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Old 01-19-14, 04:42 PM   #1
TheEnthusiast
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need advice on how to true a wheel at home

My older 10 speeds all have steel rims that can use a good trueing. Well I don't have any of the necessary equipment to do so and the bike shop wants $15 a wheel and I'm not doing that bull****. I think I can use a pair of Visegrips but I don't understand which way to do the turns and such. And the reason why I cant have the bike shop do it is because I just got laid of and I have no money.
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Old 01-19-14, 04:49 PM   #2
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This isn't anything that I can write up in a decent amount of time, but there are plenty of tutorials on the internet, both text and photp and video. Search "bicycle wheel alignment" or bicycle wheel truing.

The only tool that's absolutely necessary is a spoke (nipple) wrench. Vise grips won't do the job and will rapidly destroy the nipples.

Another option is to work with a co-op, where you'll pay a small fee for the privilege of using their tools, but there's also mechanic who can coach you as you go along. IMO, that's the best approach, and there are co-ops in both Kansas City and St. Louis. I know they're far, but it might be worth the effort to get there.
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Old 01-19-14, 04:54 PM   #3
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First of all $15 is not unreasonable to true a wheel. You can do it at home but dont use a vise grip, use a spoke wrench. You don't need a truing stand, you can use referances on the bike itself, but a truing stand will make it easier to center the wheel on the axle rather than centering it to the frame. (I've wraped a metal hanger around the stays/fork for a referance point.)
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Old 01-19-14, 06:45 PM   #4
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There are some spoke wrenches that have multiple slots for different sizes. That might be the cheapest route for you. Vise grips will crush the relatively soft brass nipples, then you will be worse off than you are now.
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Old 01-19-14, 07:09 PM   #5
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My older 10 speeds all have steel rims that can use a good trueing. Well I don't have any of the necessary equipment to do so and the bike shop wants $15 a wheel and I'm not doing that bull****. I think I can use a pair of Visegrips but I don't understand which way to do the turns and such. And the reason why I cant have the bike shop do it is because I just got laid of and I have no money.
I'm a novice wheel-builder and I've now trued-up 5 wheels since my first one a couple weeks ago. It's rather simple. If you don't have a spoke wrench, you can do it with a good condition, clean, straight-slot screwdriver. Take the tires and tubes and rim-strip off the wheel, and you can see how the spokes can be turned with a screwdriver on the inside of the rim. If they're rusty at all, you should soak each spoke nipple inside and outside the rim with wd-40 or some other penetrating oil to loosen any rust on the spokes. Maybe do this twice. Even on clean spoke nipples you should put some lubricant on them, just to be sure.

As you slowly turn the rim, hold your thumb or finger still in a spot on the frame and notice whether the rim moves away from your finger or towards your finger at the point you're wanting to true-up. If the rim moves towards you, then you want to tighten the spoke that goes to the opposite side away from you at the hub, which will pull the rim away from you when you tighten that spoke. From inside the rim, it's the old righty-tighty, lefty-loosey. Just work your way around the rim, tightening only, each spoke at the place where the rim separates from or rubs against your finger. Fairly quickly, you'll get the hang of it. You may reach the point where tightening a particular spoke won't work, because the spoke has bottomed-out and is into the hole where your screwdriver needs to be, but can't be, because the spoke has pushed up into the slot. In this case, you can try to loosen the spoke on the opposite side of where you want the rim to go. If the rim has moved away from your finger-gauge, then loosen the spoke that goes to the opposite side, which allows the tension of the spokes on the near side to move the rim towards you.

The spokes will pop and ping as you tighten and loosen them, nothing to be alarmed about. If you have a good ear, you can use those pings as a tuning gauge for spoke tension. You LBS will have all sorts of expensive gauges for getting the tension equalized around the rim, but like a stringed instrument, you can pluck the spokes to get a backyard reference for which spokes are loose and which may be too tight.

Also, take note that this is only a process for side-to-side wheel truing. Once you get that down, then you can move on to what happens when a wheel has a hump or a flat spot on it, the rim being farther away from the hub or closer to the hub. A different process, but just logic. High spot, tighten the spokes that go to both sides of the hub at that spot (otherwise if you don't do both spoke-sides, by tightening only one spoke you'll pull the rim out of line side-to-side again). Low spot, loosen the spokes that go to both sides at the hub that spot. Work your way around the rim. That's about it. Good luck.


Give it a whirl, it's really not hard at all. Then, you can call up the LBS and tell them that you'll do all their rims for them for $10 bucks apiece, solving your financial situation, but ONLY if they deliver them to you Seriously, $15 is a cheap price for a good wheel truing. My LBS won't true a wheel without me having to pay for a new rim strip in addition to the labor charge, and then they'll try to tell me how my shiny stainless steel spokes may be worn out and should be replaced at 2 bucks apiece with their fine-quality galvanized spokes, like I need to spend $72 for 36 cheap spokes and $9 for cheap nipples plus $8 for a rubber rim strip plus $25 truing charge, plus tax, or, uhh, $123 to fix one junkyard wobbly wheel.
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Old 01-19-14, 08:34 PM   #6
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Thanks guys you were a lot of help!
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Old 01-19-14, 09:41 PM   #7
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I would ditto the advise to check several references and videos for assistance, as the instructions above leave out a few things. For one, when truing from side to side you need to tighten one side and loosen the other. Additionally one may need to do 2 or 4 spokes at a time depending on the amount and length of the bend. If you only tighten when truing you will increase overall tension and possibly cause a low spot by pulling in the rim too far. Check sheldonbrown.com and parktool.com/blog for instructions, videos for examples of the process, and other sources as well. Think about what you are doing and why rather than just following rote instructions.
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Old 01-19-14, 09:57 PM   #8
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Buy a good single spoke wrench... not a multi sized spoke wrench as most of these are crap and do a great job of stripping nipples.

You will need the right size spoke wrench to keep you from stripping the nipples and also to bring the wheel up to the right tension... using a screwdriver is going to make this very hard to do as it can slip and strip the back of the nipple.

There are lots of good "how to's" to be found on the web and you should start by reading up on how wheels are built so you understand the basics... paying $15.00 to have wheels trued is a pretty good deal and what I would charge for good condition wheels that are no trouble but old wheels that might have seized spokes and a myriad of other defects get a by the minute rate.

Bike shops are not charities and wheel work has some of the lowest per job rates when you consider the skill and experience required to do it right.
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Old 01-19-14, 10:58 PM   #9
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Back when spoke wrenches were a quarter, a bike shop owner confided to me that he would give them away for free but feared customers would figure out why.
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Old 01-20-14, 01:00 AM   #10
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Yes, you can do the job with just a spoke wrench and without a truing stand (by leaving the wheel in your bike on a bike stand and using the brake calipers as a reference guide), if you really know what you are doing. But the two key parts of truing the wheel are: 1) getting the rim to run true (with no wobble laterally and radially), and; 2) with the proper spoke tension. You could manage to get the rim to run true but without the proper spoke tension. There are two ways to guage spoke tension...a) by feel & sound when "plucked", and b) by using a spoke tension gauge. The first method is quite subjective and depends on the skill of the mechanic. The second is more objective and uses a measuring tool. The use of the tool of course requires some skill.

You can get a decent spoke tension gauge and truing stand for a couple of hundred bucks.
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Old 01-20-14, 05:44 AM   #11
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You can get a decent spoke tension gauge and truing stand for a couple of hundred bucks.
Much, much less! The most popular tension gauge is $60 - Park Tool brand. A cheap but adequate truing stand shouldn't cost more than $50. I have built scores of wheels with a Minoura stand that I paid what? $30 for. Of course that was 30 years ago.

OP, please remember the object is not just to true the wheels, but to true them without destroying the equivalence of spoke tension among all the spokes on each side (rear wheel) or on the entire wheel (front wheel). If you mess up the tension balance among the spokes, you will have ruined the wheel and will be in for constant touching up. Not good.

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Old 01-20-14, 06:52 AM   #12
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You guys crack me up. The guy wants to true old Huffy steel wheels, not build a 1:2 low count.
OP: visegrips will be fine, but you'll also need a GoPro...
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Old 01-20-14, 07:44 AM   #13
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Yes, all things considered, getting a good spoke wrench and carefully, a little at a time, should benefit you in the long run, as long as you have patience. I would not under any circumstances use anything except a spoke wrench - if for no other reason it's much much easier to track how much the nipples are turning. Been there done that with a vice grips. Bad idea.

The first thing I would do is pull the tires and put a dot of penetrating oil on and around each nipple, and also a small drip from the spoke (inside) on both wheels before adjusting them - helps make sure everything is going to move smoothly. Also, check for spokes that are much looser than others and make sure all spokes seem to be tensioned the same. I read all the time here about loose spokes breaking. Oh, and while the tires are off, check all the nipple heads to make sure they don't have sharp dings from a screwdriver that will eventually get to your tube.

And if all goes south, $15 a wheel is cheap.
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Old 01-20-14, 10:56 AM   #14
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First of all old steel rims are probably not worth even truing. I realize the money situation but buy a cheap set of standard 27 inch aluminum rims, you can get them for $125 shipped on ebay. Buy a good spoke wrench because you will to probably true the new wheels you just bought since they are cheap but very functional, but wheels in this category need to be finished off by customer.
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Old 01-20-14, 11:01 AM   #15
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First of all old steel rims are probably not worth even truing. I realize the money situation but buy a cheap set of standard 27 inch aluminum rims, you can get them for $125 shipped on ebay. Buy a good spoke wrench because you will to probably true the new wheels you just bought since they are cheap but very functional, but wheels in this category need to be finished off by customer.
Pardon me, but this is absolutely ridiculous advice. Especially in the face of the fact that the OP says he can't afford $15.00 for the local shop to align his wheel.

In any case, steel wheels served well for a century or more, and continue to serve well on millions of bicycles worldwide.
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Old 01-20-14, 11:18 AM   #16
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I have built wheels with nothing more than zip ties for indicators, used the bike frame as a stand and a spoke wrench... and then sent those wheels off on a 5000 mile fully loaded tour with them having nary a problem.

But I do this a lot.

Point is that you can build and true wheels with minimal tools and it is really about developing the skills to know how to use them.

My professional stand that I build wheels with is an inverted road fork that is mounted in a base with dial indicators and manual indicators attached.
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Old 01-20-14, 07:24 PM   #17
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I have built wheels with nothing more than zip ties for indicators, used the bike frame as a stand and a spoke wrench... and then sent those wheels off on a 5000 mile fully loaded tour with them having nary a problem.

But I do this a lot.

Point is that you can build and true wheels with minimal tools and it is really about developing the skills to know how to use them.

My professional stand that I build wheels with is an inverted road fork that is mounted in a base with dial indicators and manual indicators attached.
The zip tie thing works great.
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Old 01-20-14, 07:40 PM   #18
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A small adjustable wrench such as a 4" crescent wrench can Work , but a proper spoke wrench would be better.

the spoke nipple is a Nut on the end of a RH treaded Spoke .. so it functions just like any RH threaded Fastener

CW/Rightie-Tightie

If you take the tire off , you make sure the end of the spoke wont puncture the inner-tube..
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Old 01-20-14, 10:52 PM   #19
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One other thing: when you tighten a nipple, the spoke will often twist, no matter how well you oiled the nipple-spoke junction. Put a bit of tape on the spoke, or mark one side of it with a sharpie pen, and you'll see the twist. So turn the nipple a bit past where you want it, then back it off to the desired position, that can help reduce spoke twist.
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Old 01-21-14, 10:18 AM   #20
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Back when spoke wrenches were a quarter, a bike shop owner confided to me that he would give them away for free but feared customers would figure out why.
I gotta ask you why ? :-)
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Old 01-21-14, 11:21 AM   #21
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I gotta ask you why ? :-)
When I worked in a NYC bike shop, we had the same attitude about selling spoke wrenches. That $1.00 (or less) spoke tool would often cost the consumer far more as he used it to destroy his wheel. The boss also used to kid about giving them away to generate repair business.
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Old 01-21-14, 12:57 PM   #22
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When I would true wheels back before I had real bike tools, what I would do is turn the bike upside down, take the tire, tube and rim strip off the rim, place the rim back in the frame to use the brake pads as centering guides and then use a flat screwdriver in the nipple ends through the spoke holes. Cheap spoke wrenches will tend to strip nipples but I never stripped one using a flat screwdriver in the nipple ends.

If you buy a spoke wrench, buy a name-brand one--DO NOT get the cheap generic ones at wal-mart or anywhere else!

For the actual truing, always do adjustments in 1/4-turn increments so you do not un-center the rim on the axle, and always loosen one spoke and then tighten the one next to it. Wherever the rim is pulling to one side, loosen the spoke pulling to that side 1/4 turn FIRST and then tighten the adjacent spoke pulling to the other side 1/4 turn SECOND. Spin-test the wheel and expect it to take a bit of time. You can get it darn-near perfect with no real bicycle tools and a bit of patience.

Also when spoke wrench shopping: spoke nipples come in at least four or five different sizes (widths).... The wrong size will either not fit on at all, or will strip the nipples. So you want to get a wrench that has at least 3 different typical widths on it (like the Pedro's), and then one of them will probably fit.

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