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  1. #1
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    What is a good way to prevent a broken spoke?

    Hello! I'm a big rider (400lbs) and have been riding for almost two weeks. My front wheel is already wobbling!

    I'm guessing the wheel has become out of true due to loosening of spokes.

    An adjustment every now and then doesn't bother me, but I would like to do everything I can to prevent a broken spoke, and at my weight, know I'm at higher risk.

    Any ideas? I wish I had a tensionomoter so I could try and balance out my spoke pressure, but I don't. Are there any other ways? Do spokes pop/break when they are too tight or too loose?

    thanks!

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    Warning: I'm NOT a wheelbuilder. But I weigh 250 and I've been riding for 40 years, so I've learned a few things....
    Your weight is an issue, but you know that. If you're riding a cheap bike, it probably has machine-built wheels that weren't tensioned by hand. They're inherently weaker than hand-built wheels. A shop could check the tension and true them for you (cost $12 last time I had it done, but that was years ago).
    I've never had any luck riding fewer than 36 spokes. If you have to buy new wheels, a good shop can build up a set for you with up to 48 spokes (that I know of), but it's not cheap.
    You can sort of check the tension of your spokes by spinning the wheel and letting a screwdriver or something just gently touch the spokes as they go by. You'll hear pingpingpingping. If you hear pingpingclunkping, the spoke that clunks is loose. One that's too tight will make a higher sound. Strive for equality in front. In the back, it's normal for spokes on one side to be tighter than those on the other, but those on each side should be equal.
    When you true a bent wheel, it's sometimes necessary to loosen spokes opposite the ones you tighten to bring the rim back into line. My buddy the bike-shop owner says a lot of people don't do this.
    Larger tires and lower pressures will help a little, but be careful not to let out so much air that you get pinch flats. You'll need higher pressures than a 150-pounder.
    Maybe most important, watch how you ride. Don't crash curbs or blow through potholes. On rough pavement, stand up and try to "float" on the pedals, letting the bike move under you and absorbing shock with your legs.
    Google "bicycle wheel truing" or something similar for more...

  3. #3
    Insane Bicycle Mechanic Jeff Wills's Avatar
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    I've been building my own wheels for 30 years, so: it's very hard to tighten spokes too much. It's insufficient tension that causes metal fatigue in the spokes' elbows, which eventually causes them to break/

    I weight 220 pounds and ride a recumbent, so I'm tough on wheels. Since I learned to properly tension wheels, I haven't broken a single undamaged spoke- not one.

    Velo's recommendations are good. Have a good wheelbuilder tension the wheels by hand, maximizing the tension for the hub/spoke/rim combination. You're not that much heavier than a typical tandem (I bet you didn't want to hear that) and many of them get around with 36-spoke wheels.
    Jeff Wills

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    Thanks a lot guys! I will have to check my tires and make sure none of my spokes are too loose and both wheels are true =p

    I'd really like a tensiometer, but $60 is a bit much for a small tool...I'll probably regret it when I start popping spokes though =/

    thanks!

  5. #5
    Senior Member chandltp's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by llmercll View Post
    I'd really like a tensiometer, but $60 is a bit much for a small tool...I'll probably regret it when I start popping spokes though =/
    I bought one. When I replaced a spoke and re-tensioned my wheel this weekend it was invaluable. I couldn't feel or hear the differences between the spokes very well (if at all), but I could measure them.
    There are 10 types of people, those that understand binary and those that don't.

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    You don't mention what wheels you are currently running (or the spoke count, nor tire size). I would venture to guess that you are exceeding their capacity, which means that retensioning is little more than a short term fix.

    I question the value of a tensiometer. On used wheels, the tension of the spokes will be whatever it needs to be in order to make the wheel true. In other words; if you have a wheel that is true, and then try to tension all the spokes to be the same, you will end up with a wheel out of round. There is a minimal tension you want but once you figure out that your lowest tensioned spoke is within reason, everything else will be what it is.

    There is a vendor on ebay selling Velocity Dyad rims laced to either 32 hole Shimano Deore XT or 40 hole Formula hubs. I recently purchased their 32h version for my tourer, their 40 hole version would be a good choice. These rims are strong enough to be used on tandem bikes built to carry 400 pounds all day long.

  7. #7
    Senior Member BlazingPedals's Avatar
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    I don't do my own wheels, but from what I've read, spoke compound is an important part of the wheel build, too. It lubes the threads when you're building the wheel, which helps prevent too much spoke-twisting, and then when it hardens it acts like threadlock. Also, it's important to load the wheel to let any wound-up spokes unwind before final truing. IOW, there's more to it than just turning a few screws.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Retro Grouch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by abdon View Post
    I question the value of a tensiometer. On used wheels, the tension of the spokes will be whatever it needs to be in order to make the wheel true. In other words; if you have a wheel that is true, and then try to tension all the spokes to be the same, you will end up with a wheel out of round. There is a minimal tension you want but once you figure out that your lowest tensioned spoke is within reason, everything else will be what it is.
    I don't think that's necessarily true. I've worked with many wheels that were adequately true in both directions but had spoke tensions all over the board. Equalize all the tensions and, just like abdon said, it goes out of true. If, however, you do the trueing by tightening and loosening adjacent spokes an equal amount, it goes back into line without the wide tension variations.

    Often times on a poorly built wheel I will find too tight spokes adjacent to a too loose one. The wheel may be true but the loose spoke is on it's way to breaking. After it breaks if all you do is to replace the spoke and retrue the wheel, it will break again in short order because that spoke will still be undertensioned.

    A bicycle wheel has 4 components: Hub, spokes, rim, and build quality. Build quality is the most important.

  9. #9
    You gonna eat that? Doohickie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by llmercll View Post
    What is a good way to prevent a broken spoke?
    Hang the bike on the wall. Leave it there.

    At the most basic level, you can true wheels pretty simply using just a spoke wrench and looking at where the rim moves side-to-side relative to the brake pads as the wheel spins. Unless you know the wheel is seriously out of whack, the best way to true is to loosen up one spoke on the side you want to move away from, and tighten the adjacent spoke on the side you want to move the rim to. Think of "conservation of spoke tension"- if you loosen one spoke a quarter turn, tighten the next spoke a quarter turn. You don't want to turn spoke nuts more than that at a time on a wheel that's basically true and just needs to be touched up. In fact, if you're trying to move a significant section of the rim over several spokes, you may want to work in 1/8 of a turn at a time.

    If this doesn't make sense, try taking it to an LBS and have a mechanic illustrate what I'm talking about. He may explain it better than I can anyway.
    I stop for people / whose right of way I honor / but not for no one.



    Originally Posted by bragi "However, it's never a good idea to overgeneralize."

  10. #10
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    Retro, don't get me wrong; I would love to own a tensionmeter. I'm just not willing to pay for it

    A tensioned spoke has a nice ring to it. You true your wheel, then check for tension by plucking or tapping the spokes with a screw driver. If you find a spoke that is way off compared to it's immediate peers, you adjust them so they are as close to one another as you can get them while keeping the wheel true.

    Lately I have grown lazy. I have two wheelsets, a 32 hole, 2mm DT Swiss spokes on Mavic Open Pro rims, and 36 2mm DT Swiss spokes on a Velocity Dyad rim for loaded touring. Having enough spokes on a strong rim minimizes the need for true'ing, so I just take the rear wheels to my LBS on the off season. $10 bucks a pop, instant gratification.

    llmercll, a strong wheelset that won't need to get de-wobbled more than once a season would make you happy.

  11. #11
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    OK! I tried truing my wheels for the first time today!

    I took off the tire so it was rim only. I noticed my spokes had quite a bit of play so tightened them all up a good bit. Not too much, but enough so they are all firm and only give a little bend when squeezed. I plucked them and they sound pretty even. I really wish I had a tensiometer, but oh well. A spoke is only a $1 to replace if I made them too loose/tight.

    Anyway I made a very nice lateral true. It spins perfectly straight. Unfortunately it's sill very out of round, and don't know what I will do without some kind of guide (I have the bike flipped over and used the brake pads). I'm thinking of using cable ties and trying that method. I have to admit even though lateral true is great, the wheel still looks wobbly as hell.

    So tomorrow I need to do round true, and the rear wheel. Then I'll need to stress relieve them, and possibly do a few more adjustments. I just hope the rim isn't bent or something. Would it be noticeable to my eye if it was? I carefully inspected it and it looks find, I just can't imaging how being out of round would leave it that wobbly still!

    thanks!

  12. #12
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    If you're breaking spokes and 400 lbs, you are probably too heavy for your rim. Heavy riders (and I'm talking 200lbs+) are often heavy enough to deform the rim under the bike, which causes the bottom spokes to flex(which causes fatigue and eventually breaks them) or to unscrew. You can retension the rim all you want, but if your rim is deforming you will keep having problems.
    Quote Originally Posted by carleton View Post
    Dude, when you live by the Tarck sword, you die by the Tarck sword. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

  13. #13
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Word : maintainence .

    I'd really like a tensiometer, but $60 is a bit much for a small tool...I'll probably regret it when I start popping spokes though =/
    never owned one , I have gone by feel and sound, for 30 years.

    pluck the spokes , pitch will give you an idea of relative tension.

    A 400 pounds you are your own tandem team , solo.
    perhaps that type of wheel build is better for you.


    Its like the loaded touring bike wheel builds I have done ,
    they have proven reliable.. 40 spoke front , 48 spoke rear.
    Last edited by fietsbob; 06-08-11 at 09:31 AM.

  14. #14
    Bianchi Goddess Bianchigirll's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by clink83 View Post
    If you're breaking spokes and 400 lbs, you are probably too heavy for your rim. Heavy riders (and I'm talking 200lbs+) are often heavy enough to deform the rim under the bike, which causes the bottom spokes to flex(which causes fatigue and eventually breaks them) or to unscrew. You can retension the rim all you want, but if your rim is deforming you will keep having problems.
    I am not quite sure I follow you, all the spokes receive even cycles of flex so would they all break at the same time? I ride lots of different wheels and while I have had my share of broke spokes I think it has more to do with riding style and the quality of the starting product. when I was younger and hit every pothole and cranks in the road I had lots of trouble with my wheels. as I got be a smoother rider and rode better hand built wheels I broke less spokes. but I think is was as much change in riding style then the wheels.

    llmercll: what kind of bike and wheels do you have?
    Bianchis '87 Sport SX, '90 Proto (2), '91 Boarala 'cross, '93 Project 3, '88 Trofeo, '86 Volpe, '89 Axis, '79 Mixte SOLD, '99 Mega Pro XL Ti, '97 Ti Megatube, , '90 something Vento 603,

    Others but still loved,; '80 RIGI, '80 Batavus Professional, '87 Cornelo, '86 Bertoni (sold), '09 Motobecane SS, '98 Hetchins M.O., '09 K2 Mainframe, '89 Trek 2000, '?? Jane Doe (still on the drawing board), '90ish Haro Escape

  15. #15
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    I have a trek 7200 with matrix 750 rims. They are stock with the bike.

    And no matter what I do I can't seem to true my rims radially. I've tried tightening the spokes in the area that bulges out, but it seems there isn't any change. =(

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    Three thoughts:
    1) cheap spokes break easily, due to poor materials and poor build quality. MOST bikes under $750 or so come with cheap spokes.
    2) go to a shop and pick out a hub and rim, and have the shop build the wheels for you with whatever typical brand of spokes they use, the plain DT Swiss ones are fine
    3) get heavy-duty MTB hubs, even if this is a road or hybrid bike you don't ride off-road. The bearings is the first part that fails from high loads--not the spokes--and you can get off-road hubs with bigger bearings than road hubs. Figure on spending ~$200 or so just for good hubs, which is not cheap, but they will last forever. I would recommend Shimano XTR's for a bit more, $250 or so. Cheap hubs are NOT gonna hold up.

    If the bike shop hand-builds the wheels and you are a typical person (not a bodybuilder or Olympic-level athlete) and you are riding on-road, you should basically NEVER need to tighten spokes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bianchigirll View Post
    I am not quite sure I follow you, all the spokes receive even cycles of flex so would they all break at the same time? I ride lots of different wheels and while I have had my share of broke spokes I think it has more to do with riding style and the quality of the starting product. when I was younger and hit every pothole and cranks in the road I had lots of trouble with my wheels. as I got be a smoother rider and rode better hand built wheels I broke less spokes. but I think is was as much change in riding style then the wheels.

    llmercll: what kind of bike and wheels do you have?
    Were talking about heavy riders, not people who are careless. If you're over 185ish alot of rims are too weak to support your weight, and will bend or break spokes no matter what you do. I broke a spoke on my shimano r500 rims riding 10mph on a flat section of smooth road.

    Try taking a peice of coat hanger wire and bending several sections till they break, you'll see they wont break exactly at the same time.
    Quote Originally Posted by carleton View Post
    Dude, when you live by the Tarck sword, you die by the Tarck sword. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

  18. #18
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    I ride very carefully. One thing I can be certain about is that my riding style isn't too stressful, aside from the very hight weight =p I never go off curbs, or bumps, or anything. I take extra care because of the stress I'm already putting on the bike =p

    $200 hubs are out of the question for me, unfortunately. I thought it was the amount of spokes/rim quality and skill of the wheelbuilder that mattered most (but what do I know?).

    I would like to get a nice 40 spoke rim with some DT spokes built by an experienced wheelbuilder, but that would surely be expensive, and money is something I have very little of =(

    thanks!

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bianchigirll View Post
    I am not quite sure I follow you, all the spokes receive even cycles of flex so would they all break at the same time?
    Close to the same time. The number of cycles survived depend on both average stress and magnitude of the stress cycle. Some spokes may have more stress remaining from the head forming operation, tension isn't necessarily uniform, etc.

    I ride lots of different wheels and while I have had my share of broke spokes I think it has more to do with riding style and the quality of the starting product.
    If you correct spoke lines at hub and rim, stress relieve, and use uniform high tension the spokes last 300,000+ miles.

    when I was younger and hit every pothole and cranks in the road I had lots of trouble with my wheels.
    Pot holes don't do much provided they don't bend a rim. It's the ~750 stress cycles spokes go through with each mile you ride that add up.

    as I got be a smoother rider and rode better hand built wheels I broke less spokes. but I think is was as much change in riding style then the wheels.
    Better wheels.

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    Quote Originally Posted by abdon View Post
    Lately I have grown lazy. I have two wheelsets, a 32 hole, 2mm DT Swiss spokes on Mavic Open Pro rims, and 36 2mm DT Swiss spokes on a Velocity Dyad rim for loaded touring. Having enough spokes on a strong rim minimizes the need for true'ing, so I just take the rear wheels to my LBS on the off season. $10 bucks a pop, instant gratification.
    Properly built wheels don't go out of true until you bend the rims on a road obstacle/crash or are removing tension to replace the rim because you've worn out the brake track.

    I didn't touch my last front wheel for 12-14 years (broke a leg, grew to over 200 pounds, and discovered that 400 gram rims don't like that) and rear wheel for 5 (crash replacement).

  21. #21
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    I'm sure it is probably out of most people's price range, but if you are serious then you may want to try this: http://www.fortune3.com/aerospoke/Products_Wheels.html

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Eckhardt View Post
    Properly built wheels don't go out of true until you bend the rims on a road obstacle/crash or are removing tension to replace the rim because you've worn out the brake track.
    True, I fully agree. However, if you are penny pinching you can save a bundle by stress relieving a wheel yourself.

    On ebay right now there is a vendor selling Mavic A319 wheelset disc brakes with 36 holes for $163.75. They were probably machine made, and most likely not properly stress relieved. What you do is you ride them for a while, then squeeze the spokes (2~3 at a time) hard, before taking them to the shop to have the wheel re-trued. Total cost, under $200.

    Or you can buy from a reputable wheel builder, the wheels won't need to be re-trued for a long time, but you end up paying well over $400 for the weelset.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by llmercll View Post
    Thanks a lot guys! I will have to check my tires and make sure none of my spokes are too loose and both wheels are true =p

    I'd really like a tensiometer, but $60 is a bit much for a small tool...I'll probably regret it when I start popping spokes though =/

    thanks!
    Makes things easier and faster to have some numbers.

    Ask Doc how he does it.

    Own: 2010 GT Tachyon 3.0
    Own: 2013 Trek Domane 2.0 + Revolution REV22 wheels

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