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Quick Tips: How To Avoid Wire-Spoke Wheel Disasters

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Spoked-Wheel-adventure-Bike.jpg

For any kind of moderate to gnarly off-road riding, wire-spoke wheels are a must on adventure bikes. They offer a combination of strength and flex that you just can’t get with cast wheels. But, unlike cast, a spoke wheel has a lot more “moving” parts and requires some attention and periodic maintenance. We reached out to Woody’s Wheel Works, one of the most widely respected wheel builders in the country, to get some tips on how to keep things rolling smoothly.

Check Them Right From The Beginning

“I recommend checking when you bring the bike home. I cannot tell you how many wheels we get in from brand new motorcycles and are out of true according to Woody’s specs (+/- 0.010-0.015″). However, after the first ride in general it is good to check the spoke tension again as well,” says Rachelle McMullin of Woody’s Wheel Works.

Truing wire-spoke wheel

By tapping on the spoke, you’ll be able to hear a ping or thud and know if you need to snug the spoke up, loosen it, or leave it be.

She also suggests using a screwdriver or spoke wrench to tap each individual spoke. If there is any thud or ring at a different pitch than the rest, they should be adjusted. If the pitch is noticeably higher, loosen the spoke and if it thuds or is lower tighten it up. They also do not go off of torque values for truing wheels. Truing a wheel with a torque wrench will pull the wheel all out of whack. The torque wrench is there to double check the wheel once you’ve gotten it trued (the wheel spins straight).

“If you’ve had your bike for a while, check the spokes at least every tire change. From our experience, not every shop out there checks a wheel for true, so it is good to get into the habit of this on your end,” Rachelle recommends.

Broke A Spoke

What if a you break a spoke out on a ride? We asked if there are any measures to take to sure up the wheel.

dented and destroyed adventure bike spoke wheel

Avoid carnage like this by checking your spokes regularly. (Courtesy AltRider)

First things first, check the true before deciding if you need to make some adjustments. As odd as it may sound, a single broken spoke doesn’t necessarily mean that the wheel is out of true. Get a wrench and “ping” the other spokes around the wheel. If there are some spokes that are obviously loose (thud sound, vs ping like the ones around it or you can hand tighten/loosen the nipple), then snug it up,” adds Rachelle

She also says that, as a rule, if you aren’t familiar with how to true a wheel, don’t try anything drastic – just leave it as is. Over-tightening can cause more damage by putting unbalanced stress on the wheel. “We’ve seen rims ruined because of over-tightening of spokes, where if it would have been left alone, it could have potentially been repaired.”

Dented Rim: Fix or Replace?

No one likes to shell out cash when it isn’t necessary, but Rachelle warns about trying to stretch the life of a dented stock rim.

“As a general rule, if the rim is a stock wheel, it is best to replace when you can. If it is just a small lip in the bead, and you run a tube, then you are probably fine to keep riding. However, I wouldn’t invest in fixing the stock rims, as they are generally softer material than aftermarket options. Better to save up and invest in a quality wheel that will last.”

Adventure Motorcycle spoke wheel

Even Tubeless Riders Need Tubes

The hope of any tubeless rider is that all he or she has to do in the case of a flat is plug a whole. Done. But that isn’t always the case. You might get a gash in the sidewall or get a puncture that is just too big for a plug to work. If you dent your rim bad enough, it may not allow the tire bead to seal and hold air. You can try to bang it back into shape with rock or hammer but that rarely works and often takes longer than just putting a tube in it.

“No matter what you have on your bike (tube-type or tubeless wheels), it is our recommendation that you still carry at least one tube as a backup. Generally, a 19″ tube will fit 17 and 18″ as well, and 21″ will technically fit in everything.”

And, if you take this advice, don’t forget to carry tire tools as well. A tube alone won’t do any good if you don’t have a wrench to take off your wheel, tire spoons/levers and something to use for a bead breaker. To make spooning that tire back on the rim easier, bring individual packs of dish soap or shampoo to use as tire lube.

Sean Klinger Author ProfileAbout the Author: With his sights set on doing what he loved for a living, Sean Klinger left college with a BA in Journalism and dirt bike in his truck. After five years at a dirt-only motorcycle magazine shooting, testing, writing, editing, and a little off-road racing, he has switched gears to bigger bikes and longer adventures. He’ll probably get lost a few times but he’ll always have fun doing it. Two wheels and adventure is all he needs. 

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