The Basics

Any rider who has ever tinkered with truing a wheel will tell you that unless you know exactly what your doing just tightening to looser spokes won’t cut the mustard. The wheel is more likely to end up like an egg shaped figure of 8.

Being the elected mechanic amongst my group I’ve seen the look on riders faces as they see their wheel coming back in to line and you announce ‘it’s sorted’, And they look at you like you’re the wheel whisperer.

There’s no real fine art to wheel truing. Once you know how the basic principles of how to do it, it becomes second nature. You’ll also need the right tool for the job. The spoke key is an essential piece of kit and can be found in any reputable bike shop and my even be already incorporated into your trailside multi tool. The spoke key fits snugly round the spoke nipple (this is the head of the spoke next to the rim). It allows you make fine adjustments to the tension of the spoke to pull it back in to line.

There are two types of movement to think about when you true a wheel, vertical and lateral. In this guide I’ll be talking about lateral movement or the side-to-side wobble that is most common on the roadside or trail side. It’s also the easier of the two to remedy.

No matter if you’re trail side or at home in your garage if you haven’t got a wheel truing stand there’s a relatively easy way to improvise one and you won’t even have to remove your wheels. Tie a zip tie round your seat stay or fork leg and snip off the end (see Fig.1) You can rotate the zip tie inwards towards the wheel to get the zip tie closer. Find an area of your wheel that is not affected by the buckle and align the zip ties to be as close to the rim without actually touching it. Theoretically as you rotate your wheel one of the two zip ties will rub against the rim revealing the exact location of the buckle.

Now you’ve found the buckle it is time to remedy it. You’ll notice that spokes lead to either side of the hub in an alternative left and right pattern. Spokes on the left hand side will pull the wheel to the left when tightened and Spokes on the right hand side will pull the wheel to the right when tightened. You can loosen spokes to attain the opposite effect.

For example if my wheel was pulling to the disc on the left hand side of my wheel I would want to add tension to the right hand side or none disc spokes and remove tension from the disc brake side spokes.

There are a few pit falls to avoid when you start to true your own wheels. Firstly you shouldn’t add or remove more than a quarter turn of tension on a spoke at once. Adding too much tension to an individual spoke subsequently removes the tension from the surrounding spokes making the over tensioned spoke more likely to fail spectacularly.

When you start to true a wheel count added tension as 1 and count any tension you remove as -1. The idea here is that you try to finish on a number as close to 0 as possible. For example if you add a quarter turn of tension to 3 spokes to pull the wheel to left you should try to remove the tension from opposing spokes. Your spokes don’t have more tension and subsequently they’ll be less likely to fail in the future. (see Fig 2.)

Following these instructions will set you out on a good foundation for truing wheels in the future. As you get used to adding and subtracting tension you can build confidence as to where the tension needs to be adjusted and subsequently true wheels faster and more accurately.

It’s fairly common to hear a pinging noise when you first ride your freshly trued wheel. It’s most common when considerable work has been carried out to straighten or re-tension a wheel. The pinging noise is coming from your spokes. They’re un-twisting themselves. A spoke with a particularly stiff thread or excess tension may twist whilst it’s being adjusted. This pinging may effect the trueness of the wheel and you might need to make further adjustments to the wheel after the all the spokes have un-twisted themselves and the pinging has stopped.