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Tech Tuesday - Wheel Truing Basics

Nov 9, 2010
by Mike Levy  
Wheel truing; bike shop magic or black art? This week's Tech Tuesday will show you that it is actually neither, but instead a simple process that requires basic knowledge, some confidence, and the proper tools. Inside you'll find a video guiding you through the fundamental steps that you'll need to know in order straighten wheels.

Read on,

Wheel truing can be an intimidating task to wade into, especially during your first few attempts. Without some basic knowledge of what to turn and when to turn it, straightening a wheel can seem more like black magic and voodoo than an actual skill that you can learn. The truth though is that it is just like any other repair job: get the right tools, read up on how to do it, and after some trial and error you'll have an idea of how it works and be able to progress from there. It is important to remember that it takes time to get good at truing and that there is more feel and intuition involved than most other repair jobs. This is a skill that can take many years to become proficient at, but over time you will get the feeling for it and will know just how far to turn each nipple. If you're just learning don't get frustrated and give up if you don't get it right away, it will come to you eventually. As with any repair, if you don't feel up to it or are having troubles, you will be much better off by visiting your local shop and having them either give you some pointers or finish the job.

Some pointers before you begin...

• Instead of learning on your go-to wheels, pick up an old beater wheel to teach yourself on.
• If you don't have the right tools, especially the correct sized spoke wrench, you'll do more harm than good. There are three sizes of spoke wrenches: the 3.23 mm (black Park Tool wrench) is usually used on most performance mountain bikes, while 3.30 mm (green) and 3.45 mm (red) are sometimes found on less expensive or older bikes.
• A spoke multi-wrench that has a number of different sizes on it can be helpful, but the tolerances are usually not as good as a standalone tool. Be sure to find the tightest fit.
• A proper truing stand will make life much easier, but it isn't 100% necessary. If your bike has rim brakes you can actually use the brake pads as a gauge, if not, you can use zipties or even your fingers for guides while making lateral adjustments.
• It will be very difficult to properly true the wheel if your hub has lose bearings. If this is the case you'll need to first sort out the bearing play before straightening the wheel.
• A drop of thin lube where the spoke meets the nipple can go a long way to making the job easier, especially if the wheel is older. The lube will creep into the threads between the two and make turning the nipple easier, sometimes helping to keep the spoke from turning with the nipple. Be sure to clean any excess lube from the rim when done.
• It may sound obvious, but it should be stated anyway: you absolutely must fix any broken spokes before truing the wheel.

The single most important point that catches most beginning mechanics is which way to turn the nipple. The spoke and nipple use standard right hand thread, but you'll need to remember that you are actually looking at the nipple upside down while truing the wheel. Turn the spoke wrench clockwise to loosen and counter-clockwise to tighten.

No, you don't absolutely need a truing stand in order to straighten your wheel, but you will need the correct size spoke wrench, there is no way around that. Do NOT use an adjustable wrench or vice grips, you'll only damage the nipples and create more work for yourself. While there are some inexpensive truing stands out there, you can fake it by attaching zipties to your chain or seat stays, or even just using a finger as the guide in a pinch.

What's needed: Spoke wrench, truing stand, and some thin lube can help. Once you have the technique down you may also want a spoke tension gauge.

Watch the video on wheel truing 101:

Views: 38,480    Faves: 276    Comments: 11

A spoke and a nipple are essentially a screw and nut that thread together to tighten and add tension to the wheel. They use standard right hand thread, but because you are looking at the nipple upside down, you have to remember to turn the spoke wrench clockwise to loosen and counter-clockwise to tighten. Only turn the wrench a small amount at each go, an 1/8th to a 1/4 turn at a time will prevent you from overdoing it and limit the damage if you do end up doing something wrong, which is likely to happen when you are learning.

Please keep in mind that this is a basic wheel truing tutorial that is meant to introduce the techniques to learning mechanics. It would be easy to write a book on this subject, there are actually quite a few out there, but that isn't the goal of this Tech Tuesday. Future episodes will cover other topics such a spoke replacement, spoke tension, and wheel dishing. If you have tips to share, put them down below, but keep this in mind.

Past Tech Tuesdays:

Technical Tuesday #1 - How to change a tube.
Technical Tuesday #2 - How to set up your SRAM rear derailleur
Technical Tuesday #3 - How to remove and install pedals
Technical Tuesday #4 - How To Bleed Your Avid Elixir Brakes
Technical Tuesday #5 - How To Check And Adjust Your Headset
Technical Tuesday #6 - How To Fix A Broken Chain
Technical Tuesday #7 - Tubeless Conversion
Technical Tuesday #8 - Chain Wear
Technical Tuesday #9 - SRAM Shift Cable Replacement
Technical Tuesday #10 - Removing And Installing a Headset
Technical Tuesday #11 - Chain Lube Explained
Technical Tuesday #12 - RockShox Totem and Lyric Mission Control Damper Mod
Technical Tuesday #13 - Shimano XT Crank and Bottom Bracket Installation
Technical Tuesday #14 - Straightening Your Derailleur Hanger
Technical Tuesday #15 - Setting Up Your Front Derailleur
Technical Tuesday #16 - Setting Up Your Cockpit
Technical Tuesday #17 - Suspension Basics
Technical Tuesday #18 - Adjusting The Fox DHX 5.0
Technical Tuesday # 19 - Adjusting The RockShox BoXXer World Cup
Technical Tuesday #20 - Servicing Your Fox Float Shock

Visit Parktool.com to see their entire lineup of tools and lubes.

Author Info:
mikelevy avatar

Member since Oct 18, 2005
2,032 articles

  • 18 0
 Just a shout out to thank Mike for putting together the "tech tuesdays". They have become a welcome addition to my week.

As for all the children out there who take the time to complain about the topics, or that Mike did not speak directly to their particular needs. SUCK IT!!!

Thanks Mike
  • 10 0
 Sick! This will be helpful Big Grin
  • 26 0
 I love how he always has a funny facial expression for the video preview. This one was no exception... it's like a tradition now. Can't have a tech tuesday without the good ol' "caught mid blink" or possibly the ever so classic "I look hella high there." Razz

Anyways, great work on the tech tuesday as usual Mike. These articles are really starting to become a useful resource.
  • 2 3
 PS: Check out Mike's buysell, crazy deal to be had there folks.
  • 2 0
 yees! thank you! sooo helpful!
  • 7 0
 Someone should put together a collage of all my different frozen facial expressions!
  • 5 0
 but over time you will get the feeling for it and will know just how far to turn each nipple. Thats what she said!!
  • 7 5
 this is the worst tutorial of truing a wheel. i know how to true a wheel because i work at a bike shop, but if this guy wants to teach something, he has to show it being done. talking about it is pointless, and confusing....i think this is why people are scared to true a wheel. i recommend getting Park Tool's Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair. best investment in the biking world.
  • 1 0
 yeeah agreed^^ iv found its something you just have to do yourself,it was to hard to learn from someone else
  • 5 0
 Hey, check out his facial expression at 6:08 to 6:15...hahahahaha.
he`s having orgasm while squeezing spokes.

hahaha cheers man!your a great dude keep it up.
  • 2 0
 haha, looks like he's squeezin one out with precision
  • 6 0
 I recommend a 3-sided spoke wrench for all wheel truing and building applications. Having more contact area on the nipple decreases the chances of rounding them out and prolongs their life.
  • 3 0
 Excellent Tech Tuesday! Totally agree with Seraph, as a full time bike tech i use a SPOKEY nipple wrench which actually grabs all 4 sides of the nip. The yellow SPOKEY works on almost every nipple out there, but if you're just truing your own personal wheels get the right size!
  • 4 0
 Good point. I'm a big fan of those, especially when working with aluminum nipples.
  • 3 0
 I suppose it should be noted that unless you actually know how to build wheels and/or already are an experienced mechanic, you probably should leave the major wheel trues to the professionals. It's useful to be able to know how to tweak your spokes for when your wheels go a bit out of true, but it's also really easy to mess up spoke tension and ruin a wheel. Professional mechanics know to use a tensiometer and proper spoke prep when building wheels so that their wheels will stay strong and straight for as long as possible. However a few turns of the nipple can overtension or undertension a spoke and create a weak point in the wheel, allowing for potential rim failure, even under normal riding conditions. Be sure to also inspect your rims for cracks around the eyelets (or spoke holes) that may be leading to your wheel perpetually coming out of true.
  • 4 0
 this is so sick ive wanted to learn to true wheels for ages, ily tech tuesday you notice how he just uses that v-10 as something to lean on
  • 2 0
 That's not just a V.10, it's a V.10 carbon Eek
  • 1 0
  • 5 0
 just sittin there the whole time showing he has better toys than us
  • 1 0
 Bearing in mind that this is an intro lesson on wheel truing, I'm still going to throw out something for those of you who are looking for a few more techniques. Check it: miketechinfo.com/new-tech-wheels-tires.htm
I do maybe half the stuff he recommends for post-build tweaks, and it has really improved the quality of my wheel builds. There's even a bit in there about how to build your own truing stand.
  • 1 0
 one thing that was not pointed out is that you can release some tension on the side of the wheel that is bent and it can allow the rim to become true. this is done when there is already too much tension on the spokes. make small adjustments when doing this. there is a tool that park makes that can help get out flat spots. shops will have it and sometimes it will remove a flat spot, but not always. if anyone is building their own wheels, use some anti-sieze on the nipples. it will prevent the nipple and spoke from freezing up over time.
  • 1 0
 I prefer linseed oil for building wheels actually. It becomes a semi-rigid gel when it hardens, which still allows for the nipples to be adjusted later on.
  • 1 0
 I'll second that. Great results with linseed oil.
  • 1 0
 will be practising this on an old pair of wheels, have given it ago before but will be trying properly this time as I don't have to think 'dam i have to ride these tomorrow...' anymore.
  • 1 1
 i swear that people are going to try this at home, f*ck up their bikes, and spend more money on fixing or buying new parts.
thats what usually happens because i have to fix people's shit because of this. Frown
  • 2 0
 How hard would it be to fabricate your own true stand? Any good ideas or is it a waste of time?
  • 2 0
 I think that its not worth it cause if you mess up an inch when messuring the parts it will all go wrong..
  • 4 0
 heres what i did: took an old bike fork, this one had a damaged stem so it worked perfect for this, bend the forks out to fit a rear wheel. zip tied a ruler to the fork just like this:http://sheldonbrown.com/wheelbuild.html#improvised and now you can true any size wheel, front, rear road or kids. works great.

another trick: its easier to true a wheel with the tire off the wheel, take an old flathead screwdriver, grind out a small notch in the middle of the flathead and use it to adjust the spokes from the rim side, much faster and just as easy as a spoke wrench.

use a sharpie and hold it very close to the edge of the rim, moving it close until it makes contact while spinning, this makes small easy to find marks of where it is out of true.
  • 1 0
When I was learning, I blew up a couple of wheels practicing. I wonder how many wheel casualties will result from everyone's first attempt Big Grin
  • 1 2
 If you're an idiot, you can't true wheels. Truing a wheel is not as hard as one thinks. Use common sense and you'll be fine. Unless you're not mechanically inclined, you don't need to be truing wheels. If you can't change a flat tube then you don't need to be truing wheels either. If you can't change the oil in your car, you don't need to be truing wheels. Take it to someone at a bike shop who thinks they're a professional with bicycle mechanics. It's just a bicycle.
  • 2 0
 Nice! ...been waiting for this one. Thanks!
  • 1 0
 Def looks like a good tech tuesday Razz Must look into this now instead of paying someone! Frown
  • 2 0
 That is nice i just got my truing stand. Wink Thanks Pinkbike Smile
  • 1 0
 It is a really simple process. u Can also use and indicator to dial it right in or chinese marker
  • 3 0
 "just herp a derpin" LOL
  • 1 0
 i learned something new again. thanks pink bike! (can't wait to get my hands on a truing stand, hehehe)
  • 1 0
 You should make a tech tuesday about removing a cassette, a few of my friends have asked about this.
  • 2 0
 ha he said nipples and lube
  • 1 0
 Does having very tight spokes make your wheel stronger and less likely to have a flat spot?
  • 1 0
 need internet line in my garage, or it would be really nice to have a chance for download tech tuesday videos
  • 1 0
 yeyyyyaaa cant wait till i get home now
  • 1 0
 Another awesome tech tuesday!
  • 1 0
 nothing new for me, but thanks for vid. Smile
  • 1 0
 Thanks Tech tuesday, really helpful!
  • 1 4
 Good, a Tech Tuesday that can be relevant to everyone! It annoys me when there is a Tech Tuesday about a specific, obscure fork or shock that nobody has lol good work Salute
  • 4 0
 How are any of the forks or shocks they've gone over in the past "obscure?" I don't think that the DHX 5.0, Float, Boxxer World Cup and Totem are "obscure."
  • 2 1
 Here we go, i knew this would happen. Ok, Im guessing that a lot of PB users dont have that shock or fork or whatever, so its only useful to a few of us. Truing a wheel is a common job, so it would be a better subject. If somebody needed help with a particular shock or fork, im sure they can look in the manual or on the manafacterers website...
  • 5 0
 Yes, I agree that wheel truing is a very useful skill.

I still think that you are incorrect in saying that only a few users on Pinkbike have a Boxxer World Cup, Totem, Float and DHX 5.0. I only have one bike, but out of those suspension guides, two of them were useful to me.

I can understand where your coming from when you say that the suspension setups and maintenance they have gone over in the past are only useful to some users. Those users would be people with freeride and downhill bikes. Those people still make up a large percentage of users on this site. Even if it's not useful to you, it's useful to a large percentage of the users on this site.

As far as using a manual or manufactures website goes, these tutorials are designed to make it easier for the average user and rider to perform maintenance and adjustments to their suspension and bike. A lot of guides on manufactures websites are designed for people that have previous experience in bicycle repair and maintenance.

In the end I'm just trying to say that there are more people using the forks and shocks they have gone over in the past then you might think. That makes these guides very useful to more than just a "few" of us.

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