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  1. #1
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    Can you tune spokes by ear?

    I'm a long time musician and have good relative pitch. I noticed the other day that the sound of a plucked spoke on the drive side was similar in most cases between each spoke. And the pitch of a spoke plucked on the non drive side was slightly lower, but mostly consistent. I found a couple of spokes that were lower pitched and felt looser. Going by that, I used to a spoke tool and my ear to "tune" the spokes to each other. Is this good/bad?

  2. #2
    Senior Member awfulwaffle's Avatar
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    I think it's probably a good way to tension up a wheel you're buildinflg before doing a final true, but it may not be the best method to true a bent/out of round wheel. The reason I say this is that if the rim is bent and no longer perfectly round, some spokes will have more or less tension in order to keep the bent rim round. Did you happen to put the wheel on your bike and see if it's out of true after your 'tuning'?

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    Quote Originally Posted by awfulwaffle View Post
    Did you happen to put the wheel on your bike and see if it's out of true after your 'tuning'?
    I didn't take it off while doing it. And after I did it, I rode 15 miles.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Fangowolf's Avatar
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    Oh my friend you are walking a dangerous path lol. Playing around with wheels is addictive. You can tell which ones are not tensioned as much, but that won't help make the wheel true. Ideally they will all be near the same tension and the wheel true when spinning.

    A simplified version for wheels already made :
    Spin the wheel and watch by the brake pads for wobbles. Stop the wheel where the wobble is and tighten the spokes that are on the side with the larger opening and loosen the spokes on the small opening side. (small adjustments quarter turns) Just keep doing that. Since I put more stress on my wheels I have been putting a good deal of tension on my spokes first and then truing them to make sure I have tight spokes.

    A truing stand will make this easier as it is easier to get to the wheel to stop it and several different places to watch for the wobbles. I found an $85 truing stand on ebay that is working out well and there are plans to make wooden stands as well.

    The good news if you have patience, even if you make a mistake on some of the adjustments, if you keep going you will eventually correct those. Just make sure when you are done that none of the spokes have little tension.

  5. #5
    Senior Member awfulwaffle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jarrett2 View Post
    I didn't take it off while doing it. And after I did it, I rode 15 miles.

    I assume you don't have access to a truing stand. Does your bike have disk or caliper brakes? If it has caliper brakes, you can roughluly tell wheel true by watching the rim in relation to one of the brake pads. If it's out of true after the adjustments you made, you'll see the distance between the rim and pad changing as the wheel spins.

    If you have disk brakes, you can tie a zip tie around the chainstay or fork, and position the end of it right next to the rim. That'll provide you a point of reference just like the brake pad above does

    EDIT: Shucks, looks like Fangowolf beat me to the punch

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    Yeah, I don't have a truing stand and this bike has disc brakes. Thanks for the truing tip on disc brake setups.

    I did this after breaking a spoke after 300 miles on this new bike/wheel. I knew a spoke was loose on the bike and told the LBS tech that it was and he said I would have to schedule a 90 day tuning and drop it off to have him check that. Since the bike was only two weeks old, I didn't want to leave it as I was riding every day. Then yesterday a spoke broke. I don't know if it was the one that was loose or not, but the LBS changed it out while I waited. So when I went home, I did the "tune" check on the spokes and found a couple that had less tension. Got them all in "tune" and went for a 15 mile ride.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Fangowolf's Avatar
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    Maybe but he will need the zip tie recomendation or post its. Jarrett don't forget to look on you tube. There are always videos of someone doing what you are thinking of checking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svMMaGMsIMw

  8. #8
    Senior Member Bill Kapaun's Avatar
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  9. #9
    2 Fat 2 Furious contango's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jarrett2 View Post
    I'm a long time musician and have good relative pitch. I noticed the other day that the sound of a plucked spoke on the drive side was similar in most cases between each spoke. And the pitch of a spoke plucked on the non drive side was slightly lower, but mostly consistent. I found a couple of spokes that were lower pitched and felt looser. Going by that, I used to a spoke tool and my ear to "tune" the spokes to each other. Is this good/bad?
    When I've got a wheel in the stand and it's clear something needs to be tightened or loosened I'll pluck a few spokes either side of the offending area - if something needs tightening I'll figure which one gives the lowest note when plucked and tighten it a quarter turn, then check it again. That way I end up with spokes with comparable tension and a wheel that's true.
    "For a list of ways technology has failed to improve quality of life, press three"

  10. #10
    Senior Member zandoval's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Kapaun View Post
    Hey this really works but you must have the tire and tube off to get a good ring - I find just thunking each spoke and concentrating on the ones that are obviously out of tune with the others to be just fine - That is until I get a spike tension meter - But who can afford that...

  11. #11
    Warning:Annoying to jerks RaleighSport's Avatar
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    Yes but if your going to go by sound.. buy a guitar tuner, it's more reliable.
    “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”


    ― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emerson in His Journals

  12. #12
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    I was a professional motorcycle mechanic and teacher for many years, also a sometimes amateur bicycle wrench. I have a lot of experience with wheels of both types, more than fifty years in fact. However, doing something a long time is no guarantee one is doing it right, so, take what I say for what you think it is worth ;o)

    Jarrett2: To answer your question, yes you can even-up spoke tension by 'ringing' and adjusting them. It was and may still be standard practice in motorcycle shops all over the globe. I suspect the same is true in bike shops. I remember the sound of spoke wrenches 'tinging' on spokes all over the shop when we were doing normal services on motorcycles. Since I've never been a pro bike wrench, I can't speak to what goes on in the back of a bike shop but strongly suspect it is the same.

    However, a big and very real problem with using sound to even the tension of spokes is: It is no clear indicator that the preload is correct. Spokes can be equal in tension but may be too tight or loose. Generally, somewhat over-tight spokes are 'better' than loose ones; loose spokes break. They break because they move and flex under the cyclic loads placed on them when in use. They normally break at the sharp bend.

    To get correct tensioning, one must measure it. DT, Shimano and Park Tool make such measuring tools and there may well be others.

    So, what to do? If you have a wheel that only has a few loose spokes (dead tone when struck), you can use the tone of the other spokes as references. That is what most of us do. The best wheel builders use a tension testing tool when building a wheel but service a 'good' wheel's spokes by the reference method.

    BTW: If the rim is bent/dinged, you will not be able to get it to run true with even spoke tension. Loose spokes can also be the result of a failing rim or spoke nipples.

  13. #13
    Senior Member mkadam68's Avatar
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    Downloaded it, but haven't tried it yet, but FWIW...

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/spok...518870820?mt=8

    Visit The C-Blog : the blog about cycling.

  14. #14
    Gears? CliftonGK1's Avatar
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    You *can* use tone alone to tension spokes, much the same as you *can* use a wrecking sledge to swat mosquitos, or use a Davey Tree chipper to make your morning glass of orange juice. It not the best suggested method.
    Spend the money, buy a tension meter, you'll be better off in the long run.
    "I feel like my world was classier before I found cyclocross."
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  15. #15
    Bicycle Repair Man !!! Sixty Fiver's Avatar
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    I have built a "few" wheels and in most cases do this without a tension meter... Jobst Brandt explains the methodology of building without a spoke tension meter and said;

    "The only tool essential for wheel building is a spoke wrench. The bicycle can serve as a good and adequate truing stand. Brake pads can be used as a reference from which to observe wheel alignment. Some builders prefer to use their thumb as a gauge even when using a well-equipped stand."

    I do use a tension meter when I am dealing with the unfamiliar or exotic and sometimes use it to check my builds to find that the spoke tensions are indeed correct.

    Using pitch is helpful to check the relative tensions between spokes, they should be harmonic and if not this is a good way to find if spokes are too tight or too loose.

    I do use a stand with dial indicators to measure lateral and vertical trueness and use these instead of a dishing gauge to get a more accurate measure.

    I actually build a lot of wheels and have tuned up thousands of them... I have never had a wheel fail because they were not built correctly and have only had two wheels come back before the rims had worn out.

    One had been clipped by a truck and the other had not even been mounted as it's owner left it behind his car when he loaded his bike and ran it over.

    My partner has been building 0/0 racing wheels for decades... they are as perfect as you can get them and he does not have a spoke tension gauge and like me, built his own stand and uses dial indicators.

  16. #16
    Bicycle Repair Man !!! Sixty Fiver's Avatar
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    When I went to United Bicycle Institute for the advanced level course we had many practicum exercises and one was to tear down a set of pre-built wheels and put them back together.

    I had already been building wheels professionally for a long time so this was not much of a challenge save for the fact we were rebuilding wheels that had been built up quite a few times.

    When the instructor came to inspect my wheels he said they were perfectly tensioned and as true as he had ever seen.

    I never used the spoke tension meter when I built up the wheels and he was stunned when he discovered this as he was younger and less experienced than me and had been taught that you needed these tools to build wheels.

    We had some good discussions on wheel building after that.



    In defense of spoke tension meters... people who have never built a wheel can benefit from these as they may have not developed a feel or the skills for building wheels.

  17. #17
    Climbers Apprentice vesteroid's Avatar
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    can you, absolutely yes. If you have built hundreds of wheels and have developed the skills to do so, yes it can be done, and done well. I have watched folks who can do that and then checked with the meter and it was dead on.

    Can you without this experience expect to do it well......?
    There's indecision when you aint got nothin left

  18. #18
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    Another wheel builder here who's raced and toured only my own clinchers and tubulars with great success, as well as having built many for others. Some great advice here and I can't quibble with any of it. For me, it was Jobst Brandt's book from the start. Built most of my own wheels on my bike with a little grease and a proper spoke wrench. After 25 years I finally splurged for a Minoura Pro stand that I really like.

    But I'll always do my final tuning musically. Given equal size spokes and already true rims, it is the final word. The more consistent the spoke tension, the stronger the wheel. Floppy spokes mean the stresses are being picked up somewhere else and that's not good.

    But it also should be mentioned that Sheldon Brown mentions this topic in his great article on wheel building. See the tensioning section about 3/4 of the way down with a link to a more detailed discussion.
    http://sheldonbrown.com/wheelbuild.html

  19. #19
    Senior Member Bill Kapaun's Avatar
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    Although I provided a link, I personally trust my tensin meter.
    I think plucking is still a great way to find aberrations in tension, even if you're pretty tone dead/hard of hearing like me. I can hear the difference between a thang and a thung.

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