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  1. #1
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    How common are flats and broken spokes on tour?

    I've been reading tour journals on CGOAB and there seem to be some people who experience multiple broken spokes on tour, and it seems that there are also people who get lots of flats. Then there are people who run fully loaded bikes and don't break a spoke or get a flat on a cross country ride.

    Flats don't bother me, as I have no problem changing them. I'm not mechanically adept, but I can change a flat in just a few minutes. Pulling a cassette and replacing a spoke on the side of the road would not fill me with happiness.

    So, what's the deal? I read one guy's journal(forget the URL but he was touring on a Rivendell with caliper brakes) and the guy broke a spoke 3-5 times on his Southern Tier route. Is that just the luck of the draw, bad equipment, or what?
    "When I'm on a bike, it's like I'm 14 again, racing off to the arcade with a pocket full of quarters."

  2. #2
    Here's a Quarter... trafficcasauras's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Schwinnrider View Post
    I've been reading tour journals on CGOAB and there seem to be some people who experience multiple broken spokes on tour, and it seems that there are also people who get lots of flats. Then there are people who run fully loaded bikes and don't break a spoke or get a flat on a cross country ride.

    Flats don't bother me, as I have no problem changing them. I'm not mechanically adept, but I can change a flat in just a few minutes. Pulling a cassette and replacing a spoke on the side of the road would not fill me with happiness.

    So, what's the deal? I read one guy's journal(forget the URL but he was touring on a Rivendell with caliper brakes) and the guy broke a spoke 3-5 times on his Southern Tier route. Is that just the luck of the draw, bad equipment, or what?
    just remember that there are many different spoke lengths, so have you size. and if you've never changed a spoke, remember that spokes work together as a group. and it is better to have loose than over tighten and round-out/grind-down the nipple sides. i learned from experience on some cheap wheels.

    i'll be touring on a single speed without dish in the wheels.
    I Am That I Am

  3. #3
    Senior Member catmandew52's Avatar
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    Rider weight, total weight, spoke count, wheel dish, riding style (aggressive maneuvering?), rim stiffnes all have to be taken into consideration.

  4. #4
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    One tour I had 5 broken spokes on my rear wheel, all on the non-freewheel side. I had brought the wheel in to my local bike shop before the tour, I think to install a new freewheel, and they had to re-dish the wheel. As you might guess, it turns out that the wheel had been improperly dished!

    Knock on wood, but that's the only time I've broken spokes on a tour.

  5. #5
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    Pre trip service to the bicycle will help a lot.. i chose overbuilt wheels , 1 broken spoke
    in a decade, there were 47 spares already in the wheel.

    add: overshift into the spokes? its not really a 'dork disc' then..
    Last edited by fietsbob; 09-26-11 at 10:57 PM.

  6. #6
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    I managed to derail the chain over the large cog and carve up some driveside spokes. They started popping and I was plagued by broken spokes for the rest of the tour. I became pretty handy with a NBT2 cassette remover and could change a spoke in about 1/2 hr (in theory it should be 10mins but you have to find a good place, unpack, get your tools out, do the job then clean up, repack the bike).
    I think the custom wheel had spokes that were too thin,; my older touring wheels had thicker spokes, more resistant to chain damage.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Rob_E's Avatar
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    There are a variety of wheel and tire types as well. Weight can also be a huge factor. The heavier the load, the greater the chance for failure.

    A 36 spoke wheel is generally considered adequate for touring. Some use more spokes, many use fewer. But a lower spoke wheel with a heavier load has a better chance of breaking. Generally I consider a broken spoke to be a result of a poorly built wheel, a damaged wheel, or an over-stressed wheel that is carrying more weight then it was meant to. If you're seeing reports of broken spokes, it might be worth trying to see how many spokes the wheel has and whether it was professionally built or machine built. Spoke choice can also play a part. A "perfect" wheel can still break a spoke, and it's best to be prepared to deal with that, but careful wheel choice can greatly decrease the odds of a broken spoke. Also pre-testing the wheel can help identify problems before you head out. Being a heavier rider who routinely loads up his bike even when just riding around town, I feel like I'm as likely to break spokes around home as I am on the road. But if your touring weight is far in excess of your normal loads, you may not realize that you're over-loading your wheel until you are on the road.

    Tire choice plays a huge role in flats. Often a lighter, more supple tire makes the ride more pleasant, but also increases the odds of flats. Heavier loads can make you more flat-prone, too, but probably as much of a factor is simply the number of miles you put in. I might put 300 miles on my bike in a month. If I got one flat a month, it might not seem like a big deal, but on a tour that means 1 to 2 flats per week, so it makes flats seem more common. If you absolutely hate dealing with flats, then you should go with the most flat-resistant tire irregardless of the weight, but you still need to be prepared to fix a flat as it is just about the most common thing to go wrong on a bike.

    I added some spokes to my supplies when I took a multi-day trip, but I never expected to, nor did I, have to use them. But I also took a spare tube, a patch kit, and even a spare tire (because my tires were looking bare, but I didn't want to replace them yet), and I consider myself very lucky that I didn't have to use any of them. My Marathon Plusses have almost eliminated flats, but I still try to be prepared for them even around town.

    So, yes, sometimes it can be luck of the draw. Sometimes you can do everything right and have things go wrong, but there are a lot of choices you can make to improve your odds. If you're really concerned about spokes, make sure your wheel is strong, and, if you have the resources and really want to be prepared, have a backup wheel ready to be mailed out to you. While under normal circumstances, a machine built wheel with no-name spokes will get the job done, loading that wheel up and spending long hours on it is going to test it. Also one broken spoke increases stress on the other spokes, increasing the odds of of another break, so that's why if you are really averse to messing with spokes on the road, having access to a spare wheel may be the way to go. I know that on a wheel that came with my old bike, once the spokes started breaking, I ended up replacing that entire side of the wheel, one spoke at a time. Once that was done, though, the wheel was solid.

  8. #8
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    There are ways of making spokes so you don't have to remove anything to replace them in case one breaks.

    On my first tour in 1975 I destroyed my rear wheel.Started breaking spokes,then the hub cracked in half.After I got home,I discovered that the axle was bent and that took out the hub.

    Since then, I build the best wheels I can afford,removed all of the crap I don't need with me....no more problems.Total weight of about 30-35 lbs of gear total.It was probably twice that on my first tour.

    Schwalbe Marathon tires = flat problems gone.
    Everything should be as simple as possible...But not more so.---Albert Einstein

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob_E View Post
    Generally I consider a broken spoke to be a result of a poorly built wheel, a damaged wheel, or an over-stressed wheel that is carrying more weight then it was meant to. If you're seeing reports of broken spokes, it might be worth trying to see how many spokes the wheel has and whether it was professionally built or machine built.
    Wot he said. I had a good mechanic go over my wheels (at the REI in Bailey's Crossroads), and had no problems. I've also started popping spokes at about 500 and 1,000 miles on new, machine-built wheels. (Got new spokes, rebuilt the wheels with proper tensioning and stress-relief, per Brandt's book, and had no problems for thousands of miles thereafter.)

    You can get a Fiber-fix spoke for spokes on the drive-side rear (or anywhere else, really), and not have to worry about the cassette remover. The next bike shop can put a real metal spoke in there for you, assuming you only break one at a time.

    Of course, if you damage half the spokes on a wheel (like the chain off the cassette scenario), it's smart to go ahead and replace all of the damaged spokes before they fail. The chain scoring sets up a stress riser that will lead to a complete spoke failure, sooner rather than later.

    Flats? Fact of life. Take at least two spare tubes and a repair kit. Two of us had about a dozen on our cross-country trip, including the no-good, rotten, very bad day when I had four. (Failed tire, if you care.) I'd go for pump and repair kit over CO2 and spare tubes because, like that day, you can always have one more than the spares you carry can cover.

  10. #10
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    In my experience, the ratio of flats between a 120 lb girl and 180 lb guy is 1 to 10. So yes, I think weight makes a big difference.

  11. #11
    Macro Geek
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    I have been riding bicycles for close to 50 years, and touring for 25 or 30. I have never broken a spoke. Maybe I am lucky!

    But I have had plenty of flats (including one that happened less than 5 minutes after repairing another in the same tire). I am not especially mechanically inclined, but I can patch a tire in 20 or 25 minutes, or half that time if someone is helping.

    I have not had a flat since I "upgraded" to 32 mm tires, around five years ago. Before, I toured on 23 - 28 mm tires, and counted on having one flat per multi-day trip. I don't know that tire width is a factor, but my guess is that it helps.

  12. #12
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    Don't skimp on the quality of tires at the outset. And don't try to squeeze the last drop of blood out of them once they are worn out. This drives me crazy on club rides. I have helped people changes flats on tires that were so worn that they were downright dangerous to ride on. Missing rubber. Cuts in the tread and sidewalls that wer ready to bureth open. Things like that. Just last week 4 of 9 people flatted on a local club ride.

    And don't forget to rotate your tires if you are on a long tour. If you do get a flat, check the tire thoroughly for any offending item(s) still stuck in rubber that will simply cause another flat a few miles down the road. When I read of people getting 3 flats in only a few miles, absent extreme conditions, I am convinced that the culprit is something stuck in the tire.

    My first tour was four nearly months and about 6,000 miles. My bike and gear weighed 90 lbs. I weighed another 195 lbs. I got 3 flats on 37c tires. I have gotten fewer than 10 combined flats while touring, and I get maybe 2-3 total per year road riding and communting.

  13. #13
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    i've broken spokes only a crappy set of used wheels I bought that I expected to break spokes on. For one thing, after you've broken a spoke and depending on how long you went before you noticed it was broken you can weaken other spokes and do more damage. AS a rule on the 3rd spoke you should detension the wheel completely and start all over with fresh spokes but that might not be possible whle out on tour so people simply have to keep fixing them. Getting well built wheels to begin with is the way to go. I'd spend more money on that part of the bike than anything else.

  14. #14
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    Before I started spending stupid money on overbuilt rear wheels -> broken spokes. After, 1 in 14 years.

    My Flat tires follow 4 factions in order, location, tread wear, weather conditions where it's raining but not really raining enough to completely saturate the road, over cooking the rear wheel on a very steep drop, > 10%

    As for location.

    Endemic goat head areas -> lots of flats.
    Roads where there is plenty of radial tire debris -> occasional flats.

    Goat heads are evil evil things. I suspect I'll use slime tubes the next time I tour in a goathead area.
    Last edited by escii_35; 09-07-11 at 02:12 PM. Reason: slime

  15. #15
    weirdo
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    Quote Originally Posted by Schwinnrider View Post
    Is that just the luck of the draw, bad equipment, or what?
    Honestly, it sure seems to me like luck is a big part of it. Yeah, stout wheels and tires have to help, but I still say some people are just natural born flatters and wheel destroyers. It`s destiny

    Personally, I use pretty tough wheels and tires on most of my bikes (nothing crazy-gnarly), I have never ever broken a spoke, rarely get thorns, nails, glass cuts, etc. Even with Paselas (the whimpy extreme of my tire slelction), I seldom get punctures. I weigh under 140 # and pump up my tires hard, but even though I manage to avoid the goatheads and thumb tacks, I have a knack for hitting small rocks just right to pinch flat my front tire. Go figure.

  16. #16
    Senior Member irwin7638's Avatar
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    Both were more common when I put the majority of the load on the rear. The quality of equipment matters a whole lot, but I haven't broken a spoke in years, but I also learned to travel with less and balance the load better.

    Marc
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  17. #17
    Senior Member rekmeyata's Avatar
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    I don't think most bike shops really know how to build a wheel right not alone build a touring wheel. I would suggest that if your looking at buy a set of wheels for touring is that you contact Peter White at http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/ This guy is one of the foremost wheel builders in the USA and specializes in touring and tandem wheels. If you have a question that his web site does not address then simply call or e-mail the company. His prices are a tad high, but not out of line, but when the wheels are done you'll know you have the best wheels made.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelW View Post
    I managed to derail the chain over the large cog and carve up some driveside spokes. They started popping and I was plagued by broken spokes for the rest of the tour. ... ...
    When I built up my touring wheels, I bought and installed spoke protectors. Some people have disdain for them (I think they are called dork disks by some?) but I don't want a bent derailleur or hanger or something like that to destroy a wheel.

    I have broken a lot of spokes on a wheel that was on a bike that I bought used, but since that wheel was built in 1961, I consider it to be understandable.

    I have not broken any spokes on any other wheels, but I still carry spare spokes on my touring bikes. On my LHT they are on the spare spoke holder. On my Thorn, they are inside the seat post and a cork is used to keep them in the seat post. On tour I carry a cassette removal tool, I do not carry a chain whip but if I need to use one I can sacrifice a piece of nylon line or a nylon strap instead.

  19. #19
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    On a tour from Seattle to Santa Cruz I broke so many spokes I lost count. I made it to the California border before the first one broke, but after that it happened more and more frequently.

    After that tour I went to my local mechanic and asked him to build me a rear wheel that would not break spokes, damn the price. He did, and that wheel has lasted through three more tours, including a duplicate of the west coast tour by my nephew (I gave him the bike) with nary a broken spoke.

    I replaced that bike with an LHT and built the wheels myself. It has taken me on 4 long tours without a broken spoke.

    This summer I took a tour on the Great Divide on a 29er. I built the wheels myself. No broken spokes, despite some rather serious abuse (that's a rough route, and I didn't try and baby the wheels at all.)

    My conclusion is that if you build wheels with quality components, and tension the spokes properly, broken spokes shouldn't be much of a problem. If you get a bike with cheaper wheel components via mail order and don't get the tension checked, AND carry a lot of weight on a long tour, broken spokes may plague you.

    I've had pretty good luck wih flats. I used to ride on Specialized Armadillo 28's. I got a couple of flats riding around home, and two on tour (out of 4 long tours.) My new bike has Schwalbe Marathons (32) and I haven't had a flat yet in 4 years and 4 tours.

  20. #20
    Godfather of Soul SBRDude's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
    I'd go for pump and repair kit over CO2 and spare tubes because, like that day, you can always have one more than the spares you carry can cover.
    I assume most people on a tour have a pump anyway, but switched from CO2 to a minipump for my road bike earlier this year. I never had a problem with only 2 CO2 cartridges, but I was always concerned about having multiple flats or pinching a tube when fixing one. My new pump is so small it fits in my (not very big) seat bag.

    As far as flats go, they seem to be like nuns and come in bunches or not at all.

  21. #21
    Senior Member rekmeyata's Avatar
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    Sorry I was a bit rushed in my earlier post, but I purchased a set of Peter Whites wheels designed and recommended by him for touring and took them on a short tour of 3 days just to test stuff out. Those wheels never once even creaked, nor did they go out true even by a hair. Peter White has a lifetime warranty on all his wheels against spoke breakage and truing, not wear out or accidents of course, try that at an LBS.

  22. #22
    Senior Member rekmeyata's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SBRDude View Post
    I assume most people on a tour have a pump anyway, but switched from CO2 to a minipump for my road bike earlier this year. I never had a problem with only 2 CO2 cartridges, but I was always concerned about having multiple flats or pinching a tube when fixing one. My new pump is so small it fits in my (not very big) seat bag.

    As far as flats go, they seem to be like nuns and come in bunches or not at all.
    I actually carry two pumps when I tour or ride more then 50 miles from home. I carry a frame pump due to it's quick and ease of pumping, then I carry a emergency mini pump just in case the frame pump would by some odd chance fail. The frame pump fits under the top tube and the mini is attached to the side of a water bottle cage. I also carry a presta to schrader converter just in case a presta pump adapter fails or need air from a schrader source, the adapter stays on the front valve.

    I don't bother with CO2, you can only carry so much air, and yes I know you can carry a backup pump, but why? Also CO2 bleeds out of the pores of the tube much faster so you still have to drain the air out when you get home and refill with regular air. CO2 is very impractical for touring with. It's really only good to have if your racing and don't have the luxury of having a new rim and inflated tire being thrown at you by your sag support!

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Schwinnrider View Post
    So, what's the deal? I read one guy's journal(forget the URL but he was touring on a Rivendell with caliper brakes) and the guy broke a spoke 3-5 times on his Southern Tier route. Is that just the luck of the draw, bad equipment, or what?
    The deal is that a collection of anecdotes don't provide enough information to draw conclusions about wheel durability because you aren't also getting specific information about the spokes that didn't break. In other words how exactly were all the wheels made of the bikes you're reading about, broken and unbroken.

    Review what RobE said. Extreme loads require extremely strong wheels built well.

    When I started out riding I rode on production bikes with production wheels. I was light and if a spoke broke I took it to the shop. Then I started building my own wheels and they didn't break but more importantly I developed a sense of when it was time to retire a wheel, rebuild it, or simply not use it for stressful applications.

  24. #24
    Godfather of Soul SBRDude's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rekmeyata View Post
    I also carry a presta to schrader converter just in case a presta pump adapter fails or need air from a schrader source
    This is golden advice. The adapters are cheap and very small and can significantly improve your day if you're at a gas station with presta stems on your wheels. I've carried one on my road bike since forever.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
    When I built up my touring wheels, I bought and installed spoke protectors. Some people have disdain for them (I think they are called dork disks by some?) but I don't want a bent derailleur or hanger or something like that to destroy a wheel.

    .
    yep, it's worthwhile insurance. I rode for decades without them but after awhile I didn't want to risk it.

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