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Spokes unscrewing themselves on new wheels

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Spokes unscrewing themselves on new wheels

Old 12-13-18, 08:22 AM
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el forestero
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Spokes unscrewing themselves on new wheels

Several of the non-drive side spokes on the rear wheel of my low-end hybrid bike unscrewed themselves over time. I don't know exactly how long it took. I realized it had happened only after I'd been riding the bike for a couple years, and by that time some of the spokes were actually falling out of the nipples. This was a Taiwanese off-brand bike that was super cheap. At the time I didn't know anything about bike maintenance.

I just bought a new low-end Trek hybrid in late October and haven't even put 1,000 km on it, and the same thing is already happening to spokes on the rear wheel. I'm not bashing it into curbs or riding down stairs or anything like that, just taking it out on paved roads.

I'm wondering if this is par for the course with cheap new wheels or if I've just had bad luck. Have others here experienced this kind of problem?

I seem to recall I read on Sheldon Brown's site that thread lock should be used on threads of non-drive side spokes on rear wheels in order for them not to unscrew themselves, since they're only screwed in loosely. I imagine bike manufacturers know this, but some may not bother taking this level of care with low-end bike wheels. I can understand anything goes with some Taiwanese off-brand bike, but Trek?

I'd hate to think whenever I buy a new bike I can expect within the first few months to have to unscrew all the rear wheel spokes, thread lock the non-drive side ones and screw them back in and retrue the wheels, but so far I'm 2 for 2.

Last edited by el forestero; 12-13-18 at 08:28 AM.
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Old 12-13-18, 09:22 AM
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Originally Posted by el forestero View Post
I'd hate to think whenever I buy a new bike I can expect within the first few months to have to unscrew all the rear wheel spokes, thread lock the non-drive side ones and screw them back in and retrue the wheels, but so far I'm 2 for 2.
I would advise anyone to have their wheels trued and tensioned within the first few months of ownership, especially machine-built wheels. Doing so should mitigate the problems you've described.
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Old 12-13-18, 09:27 AM
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My experience is machine built wheels need almost immediate tensioning of the wheels. Most bicycle shops don't do that, and you can guess what Walmart and others do. I'd have a shop tension them properly if you cannot do it yourself.
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Old 12-13-18, 10:51 AM
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Not mentioned is that if the rims have received enough of a bending load (either vertical or lateral) either both side of the spokes will be less tensioned (as in a vertical load, a flat spot) or one side will be less tensioned (and with the non drive side already lower in tension when new...). Without more info I won't say if the OEM tensions were on the low side , if something happened that quickened any loosening, if the rider/load is on the heavy end of the usual, if the "roads" are exceptionally rough or other reasons why spokes loosen. I will say that spoke loosening is a common issue, but is caused by a number of possible causes. Andy
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Old 12-13-18, 10:57 AM
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Spoke nipples work the same as any threaded fastener. If they are not tight enough they will loosen. If tight enough they will stay tight. A wheel that loosens up is a wheel that was never tight enough.
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Old 12-13-18, 11:50 AM
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I had a similar issue with a 2017 Spec Roubaix. I took it back to the LBS and they put threat locker (glue) on the spokes and tightened the wheels right up at no charge. I believe manufacturing quality suffered due to the popularity of the bike. In the end, all is well and the wheels are still great after 18 months.
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Old 12-13-18, 11:57 AM
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Production of large numbers of wheels, at a factory level, means a machine built wheel and parts assembled dry..

A hand built wheel can use spoke prep and thread-locks, , because the builder is a person, and is focusing on the one wheel in front of them.
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Old 12-13-18, 01:13 PM
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Working on a wheel that has been loctited is a major pita. If you must, use the purple loctite that is intended for small threaded parts. Linseed oil is backed by tradition and causes fewer problems than regular blue loctite. Also a whole lot cheaper. I will believe that Sheldon once said use loctite but I can't find it. I can find multiple occasions of Himself saying use oil or grease. Same as any other threaded part. Using oil will reduce or eliminate spoke windup. At minimum oil gives better feel in the spoke wrench.
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Old 12-13-18, 01:18 PM
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Originally Posted by el forestero View Post
. . so far I'm 2 for 2.
So, what's missing from this picture?
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Old 12-13-18, 01:24 PM
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Originally Posted by el forestero View Post
Several of the non-drive side spokes on the rear wheel of my low-end hybrid bike unscrewed themselves over time. I don't know exactly how long it took. I realized it had happened only after I'd been riding the bike for a couple years, and by that time some of the spokes were actually falling out of the nipples. I'm wondering if this is par for the course..
It's not par, but more like a double bogey to not attend to wheel truing/tension for a couple years. In the 2nd case you should take any new bike back for a break-in check after a few weeks of riding. Every shop I know of offers such free at least within 30 days. No it's not routing to have this happen, and no, one does NOT have to use locking compound on properly tensioned wheels, cheap or otherwise.
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Old 12-13-18, 01:53 PM
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Look for cracks in the rim around the spoke hole.
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Old 12-13-18, 03:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Darth Lefty View Post
Look for cracks in the rim around the spoke hole.
Possible, but especially for cheap factory-fresh machine built wheels, there's a much higher probability of the wheel tension being too low than being high enough to crack the rim.
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Old 12-13-18, 06:18 PM
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Originally Posted by 63rickert View Post
Working on a wheel that has been loctited is a major pita. […] Using oil will reduce or eliminate spoke windup. At minimum oil gives better feel in the spoke wrench.
That's why I like boiled linseed oil. It lubricates while you're building the wheel, then over the course of a few days it hardens into a varnish that secures the nipples. And it's not so strong that you can't break the bond with a spoke wrench, should the need arise. And a few dollars will buy you a lifetime supply.
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Old 12-13-18, 11:40 PM
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Two colors so you can tell your drive side spokes from your non.

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Old 12-14-18, 05:16 AM
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Originally Posted by el forestero View Post
...I just bought a new low-end Trek hybrid in late October and haven't even put 1,000 km on it, and the same thing is already happening to spokes on the rear wheel. I'm not bashing it into curbs or riding down stairs or anything like that, just taking it out on paved roads. ...
I'm wondering if this is par for the course with cheap new wheels or if I've just had bad luck. Have others here experienced this kind of problem? ...
I'd hate to think whenever I buy a new bike I can expect within the first few months to have to unscrew all the rear wheel spokes, thread lock the non-drive side ones and screw them back in and retrue the wheels, but so far I'm 2 for 2.
On cheap bikes (most bikes) with machine-built wheels, it isn't uncommon for the spokes to work loose, especially on the rear wheel, and especially if the rider is large or heavy. The machines that automatically tighten the spokes are impressive in how fast they can work (see youtube for videos) but they still often don't work perfect, and leave some spokes way too tight and others way too loose. This is likely the problem you are experiencing.

The way you fix this is, you take the bike to the shop that you got it, and you have them re-build the rear wheel.

Usually they will advise against re-using the spokes, since cheaper bikes tend to use REALLY cheap spokes that stretch a lot over time. So they will probably advise you to get better spokes. The lowest-end DT spokes are fine for normal riding, you don't need super-expensive-racing spokes.

Secondly, they may ask about upgrading the rim, especially if you are large or heavy. OEM rims are a grade that is cheaper than many bike shops can even obtain from the same manufacturer. Any low-end rim out of their supplier catalog is probably stronger. And this is a wise choice too.

Once they rebuild the wheel by hand, it won't need lock-tite, and yet the spokes probably won't come loose any more.

~~~~~

I am on the kinda large side, and the kinda-heavy side, for most of my life.
Every new MTB I think I've ever bought, up to some costing nearly $2000, had to have the rear wheels re-built due to spokes loosening.
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Old 12-14-18, 12:45 PM
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Originally Posted by 63rickert View Post
Working on a wheel that has been loctited is a major pita. If you must, use the purple loctite that is intended for small threaded parts. Linseed oil is backed by tradition and causes fewer problems than regular blue loctite. Also a whole lot cheaper. I will believe that Sheldon once said use loctite but I can't find it.
I was doing some searching about truing Camagnolo G3 laced wheels, and found a comment in another forum from the Campagnolo UK tech advisor mentioning that they use loctite on the nipples, and that many mechanics that don't know this think the nipples have seized. He didn't specify which grade of loctite, but if people are thinking they have seized I would assume it is at least the blue.
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Old 12-14-18, 01:14 PM
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Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
Possible, but especially for cheap factory-fresh machine built wheels, there's a much higher probability of the wheel tension being too low than being high enough to crack the rim.
I know anecdotes are not data, but the rim cracked on a coworker’s 105-level Giant road bike. TBF, after thousands of miles of daily commuting. But for a month prior to the damage showing, he was tightening spikes that “came loose”
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Old 12-14-18, 02:03 PM
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Originally Posted by Darth Lefty View Post
I know anecdotes are not data, but the rim cracked on a coworker’s 105-level Giant road bike. TBF, after thousands of miles of daily commuting. But for a month prior to the damage showing, he was tightening spikes that “came loose”
Mixing apples and oranges? I think this is making orange juice cider vinegar...

After thousands of miles, I can imagine one or more spokes were loose, probably because the spokes were too loose coming from the factory. (Unless he bought it from a very good shop, I suspect the wheels on a 105 level bike were machine built and the shop didn't bother tensioning them properly before they left the shop.) I can easily imagine someone who had little experience (which may or may not describe your friend) overtightening spokes that had "come loose." Undertensioned spokes, tightened too much, easy to see how they cracked the rim.
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Old 12-14-18, 05:08 PM
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How much do you weigh and how much do you carry in the bike? I built up a touring wheelset for myself in 1996 and went on a ride where I carried 40pounds on the back of my bike and I weighed about 180 to 185 at the time. The rear spokes were tensioned to 100Kg on the drive side. After about 3 days and some rough roads the rear spoke unwound and the wheel felt like I had a flat. The wrench on the tour let me use his stand to get the wheel rideable.
When I got home I rebuilt the wheel with Loctite 567 pipe thread sealant and had no more problems. This sealant does not harden so that the wheel can be trued if necessary.
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Old 12-15-18, 05:51 AM
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Thanks for the helpful replies, all!

Originally Posted by davidad View Post
How much do you weigh and how much do you carry in the bike?
175 lbs plus up to 10 lbs of water, food and roadside repair gear

Originally Posted by davidad View Post
When I got home I rebuilt the wheel with Loctite 567 pipe thread sealant and had no more problems. This sealant does not harden so that the wheel can be trued if necessary.
That sounds like a good way to go if I continue having problems with spokes loosening after I tension the wheels properly.

Last edited by el forestero; 12-15-18 at 05:57 AM.
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Old 12-16-18, 11:05 AM
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Originally Posted by Doug5150 View Post
On cheap bikes (most bikes) with machine-built wheels, it isn't uncommon for the spokes to work loose, especially on the rear wheel, and especially if the rider is large or heavy. The machines that automatically tighten the spokes are impressive in how fast they can work (see youtube for videos) but they still often don't work perfect, and leave some spokes way too tight and others way too loose. This is likely the problem you are experiencing.

The way you fix this is, you take the bike to the shop that you got it, and you have them re-build the rear wheel.

Not necessary unless rim / holes have cracked or started to pull out. Re-truing, Re-tensioning, AND Stress Relieving are called for - unless spokes are already breaking.

Usually they will advise against re-using the spokes, since cheaper bikes tend to use REALLY cheap spokes that stretch a lot over time. So they will probably advise you to get better spokes. The lowest-end DT spokes are fine for normal riding, you don't need super-expensive-racing spokes.

Wrong. It's usually about $. Little or no stretch in 2.0 or 2.0/1.8/2.0. Not the issue.

Secondly, they may ask about upgrading the rim, especially if you are large or heavy. OEM rims are a grade that is cheaper than many bike shops can even obtain from the same manufacturer. Any low-end rim out of their supplier catalog is probably stronger. And this is a wise choice too.

Maybe...

Once they rebuild the wheel by hand, it won't need lock-tite, and yet the spokes probably won't come loose any more.

Depends on the lacing - mirrored or non-mirrored.

~~~~~

I am on the kinda large side, and the kinda-heavy side, for most of my life.
Every new MTB I think I've ever bought, up to some costing nearly $2000, had to have the rear wheels re-built due to spokes loosening.
Formula for Success:

1. Double wall rim, with a deep profile, NOT a thin or shallow profile. Think square box - not thin rectangle. That will provide stiffness rim side.
2. Inside pulling OR Outside pulling lacing.
3. 32-36 hole - 107-110 KGF drive side AND front disc side if using disc brake hubs.
4. Wheel isn't done until AFTER a stress relief cycle it stays true, dished and in the tension ballpark.

=8-)
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Old 12-16-18, 12:23 PM
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Just to state the obvious:
Spokes that "need" thread lock to prevent unscrewing are still loosing tension during their operation - if they didn't, they wouldn't need any thread lock, since enough tension would prevent them from unscrewing.

Now, spokes loosing tension that much are more likely to fatigue crack relatively quickly. In those terms, having thread lock could prevent that from becoming obvious. So instead of solving the "root" of the problem, one is masking it and just delaying the outcome.

Thread lock has its place: for wheels that won't see any service, so spokes at least not unscrew if they loose tension from a dented rim for example. 36+ spoked touring wheels come to mind, or off road MTB wheels.
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Old 12-16-18, 04:01 PM
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Agree with Slaninar. A couple other points. If the nipples have unthreaded so far they come off the spoke, how is this wheel rolling at all? I guess if you are using disc brakes the rim won't hit the brake pads. But when this far gone the tire should be rubbing on the frame. Presuming it is possible to ride at all on a wheel so wonky just what is carrying the load? If only a few spokes are doing all the work, then those spokes have been pushed to the limit. So have the spoke holes in the hub and the spoke holes in the rim.

Wheels this bad only ever leave the shop because the LBS correctly assumes most of what they sell is just garage ornaments. Wheels that are used need to be much better. Start over with new wheels or new bike.
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Old 12-16-18, 04:11 PM
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Wheelsmith spoke prep is threadlocker.
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Old 12-17-18, 05:48 AM
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Originally Posted by 63rickert View Post
.... If the nipples have unthreaded so far they come off the spoke, how is this wheel rolling at all? I guess if you are using disc brakes the rim won't hit the brake pads. But when this far gone the tire should be rubbing on the frame. Presuming it is possible to ride at all on a wheel so wonky just what is carrying the load?...
With my first bike, I was so clueless about bike maintenance back then that I didn't realize loose spokes were causing the dish of the wheel to be so far off that there was a huge amount of extra drag on the drivetrain. The bike would actually slow itself down while going downhill, even with the brakes set up so they didn't rub the rims. Once I learned to true the wheels it was like I had a new bike. It took literally half the power output it used to take to ride it.

With the new bike, spokes radiating toward opposite sides of the rim became loose. I think this left the wheel's tension pattern with enough symmetry that it was still rideable even though it badly needed to be retensioned and trued.

Last edited by el forestero; 12-17-18 at 05:52 AM.
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