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Broke a front spoke

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Broke a front spoke

Old 08-07-12, 06:43 AM
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andrewclaus
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Broke a front spoke

On my recent Northern Tier ride, the only mechanical failure I had in 4400 miles was one broken spoke. And it was a front spoke, which had never happened to me before. I was riding a 15 year old REI Novarra touring bike with tens of thousands of miles on it, with original shifters and derailleurs. I was sort of expecting a failure, but not that one.

It happened because of a new technique I learned on this forum. When I started cycling, I was taught to use the back brake first, then add front brake for a panic stop. Many cyclists my age learned the same. But I learned on this forum that you should learn to control your bike with the front brake. I found other sites that recommend 2/3 front, 1/3 rear. So I started learning how to do that.

On a particularly steep down grade coming into Stillwater, MN from the Wisconsin side (maybe 15% or greater), I tried using mainly front brake, maybe 90%, just to see what it felt like. PING! went a front spoke. I was able to fix it with a spare I had on board, and replaced the spare at a bike shop in Stillwater.

The front wheel is a gift from a friend, a lighter weight 32 spoke road wheel. The spokes are pretty light gauge, as well. I had no packs on front, so I didn't worry much about it. But I did not consider the braking torque, where the weight of the touring load is essentially shifted to the front wheel (if you use the front brake). I had no desire to replace the wheel, so I just kept the front braking torque down to 2/3 or less and the bike did fine for the rest of the trip, even on steeper grades in the Eastern mountains and in Maine.
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Old 08-07-12, 07:54 AM
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Correlation does not prove causation. You didn't break that spoke because you were applying pressure to the front rim via the brakes.

It's much more likely that it was regular wear & tear, and that was just the moment when it happened.
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Old 08-07-12, 08:22 AM
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Post hoc, ergo propter hoc!

I see your point.
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Old 08-07-12, 08:46 AM
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Originally Posted by andrewclaus View Post
... the weight of the touring load is essentially shifted to the front wheel (if you use the front brake).
Weight is shifted to the front wheel anytime you apply either brake. The amount of weight shift is a function of how hard you apply the brakes - not which brake you use.
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Old 08-07-12, 08:46 AM
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FWIW, I had a VERY heavy friend break a front spoke on an unloaded road bike while breaking hard on a very steep slope.
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Old 08-07-12, 10:25 AM
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Originally Posted by andrewclaus View Post
It happened because of a new technique I learned on this forum. When I started cycling, I was taught to use the back brake first, then add front brake for a panic stop. Many cyclists my age learned the same. But I learned on this forum that you should learn to control your bike with the front brake. I found other sites that recommend 2/3 front, 1/3 rear. So I started learning how to do that.
Don't take everything you read on these forums as the truth. The idea that you should use only your front brake is taken from a misinterpretation of the physics of braking. While it is true that the maximum possible deceleration is obtained with only the front brake, this occurs at the point where the bike is about to spin around the front hub and throw the rider to the ground. It's not the maximum desirable deceleration and is only a mathematical oddity.

Mountain biking teaches you various skills that strictly road biking can't and any mountain biker with front teeth will mock you mercilessly if you were to tell them that you should only use your front brake. Learn to use both and how to apply them so that you slow down and stop without skidding.

As for breaking a front wheel spoke, it's a rare occurrence and isn't related to your braking technique. It's more likely to be fatigue related due to the lighter gauge and lower count of the spoke.
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Old 08-07-12, 04:56 PM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
It's more likely to be fatigue related due to the lighter gauge and lower count of the spoke.
+1 And a possible indication that the other 31 are also near failure. After 10's of thousands of miles, might be worth getting a new wheel.
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Old 08-08-12, 01:18 AM
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Metal fatigue happens..
I tour with a couple spokes for each length,
and I can true wheels on the bike, when I have to..

good skills to bring along.
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Old 08-11-12, 07:08 AM
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Originally Posted by prathmann View Post
Weight is shifted to the front wheel anytime you apply either brake. The amount of weight shift is a function of how hard you apply the brakes - not which brake you use.
Man, I don't know why I didn't think of that. Now that I think of it, that hill was probably the hardest braking I did on the whole trip, not just the front brake.

I was definitely concerned about fatigue on the rest of the spokes and lost confidence in the wheel for a few days. But the remaining 2500 miles of the tour passed without incident, not even a flat tire. I will definitely replace the wheel at my leisure now that I'm finished with the tour.

Thanks for the ideas, folks.
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Old 08-11-12, 09:33 AM
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If you were riding the right wheel for the task, touring weight 36 spoke unit as an example, and you suffered a single broken spoke, a more appropriate response than to consider replacing them all would be to simply replace the broken spoke. You are engaged in quality control, and you now have a wheel where the one weak link has been replaced. But when you have suspicions to start with you may as well toss it. That is sorta what Jobst Brandt recommends. He says it is not impossible to have even good spokes break but it should be can be seen as sorting out the bad spokes as opposed to the need for mass replacement. This assumes the right parts and labour. Once you have the right spokes they can outlast many rims.

Disc and drag brakes can have some effect on spoke loading though only on half the spokes.

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Old 08-11-12, 09:43 AM
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I certainly rely heavily on my front brake, but if there is one category where that might be less the case it would be for touring where rider weight, operating angles, and rear panniers should give you some edge on rear wheel bite.
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Old 08-12-12, 09:23 AM
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Originally Posted by MassiveD View Post
I certainly rely heavily on my front brake, but if there is one category where that might be less the case it would be for touring where rider weight, operating angles, and rear panniers should give you some edge on rear wheel bite.
Physics says that most of your braking deceleration comes from the front brake. But people have taken that a step too far by saying that you should rely on only the front brake because they misinterpret the math of the physics. I use, and rely, on my front brake too. I just don't use it without the rear brake as well.
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