The wheel rims on your bike are firmly connected, held with tension from the spokes of your wheel. When the tension between your wheel’s spokes is not even and uniform, your wheel will be out of true. This means that when you ride, your bike will vibrate side to side and could be uncomfortable at higher speeds. It is critical to check for a true wheel every once in a while – using these four clear signs can help you determine when it’s time to adjust and true your wheel:
- Sign 1
- Sign 2
- Sign 3
- Sign 4
Signs of Wheel Damage
As a cyclist, there are a few important signs to keep an eye out for when it comes to determining whether or not your bike wheels need to be trued. This process, also known as wheel alignment, helps to increase the lifespan and performance of your bike.
Read on to learn about the four clear signs that your bike wheels may be suffering from some kind of damage and need truing:
- Vibrations or wobbling when the bike is in motion.
- Uneven tire wear.
- The wheel does not spin freely.
- The wheel is out of round.
Uneven Tire Wear
When cycling on a wheel that isn’t true, you will often experience uneven tire wear. If you see flat or worn areas along the edges of the tires, chances are the wheel is out of balance and reliable repair is necessary.
This may appear in a few ways; if you feel your bike swaying back and forth when rolling forward or notice a wobble as you accelerate or decelerate, there’s likely a problem with your wheels, often caused by up to 116 spokes all being slightly off-tension. Applying equal pressure to each spoke corrects these issues quickly.
In some cases, it might just be that the spokes need adjusting but more serious damage could have occurred during transportation or usage. Inspect the rim closely for signs of cracks and bends; an angle grinder should be used to cut away any damaged metal before re-tensioning them correctly.
Poor Braking Performance
The most commonly experienced sign of wheel damage is poor braking performance. When the wheel and tire are not properly aligned, your bike will not function at its best and the brakes won’t stop you as quickly and accurately as they should. You may also experience squealing sounds when braking or find that the brake pads are becoming worn faster than normal. This indicates that it’s time to get your wheel truing inspected.
If you find yourself having to push hard on the brakes in order to bring your bike to a stop, it’s a good indication that your wheels need truing. The same goes for feeling like you have to overcompensate when applying pressure to the brakes and having difficulty bringing your bike to a complete stop. These all point towards an issue with the wheels’ alignment or out of roundness, which will decrease their effectiveness in response time and stopping power, resulting in longer stop distances than desired.
Wobbling or Vibrating Wheels
Wobbling or vibrating during your ride can indicate that your wheels are out of true, meaning they are not perfectly round or aligned. While a bit of vibration may be normal – especially if you utilize clipless pedals – any sort of wobbling means it’s time to have your wheels trued by a professional.
This is because a wobble often indicates that the spoke tension is incorrect and the wheel structure is distorted, which can create stress on the spokes and rims and can lead to more extensive damage over time. If your bike has been in a crash or taken a hard impact, it’s particularly important to have the wheels checked for alignment and trued as needed.
Riding a bike with damaged wheels can be dangerous. Uneven wheels can cause steering instability, create poor agility and increase the chance of your tire suddenly giving way. If your bike starts to feel clunky and you’re constantly fighting against your handlebars to stay on course, then it’s likely time for a wheel tune-up or truing as it is commonly known.
Below are four clear signs that your bike wheels may need truing:
- Unstable Handling – If you find that when riding, either the front or back wheel periodically drifts at an angle or rides with ‘hitches’ then the wheel is out of true and needs to be adjusted by an experienced bicycle mechanic.
- Rims Not Straight – Bent rims in equal measure on either side of the hub indicate a need for truing as they will not hold even tension when spinning freely.
- Spokes Not Equally Tensioned – All spokes should maintain even tension and should not run easy against the fingers when squeezed; if they do it’s because one of more spokes are losing tension faster than others, meaning the spoke needs tightening or replacing entirely before doing further damage to other components on your wheelset.
- Uneven Hub Bearings – A good indication that there is something wrong underneath all of this is in feeling how smooth (or not) your hubs spin while off the bike: If they don’t seem quite as free spinning then perhaps something under the hood needs attention like new hub bearings or axles possibly needing replacing due to wear and tear from long use over time.
How to True Your Wheels
Truing your bike wheels is a simple way to ensure a smooth and comfortable ride each time you go out for a spin. If you observe any of the signs listed below, it’s a good indication that your wheels need to be trued. Knowing how to true your wheels is a valuable skill for any cyclist, and will help you avoid issues that could impact your performance or safety.
Signs that your wheels need to be trued include:
- Uneven spoke tension
- Wobbling or buckling of the wheel
- Uneven tire wear
Gather the Necessary Tools
Truing a bicycle wheel is important to maintain the performance, efficiency, and safety of your bike. It also can help to prevent damage to your frame, spokes and rims. Keeping an eye out for any of the four clear signs of needing truing will indicate when it’s time to break out the necessary tools for the job.
Gather the Necessary Tools: In order to effectively true a wheel, you can make use of special tools such as truing stands and spoke wrenches, or with more basic items like a marker or rim pad. Depending on what methods and tools will be used to true your wheels, having a top-end kit may give you better results compared to trying with some rudimentary elements from around the house. For example, if you find yourself having difficulty verifying concentricity of the wheel after adjusting spokes individually, getting a truing stand would be ideal for improving accuracy and precision in getting your wheels well-trued.
The necessary tools will differ depending on which method you decide is best but in general it’s always helpful to have spoke wrenches or rim pads lying around just in case they are needed during maintenance or repairs while on-the-go.
Remove the Tire and Rim
Before beginning the process of wheel truing, you must first remove the tire and rim from your bike. Begin by deflating the tire completely. Use a bead breaker to help separate the tires from the rim, or use both hands to pull the tire away from one area at a time.
Once the tire has been removed, check to make sure that you have all of your equipment on hand for wheel truing. This includes a truing stand, spoke wrench, and truing jig or feeler gauge.
Next, verify that all spokes are properly tensioned before beginning any further work on your wheels. Even if looking at each spoke individually shows no signs of looseness or issues with tension, using a spoke gauge such as a Park Tool TM-1 Spoke Tension Meter can determine whether or not all spokes are in equal tension. To do this:
- Place each spoke into the slot provided by the gauge.
- Assess its tension in comparison to those surrounding it.
Any discrepancies observed should be addressed immediately before continuing with wheel truing so as not to cause further issues down the road.
Check for Damage
Checking for damage is the first step before trying to true your wheels. Look out for cracked, dented, and bent sections as these are all tell-tale signs that your wheel may need truing. Also look at the spokes, they should be well-aligned with each other and symmetrical around the wheel. If not, then this usually means that your wheel has been out of true for some time and will take a bit more effort to get it straightened out again.
If you spot any damaged areas of the wheel such as dents or bends or misaligned spokes then you’ll have to repair them first before attempting a truing process. You’ll need a spoke wrench to adjust any of these elements. If in doubt, taking it to your bike shop is always advisable as they will be able to advise on what needs repairing or replacing on the wheel.
Adjust the Spoke Nipples
Spoke nipples are the small parts that fasten each individual spoke at the rim. Properly tensioned spokes create a stronger wheel, but that tension can fluctuate over time. To make sure the spokes stay tight and the wheel is trued, you’ll need to adjust all the spoke nipples.
To do this, use a spoke wrench and unscrew them until they’re all pointing in the same direction – clockwise (or counterclockwise). Once you’ve adjusted the nipples, run your fingertips along all of them to feel for any loose or protruding heads. If any stick out or feel loose, check for any broken or missing spokes as well.
Finally, if you notice any bent or broken spokes you can easily replace them with another one just like it in length and strength. Tighten up those nipples again and your wheel should be trued and ready to ride!
Reattach the Tire and Rim
Once your wheel has been trued, you will need to reattach the rim to the tire and check that it is even around the circumference of the wheel. If not, carefully adjust the bead around it evenly by hand. Once it is properly seated, reinflating the tire will help ensure that both sides of the rim and tire are evenly balanced.
Additionally, you may want to add a bit of additional air afterwards and listen for a slight hum as this can indicate there are areas on the wheel that are still out of true. If after checking and adjusting your bike tires and wheels they still don’t feel right or they immediately become out of true once ridden, your money would probably be better spent having them professionally trued at a bicycle shop.
If your bike is beginning to have problems such as wobbling when you turn or pull, your wheels may need to be trued. If the wobbling persists even after you’ve tightened the spokes, it’s a sure sign that the wheels are out of true. Other signs include excessive friction on one side of the wheel while riding, spokes that vibrate or ping while pedaling, and a near-immediate wobble after you release the handlebars when riding at speed.
Truing a bicycle wheel is not as difficult as it may seem, and can be done easily with some basic tools. It might take some practice at first to get used to making spins and truing up wheels. Many bike shops offer inexpensive truing services and can be very helpful when diagnosing underlying issues with your bike’s wheels.
Finally, correctly tensioned and properly calibrated spoke nipples–combined with quality rims, hubs and spokes–should add years of life to your bike’s wheelset. Keeping an eye out for one or all of these four clear signs will help you repair damage quickly and avoid further issues down the road:
- Wobbling when you turn or pull
- Excessive friction on one side of the wheel while riding
- Spokes that vibrate or ping while pedaling
- A near-immediate wobble after you release the handlebars when riding at speed
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1: What are the signs of a bike wheel that needs truing?
A1: The four main signs that a bike wheel needs truing are a wobble, excessive brake rub, flat spots and a hop when spun.
Q2: How can I tell if my bike wheels are wobbling?
A2: You can tell if your bike wheels are wobbling by taking the bike for a spin and paying close attention to how it feels. If the bike feels wobbly, or the wheel doesn’t spin in a straight line, it likely needs truing.
Q3: What causes flat spots on bike wheels?
A3: Flat spots on bike wheels are usually caused by hard braking. Over time, the rim of the wheel will wear down from the friction and create a flat spot.