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Non wheel builders - what's in your wheel maintenance toolkit?

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Non wheel builders - what's in your wheel maintenance toolkit?

Old 07-25-20, 08:13 AM
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TheCharm 
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Non wheel builders - what's in your wheel maintenance toolkit?

Good day all.

This may come off as a strange question, but I'll provide a bit of background as to the motivation for asking. I recently had a wheel fail. Apparently loose spoke tension caused the rim to crack in a couple of spots. This is the opinion of the rim manufacturer (Velocity) and my wheel builder. I have no reason to believe the wheel wasn't built to spec tension wise (110kgf - 130kgf) when I took receipt.

Velocity is warranty replacing the rim, but I'm wondering about how to keep an eye on this moving forward? Up until now, I would check spoke tension every so often simply by check them all by hand and looking for spokes substantially more loose than the others. About once a year, I'd have my LBS check out my bike and I'd always ask them to check wheels for true and spoke tension, though I never provided any manufacturer-recommended specs.

I'm thinking about getting the Park Tool tensiometer to use to check tension. I'll check as soon as I get the wheel as a reference value and then re-check every 1,000km or so, or at least a regular basis. That way, if it loses tension, I can take it to my LBS to correct it. Note that I'm not a wheel-builder, maybe one of these days. I'm just trying to start doing more and more for myself, but not sure I'm ready for wheels until I become more competent in other areas.

Can you all give me some quick feedback to this approach? FWIW, I ride a Disc Trucker and although I'm a heavier rider (220 lbs.) total weight is with spec for my bike and components. Any other thoughts on wheel maintenance would be much appreciated.

Attaching a pic of failure, just for reference.



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Old 07-25-20, 08:22 AM
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My "wheel maintenance toolkit" consists of a set of Park loop spoke wrenches and a specific Shimano spoke wrench for their pre-built wheels (which I have one pair). I visually check my wheels for true every so often but have very rarely needed to touch them.

My only broken spokes were on a factory wheel from a 1985 Bridgestone 400 and that was after about 8500 miles. I've never broken one since in well over 200,000 miles and my few wheel failures have been from cracked brake tracks after many thousands or 10's of thousands of miles. That said I'm fairly light at ~150.
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Old 07-25-20, 08:29 AM
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If all you want the tensiometer is the check the spoke tension the Park tool should be fine, but it is really overkill for that. Just pluck the spokes. They should all the ring the same. If one has a much higher or lower tone it is either tighter or looser than the rest.
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Old 07-25-20, 08:44 AM
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I used to have a spoke wrench. Probably still there somewhere. I used to always use it to true my steel rims back on my older bikes that had them. Since going to alloy wheels I just haven't felt the need to do anything with my wheels. And for very little money at all, my LBS is willing to do a lot to them.

I just remove them and take them to my bike shop. In the last five years, that has probably been twice.
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Old 07-25-20, 09:48 AM
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Originally Posted by RGMN View Post
If all you want the tensiometer is the check the spoke tension the Park tool should be fine, but it is really overkill for that. Just pluck the spokes. They should all the ring the same. If one has a much higher or lower tone it is either tighter or looser than the rest.
That’s for the front wheel only. The rear spokes have a different tone from the front and the tone will depend on whether they are driveside of nondriveside. The driveside will have a higher tone than the nondriveside. Don’t try to get the tone the same on the rear because that will do a number on the dish.
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Old 07-25-20, 10:54 AM
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I sure think it is a good idea to gain some level of competency in messing with bike wheels. Some time ago in my early cycling days, I had a bike shop true my wheels. When I picked them up and checked them at home, the wheels were true but some spokes were very tight and some very loose. Since then I work on my own wheels. This has been frustrating a few times but worth the effort.
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Old 07-25-20, 11:05 AM
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OK, I build wheels but even if I wasn't i would absolutely have a spoke tension gauge. There is no way plucking spokes tells you much of anything and absolutely does not tell you what the tension is...and that matters. The park gauge, and probably others come with a chart that tells you what the actual tension is and it's easy enough to find out proper tensions for the rims. Soft wheels break spokes and I know from personal experience "bought" wheels can be really off

In addition to that it's nice to have some sort of truing stand, even if you make it out of a dumpster bike. It's a lot easier than doing it on the bike. You can determine if the dish is OK just by flipping the wheel in your "stand"
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Old 07-25-20, 11:25 AM
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Originally Posted by 3Roch View Post
OK, I build wheels but even if I wasn't i would absolutely have a spoke tension gauge. There is no way plucking spokes tells you much of anything and absolutely does not tell you what the tension is...and that matters. The park gauge, and probably others come with a chart that tells you what the actual tension is and it's easy enough to find out proper tensions for the rims. Soft wheels break spokes and I know from personal experience "bought" wheels can be really off

In addition to that it's nice to have some sort of truing stand, even if you make it out of a dumpster bike. It's a lot easier than doing it on the bike. You can determine if the dish is OK just by flipping the wheel in your "stand"
I disagree that it is easy to find what the proper tension is for rims. It's not something that is readily published and even if the numbers were published you would need to know lots of parameters that the manufacturer can't really take into account. For any tension recommendations, the manufacturer would need to know what spokes are being used, what rim is being used, and even what tire pressure is being used. That's far too many variables for any recommendation to have meaning. I've never been able to find a chart or graph or even a number for the tension that should be used on the spokes with any given rim.

You don't need to know what the actual tension is. The tension needs to be consistent. Some of us learned how to build wheels before the advent of the tension meter. Even when the first tension meters came out, they were prohibitively expensive and of questionable use. Even the Park tension meter is only good for measuring relative spoke tension. Using tone to tune the spokes is as valid as any tension meter I've ever used. It's also something that can be done on the road or for the home mechanic that doesn't have a tension meter. It works well enough.

As for using the bike as a truing stand, most any bike can be used to true up wheels well enough to get you moving. Rim brake pads are adequate enough to do a quick wheel true. Zipties on a disc frame are also good enough to just touch up a wheel. Everything is easier on a truing stand but it's still possible to do it on a bike. It's a good skill to have if you need to do something to a wheel out on the road.
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Old 07-25-20, 11:37 AM
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Just to throw another wrench into the machine...

The picture in the OP looks more to me like the wheel was OVER tensioned than under tensioned.
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Old 07-25-20, 11:43 AM
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Replacement, not maintenance.

In that picture you need another identical rim, tape it to the cracked one then move the spokes over 1 by one..
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Old 07-25-20, 12:14 PM
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Wheels really shouldn't loose significant tension when well built. Get a good builder to build it to high, even tension without spoke windup and they should be relatively maintenance free except perhaps for some minor spot truing absent any actual trauma to the rim. If the builder uses a thread locking compound or locking nipples that adds additional insurance, particularly in uncommon cases where the wheel is overloaded (hitting potholes hard enough that some spokes go slack, but not necessarily so hard that the rim actually permanently deforms).

If you have a good sense of relative pitch, plucking spokes is absolutely a good means for checking if spokes on a side of a wheel are evenly tensioned, and is a good quick way to see if tension has changed (if the wheel is known to have had pretty even tension). It's a poor way to check absolute tension, but if your wheel builder does their job it shouldn't be yours.
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Old 07-25-20, 01:47 PM
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Originally Posted by berner View Post
I sure think it is a good idea to gain some level of competency in messing with bike wheels. Some time ago in my early cycling days, I had a bike shop true my wheels. When I picked them up and checked them at home, the wheels were true but some spokes were very tight and some very loose. Since then I work on my own wheels. This has been frustrating a few times but worth the effort.
I certainly agree.

However, I sort of have it in my head that I should be competent in all other areas of bike repair before I try and tackle wheels. The other factor is that I live in a small apartment and don't have a ton of storage and workspace, so tool acquisition is a very well thought out process before I pull the trigger.
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Old 07-25-20, 01:50 PM
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Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
Just to throw another wrench into the machine...

The picture in the OP looks more to me like the wheel was OVER tensioned than under tensioned.
What are you seeing to suggest that?

Mind you, I'm not doubting your conclusion at all - I would like to learn.
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Old 07-25-20, 02:02 PM
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Spoke wrenches and cone wrenches, I use the bike as a truing stand.
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Old 07-25-20, 02:47 PM
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Originally Posted by TheCharm View Post
What are you seeing to suggest that?

Mind you, I'm not doubting your conclusion at all - I would like to learn.
Those cracks radiating out from the spoke hole look like the result of overtension -- spokes are too tight.

I can't think of a way undertensioning could result in a pattern like that, outside of overcorrecting a bent rim on a single spoke.
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Old 07-25-20, 03:08 PM
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Normally low spoke tension results in broken spokes from fatigue. I would guess that you are looking at too much tension or a poor quality rim.
A tensiometer would help with a build, but once the wheel is properly tensioned and stress relieved the tension doesn't change.
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Old 07-25-20, 03:11 PM
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Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
Those cracks radiating out from the spoke hole look like the result of overtension -- spokes are too tight.

I can't think of a way undertensioning could result in a pattern like that, outside of overcorrecting a bent rim on a single spoke.
I wouldnít say that you can tell. Both under- and over-tensioning can result in the same kind of damage. An overtensioned wheel will crack because the spoke is changing tension each time the spoke is unloaded and reloaded at the bottom of the wheel. An undertensioned wheel will do the same. Itís the flexing that causes the problem.

Additionallly, the wheel manufacturer also says itís undertensioned.
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Old 07-25-20, 06:09 PM
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If you donít trust your ear itís ok to use a guitar tuner app on your phone. Gates makes an app for tensioning their belt drives by tone and that ought to work too.

I bought the most popular size Park spoke wrench but before that I was using a toothy ring with a variety of sizes cut into it.
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Old 07-25-20, 06:52 PM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
I wouldnít say that you can tell. Both under- and over-tensioning can result in the same kind of damage. An overtensioned wheel will crack because the spoke is changing tension each time the spoke is unloaded and reloaded at the bottom of the wheel. An undertensioned wheel will do the same. Itís the flexing that causes the problem.

Additionallly, the wheel manufacturer also says itís undertensioned.
This is my understanding ... loose spokes will flex a bit when hitting bumps, root heaves, etc. and eventually cause the rim damage.
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Old 07-25-20, 10:40 PM
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My first guess would also be localized overtensioning--it places more stress at the rim. Result of undertensioning is also possible, but it more frequently leads to spoke failure.
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Old 07-26-20, 01:09 PM
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Originally Posted by TheCharm View Post
Velocity is warranty replacing the rim, but I'm wondering about how to keep an eye on this moving forward? Up until now, I would check spoke tension every so often simply by check them all by hand and looking for spokes substantially more loose than the others. About once a year, I'd have my LBS check out my bike and I'd always ask them to check wheels for true and spoke tension, though I never provided any manufacturer-recommended specs.
Learn to build your own wheels.

While time consuming, it's not difficult when you don't need to be fast enough to turn a profit. Jobst Brandt tested his book _The Bicycle Wheel_ by having his two grade school sons each build a pair using it with no additional assistance.

When that is impossible, delegate to a reputable one-person operation where the same hands that earned the reputation build your wheels.

Properly built wheels don't change tension or go out of true unless you bend their rim on a road obstacle.

I'm thinking about getting the Park Tool tensiometer to use to check tension. I'll check as soon as I get the wheel as a reference value and then re-check every 1,000km or so, or at least a regular basis. That way, if it loses tension, I can take it to my LBS to correct it. Note that I'm not a wheel-builder, maybe one of these days. I'm just trying to start doing more and more for myself, but not sure I'm ready for wheels until I become more competent in other areas.
The tension can't change without affecting true and you will notice that.

Use a $5 cell phone app if you need to verify absolute tension. Input gauge and unsupported span. Pluck a spoke. The app will use a fast fourier transform to convert time to frequency domain, then the dominant frequency to tension.

You can hear the difference between spokes.

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Old 07-26-20, 01:23 PM
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Originally Posted by TheCharm View Post
This is my understanding ... loose spokes will flex a bit when hitting bumps, root heaves, etc. and eventually cause the rim damage.
The rim flexes whether or not you are hitting anything. Just riding it causes the rim to move up and down on the spoke. With a loose spoke the rim goes through a larger cycle. People are correct that a loose spoke may also result in a break at the head but it may break the rim as well.
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Old 07-26-20, 06:44 PM
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Thanks for the comments all. I've learned a lot about wheels.

I do want to eventually learn to build wheels. I like the challenge of something seemingly difficult and I like to be DIY when and wherever possible.
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Old 07-27-20, 02:50 PM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
I wouldn’t say that you can tell. Both under- and over-tensioning can result in the same kind of damage. An overtensioned wheel will crack because the spoke is changing tension each time the spoke is unloaded and reloaded at the bottom of the wheel. An undertensioned wheel will do the same. It’s the flexing that causes the problem.
Uh, no. The overtensioned wheel cracks because the tension exceeds yield strength on the rim. Neither a properly tensioned wheel nor an overtensioned wheel is ever unloaded during rotation.

You might make an argument (in a bar near an engineering school late at night) that an undertensioned rim might detenion during unloading at the bottom of the wheel's rotation. In practice the spoke breaks because of cyclic detensioning rather than the rim breaking because of flexion.

Additionallly, the wheel manufacturer also says it’s undertensioned.
I'm afraid that's nowhere near the first manufacturer's customer service rep that doesn't know what they're talking about.
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Old 07-27-20, 09:21 PM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
Thatís for the front wheel only.
Unless the front wheel carries a brake disc?
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