE pain.
  • 3 0
 I don't true wheels myself, but if you're truing a wheel it pays to put a tyre on and inflate it every now and then. The mechanic at my LBS said that if you true the wheel completely and then put the tyre on it can release some tension in the spokes and put the wheel out of true again.
  • 1 0
 Yes it can. Your local 'wal-mart' bikes have such cheaply built wheels, when you pump them up to around 40psi, you hear some pings and if running rim brakes on these types of bikes, set the brakes up after!
  • 2 1
 thanks pinkbike but i already knew that Razz hope that any of my costumers dont see this loooool
  • 2 0
 GoPro handlebar mounts work great for checking wobble Wink
  • 3 1
 great tips
  • 2 1
 id rather use a standRolleyes
  • 1 1
 kick ass, was on the edge of buying spoke keys for a slack wheel ive got. think i will do now.
  • 1 0
 I use the park one, it has 3 slots which fit most things and theyre normally around £10. It can be tough on your hands sometimes as it has good square edges adn is a bit small but more an observation not a complaint as its needs to be small really.
  • 2 1
 I'm gonna give it a shot, but I will probably still eff it up.
  • 3 1
  • 2 1
 Love a good "spoke wench". Makes it all bettah.
  • 1 0
 Might have to give this a go!
  • 1 0
 make sure you twist those nipples!!! haha
  • 1 0
 You make it sound so stink'n easy!
  • 1 1
 you turn clockwise to loose the spoke ?
  • 2 1
 yes, because you turn the nipple (the nut), which you turn from the back end.

It's like tightening a screw from the the threaded end, you have to turn counter clockwise
  • 1 1
 Depends how your looking at it. It will confuse you the firstt few times.

If its in a stand, the nipple pointing directly at you/closest to you, is normal thread then.
  • 1 1
 wheel rebuild tech tuesday next?
  • 1 1
 Should of just used a video
  • 1 0
 Aaron LaRocque ( was visiting while I was setting up the photos and offered to do a video, but he and Ian Hylands were thrashed from trying to shoot the Athertons in bad weather for three days, so I opted to do it in stills so LaRocque could get at least one night's rest.
  • 1 1
  • 2 3
 There is a a faster way to tune your wheels than that. I use a pencil to mark my tires,. set the pencil 1/16 away from your tire and brace your hand spin the wheel and what ever way the rim goes the pencil will show so tension the rim on the other side to make it true, spin and repeat till you wheel is straight easy as pie!
  • 8 1
 Not the greatest idea to mark your tires, tires are not 100% straight to the rim. Many tires have a little bit of a wobble in them here and there, even when the rim is straight. It's not a big amount, but definitely enough to notice. Maybe try the same trick but mark the rim with a pencil instead...
  • 1 1
 or simply, watch the rim, but mark the tire Smile
  • 3 1
 that works, but it's easy to hold a pencil against the stay and spin the wheel, as you move the pencil in it will mark the rim wherever it's a little out of line. You can do that on both sides and get a good idea of what's going on and what needs to be done...
  • 1 0
 True dat!
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