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  1. #1
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    How difficult is it to replace a spoke?

    I break a spoke about every 2000 miles. It is always on the rear drive side. In the past I've taken the wheel to the LBS and paid $20 for the new spoke and labor.

    How hard is it to do this myself? I don't mean taking off the wheel, tire, and liner, that's easy. I mean how hard is it to adjust the new spoke to bring the wheel back true? Is it only the new spoke that I will have to adjust or will I have to mess with other spokes as well? Can I use my bike as a truing stand for this work?

    I have visions of turning by rim into a pretzel because I don't know what I'm doing.

    Thanks

  2. #2
    Senior Member IthaDan's Avatar
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    Its not hard, but you also have to remove the cassette or freewheel to thread the spoke through.

    You can arrive at a functional, but not necessarily permanent fix with just your brake pads. Is it ideal? Nope. Will it work? Oh yeah.

    Shimano : Click :: Campy :: Snap :: SRAM : Bang

  3. #3
    What??? Only 2 wheels? jimmuller's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JPMacG View Post
    How hard is it to do this myself? ... I mean how hard is it to adjust the new spoke to bring the wheel back true? Is it only the new spoke that I will have to adjust or will I have to mess with other spokes as well? Can I use my bike as a truing stand for this work?
    I suppose you'll get different answers, but here are mine.

    It isn't hard but it may take patience. Depending on which spoke it is you may have an interesting task to thread the new spoke through the others. It's commonly a drive side spoke too, coming off the flange from the inside. You may have to remove the cogs (or freewheel). Do you have the tools?

    Adjusting the spoke often requires the surrounding spokes be adjusted a little, but if you are careful and work slowly it isn't too hard. There are some guidelines. PM or email me if you're interested.

    I always use the bike as a truing stand, have built wheels from scratch that way. Again, if you are careful and patient (and clever) it isn't hard.

    But is your time worth only $20? That sounds like a pretty tolerable price for something that happens only every 2000 miles. On the other hand, the satisfaction of doing it yourself is valuable too.
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    Thanks. Yes, I have the tool and the chain whip to remove the cassette. I'll stop at the LBS and see if he has time tomorrow. If not I may buy the spoke and try myself.

  5. #5
    Sausage King
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    Are you a bigger fellow or hauling stuff? Might consider going to a wheel with more spokes. Your wheel could also be all around under tensioned as well. Shop replaces the broken spoke and trues the wheel but doesn't fix (or makes worse) the problem that causes the spokes to break in the first place.

  6. #6
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    I put a spoke in my old garage sale bike a couple of months ago. It wasn't on the drive side, it was actually broken because the bike was riding on a rear rack when the car was in an accident and that's how the bike made its way to me. I took the old spoke pieces out and measured them, bought a new spoke, threaded it in and tightened it. You have to look at the adjacent spokes to see exactly how to thread the spoke in but it isn't difficult. I have a Park spoke tension meter so I tightened the new one until its tension matched the other spokes and the wheel works great.

  7. #7
    Reeks of aged cotton duck Hydrated's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Abe Froman View Post
    Are you a bigger fellow or hauling stuff? Might consider going to a wheel with more spokes. Your wheel could also be all around under tensioned as well. Shop replaces the broken spoke and trues the wheel but doesn't fix (or makes worse) the problem that causes the spokes to break in the first place.
    +1

    I see this quite often.

    Start with wheel that was not built up to the highest standards to begin with. Not built badly enough that you can call it a poor build... but not built the way that I'd build it. Then you pop a spoke. The LBS shoves a spoke in to replace the broken one and tweaks the nipple enough to get the wheel true... but they never fix the condition that caused the broken spoke.

    When I build a "normal" wheel... 32 or 36 spokes laced 3 cross... I expect them to never pop a spoke under reasonable use. If they break one spoke, I fix it and go on riding the wheel. If they pop another spoke then it usually means one of two things:

    1) Something is wrong with the build.
    or
    2) You are using the wheel under conditions for which it was not intended.

    Another problem is that #2 is often confused for #1... I once had a guy insist that his wheels were defective, when the real problem was that he weighed north of 300 pounds and wanted to ride a 16 pound carpet fiber bike with a 16 spoke wheel set.
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  8. #8
    What??? Only 2 wheels? jimmuller's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hydrated View Post
    +1
    If they pop another spoke then it usually means one of two things:

    1) Something is wrong with the build.
    or...
    From this behavior could you conclude exactly what was wrong with the build? I'd guess a further examination would be required. But what I'm really asking is whether this is more likely under-tension, over-tension, uneven tension, etc. Uneven tension would result in a wobbly wheel unless it was done that way to bring a deformed rim into shape. In that case I wouldn't be surprised if a spoke broke.
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    Thanks for the comments. I weigh 180 lbs and carry about 5 lbs of stuff on the rear rack. I use this bike as a commuter - about 90% road and 10% over grassy fields. I was going onto a road from a field when the spoke borke - over a moderate bump but nothing severe.

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    If you have already replaced three or more spokes, it's time to get the wheel rebuilt with all new spokes. It's likely the other spokes have been stressed almost to the breaking point now. It's cheaper to get the whole wheel done at once than to keep paying 20$ per spoke. Where I live, one can get a wheel rebuilt for $50. And then you're done with it.
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  11. #11
    Senior Member Retro Grouch's Avatar
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    If all that you do is to replace the broken spoke and retrue the wheel you will have returned the wheel to what it was prior to breaking the spoke. Unfortunately, what it was before was a wheel that's about to break a spoke.

    Whenever I replace a broken spoke I take the time to check the tension of every other spoke with my tensiometer. Then I equalize them before retrueing the wheel.

  12. #12
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    well a few days ago I was putting together a bike I was about to flip,

    I tried to adjust a few of the ancient spokes and "pop" they snapped.

    well they all seemed to pop- got a L and R out to measure them and found some in the used collection,

    I just took the whole thing down and built it back together.

    Today I have a friends old Dawes in, I again tried to adjust some tension back in the wet noodle of a wheel
    "pop-pop-pop"

    oh well- guess Im swapping 3 spokes.


    its quite easy to replace one spoke.

    if you are going to get one spoke- take the wheel off and the cogs off-
    remove one spoke on the same side that broke
    - take it with you to the LBS so you get the correct length and correct nipple
    why not pick up 2-3 as you know it will happen again.

    put it back in and pay attention of the under and over pattern like the other ones.

    tension it up untill the threads just disappear.

    this is the start point.
    hang the bike,
    put the wheel without the cog back on and spin it.

    find 2 clothes pins for each side of the stays-they make perfect gauges.

    now give it a 1/4 turn at a time and you will get it pretty close-

    there are alot of vids on youtube on truing and building wheels.

    its fun and after you built a few wheels you have arrived at a very high level of bike wrenching.

    good luck and you can do it!
    My name is Michael, and I am a recovering bike addict, It has been 11 months since I purchased a bicycle for myself..
    (Im bound to fall off the wagon again, its just a matter of time)
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  13. #13
    Reeks of aged cotton duck Hydrated's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jimmuller View Post
    From this behavior could you conclude exactly what was wrong with the build? I'd guess a further examination would be required. But what I'm really asking is whether this is more likely under-tension, over-tension, uneven tension, etc. Uneven tension would result in a wobbly wheel unless it was done that way to bring a deformed rim into shape. In that case I wouldn't be surprised if a spoke broke.
    It's hard to say EXACTLY what the problem is without laying hands on the wheels, but when breaking spokes the problem is nearly always low tension... followed by uneven tension. Due to the quality of modern spokes (even cheap ones) it is hard to break a spoke by over tensioning it... you'll prolly pull the eyes out of the rim first.

    But it really doesn't matter what the problem is because the solution is the same. Completely detension the wheel and start over with truing and tensioning.

    And keep in mind that one little problem with the wheel can snowball into a nightmare.

    Example:
    I was given a set of nice wheels... Ultegra hubs/Mavic Open Pro rims... because the guy couldn't keep them true. He brought them to the LBS about every two or three weeks to let the shop true them. He finally got tired of the hassle and gave them to me.

    When I put my DT Swiss Tensio on them... the tensions were all over the dial. So my first step was to detension them and start fresh. What I found was that the nipples were never lubricated upon assembly. This meant that the nipples were very difficult to turn... which led to the LBS rounding off a couple of nipples while they were butchering... err... truing them. So with these two or three nipples frozen in place, they just altered the other spoke tensions to get the wheel true. Some of the spokes were far too slack and others too tight... so the wheel wasn't stable. I replaced all of the nipples and put anti sieze compound on the threads... rebuilt the hubs with new stainless bearings and Phil Wood grease. That wheel set has been through three different bikes and about 6000 miles... and I've NEVER had to touch a nipple... not even to true them.

    So all of that guy's problems started because nobody used a thimble full of grease. Pay attention to the small stuff.
    It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.-Aristotle

  14. #14
    What??? Only 2 wheels? jimmuller's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hydrated View Post
    When I put my DT Swiss Tensio on them... the tensions were all over the dial. So my first step was to detension them and start fresh. What I found was that the nipples were never lubricated upon assembly. This meant that the nipples were very difficult to turn... which led to the LBS rounding off a couple of nipples while they were butchering... err... truing them. So with these two or three nipples frozen in place, they just altered the other spoke tensions to get the wheel true...
    So all of that guy's problems started because nobody used a thimble full of grease. Pay attention to the small stuff.
    That sounds like a classic case of a poorly built wheel and even worse maintenance. Probably included failure to unwind the spoke windup too. You are right, once a wheel is bad enough the only solution is loosen it all down and start over.
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  15. #15
    Senior Member IthaDan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hydrated View Post
    It's hard to say EXACTLY what the problem is without laying hands on the wheels, but when breaking spokes the problem is nearly always low tension... followed by uneven tension. Due to the quality of modern spokes (even cheap ones) it is hard to break a spoke by over tensioning it... you'll prolly pull the eyes out of the rim first.
    Also, if the "dork disc" is removed and the RD limits weren't adjusted properly a chain that went over the top can mangle the spoke elbows on the drive side. A quick visual inspection can check this out. It's become part of my inspection when buying a used bike.

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  16. #16
    Senior Member BCRider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JPMacG View Post
    Thanks for the comments. I weigh 180 lbs and carry about 5 lbs of stuff on the rear rack. I use this bike as a commuter - about 90% road and 10% over grassy fields. I was going onto a road from a field when the spoke borke - over a moderate bump but nothing severe.
    It's likely that the wheel isn't correctly tensioned up then. So what is happening is that the spokes are becoming loose and "working" until they snap.

    Optimally you would either tension and re-true the whole wheel yourself or have the shop do it. Some additional spokes will still snap over the next while since they were cyclicly fatigued by the poor tensioning but after the next few go and are replaced I would hope that it would be the end of it.

    THe other option is to have the wheels re-laced with new spokes and correctly tensioned by the shop or yourself.

    You can test your wheel right now to see how it is. Lightly tap all the spokes from the drive and non drive side with a screwdriver handle like you're playing a dulcimer or xylophone and listen to the tone. The drive side and non drive side spokes should all have about the same tone with the drive side spokes being noticably higher on average. If any of them sound low and dull then those are the next in line to break. If you tighten them up to where they are in close harmony with the rest you will likely save a busted spoke in the near future unless too much damage was done already.

    The tone from them should be quite musical. It's hard to pass on such things over the web but if you know music you should hear tones from the spokes that are up around a middle C. Drive side being a little higher and non drive a little lower. Front wheels shoudl be matched side to side and all around at around a middle C or A below middle C. If they any are at or below the C below middle C then you should tighten those to bring them in line with the others and re-true as required.

    This may not be perfect. But in the absence of a spoke tension guage it'll get you into the ballpark and give you a tool you can use to at least diagnose anything really off and serious.
    Model airplanes are cool too!.....

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by BCRider View Post
    It's likely that the wheel isn't correctly tensioned up then. So what is happening is that the spokes are becoming loose and "working" until they snap.
    Nope.

    The manufacturer didn't feel like buying an expensive machine or paying some one to stress relieve the wheel before they shipped it because a few warranty claims every now and then are less expensive.

    Parts of the elbows were never taken past their elastic limit in the forming operation, the high average stress reduced the number of fatigue cycles they could survive, and all the spokes in that wheel half are close to their fatigue life limit.

    If the spokes were loose the failures would be in the non-drive side and the wheel would probably have trueness problems.

    Optimally you would either tension and re-true the whole wheel yourself or have the shop do it. Some additional spokes will still snap over the next while since they were cyclicly fatigued by the poor tensioning but after the next few go and are replaced I would hope that it would be the end of it.
    Replacing all of the remaining original drive side spokes would be prudent.
    Last edited by Drew Eckhardt; 08-31-12 at 02:27 PM.

  18. #18
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    How many spokes?
    The vehicle (you and the bike) and the load most likely weighs over 200 pounds. 32 to 36 spokes would be ideal.
    I have found that when a spoke breaks it throws the wheel out of true and requires a little more work to make it right.

  19. #19
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    Mine (the OP) has 32 spokes. I expect it is a relatively low quality wheel - it is the original on a Giant FCR3. It has about 7000 miles with a total of 4 broken spokes over its lifetime.

    I'm learning a lot from everyone's posts. Thanks!

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by JPMacG View Post
    Mine (the OP) has 32 spokes. I expect it is a relatively low quality wheel - it is the original on a Giant FCR3. It has about 7000 miles with a total of 4 broken spokes over its lifetime.

    I'm learning a lot from everyone's posts. Thanks!
    I would guess that your problem comes from a wheel that is not tensioned properly. The drive side spokes need at least 110kg of tension.

  21. #21
    Senior Member scooterfrog's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BCRider View Post
    It's likely that the wheel isn't correctly tensioned up then. So what is happening is that the spokes are becoming loose and "working" until they snap.

    Optimally you would either tension and re-true the whole wheel yourself or have the shop do it. Some additional spokes will still snap over the next while since they were cyclicly fatigued by the poor tensioning but after the next few go and are replaced I would hope that it would be the end of it.

    THe other option is to have the wheels re-laced with new spokes and correctly tensioned by the shop or yourself.

    You can test your wheel right now to see how it is. Lightly tap all the spokes from the drive and non drive side with a screwdriver handle like you're playing a dulcimer or xylophone and listen to the tone. The drive side and non drive side spokes should all have about the same tone with the drive side spokes being noticably higher on average. If any of them sound low and dull then those are the next in line to break. If you tighten them up to where they are in close harmony with the rest you will likely save a busted spoke in the near future unless too much damage was done already.

    The tone from them should be quite musical. It's hard to pass on such things over the web but if you know music you should hear tones from the spokes that are up around a middle C. Drive side being a little higher and non drive a little lower. Front wheels shoudl be matched side to side and all around at around a middle C or A below middle C. If they any are at or below the C below middle C then you should tighten those to bring them in line with the others and re-true as required.

    This may not be perfect. But in the absence of a spoke tension guage it'll get you into the ballpark and give you a tool you can use to at least diagnose anything really off and serious.
    I was wondering if you could check tension with a smartphone app like a guitar tune e.g. what note might pid be good. Or just strive for the same not e on each side.
    scott north of boston

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