How to True Bike Wheels?

Last Updated on June 21, 2021

How to True Bike Wheels

“A Bike is only as good as its wheels”

We’ve all been there before when first starting out

It can seem like there’s a mountain of things to learn when you first get a bike. Where do you start? The wheels.

You can have a good quality, expensive bike but if the wheels are out of line, you may as well have a bike made of plastic. I can guarantee you if you don’t know a thing or two about your bike’s wheels, then you won’t get very far.

At this point you might be asking yourself, how can I true my wheels, what’s the right method for me, and how often do I need to true the wheels of my bike?

To briefly explain, when a bicycle wheel is equally round and doesn’t wobble from side to side, it means it is “true”. Of course, there’s a little more to it. The good news is there’s a simple solution to making your wheels true, even if you’re a beginner.

Of course, you could always take your bike to the bike shop and pay an overpriced mechanic to have a look at it, job done. However, I find I like to deal with any bike issues myself, especially something as easy as making your wheel true. Even if you are planning to get a bike pro to have a look at your bike, it’s worth learning how to do this yourself so you’re prepared.

Take it from me, this is easier than it seems!

Wheel Truing

Bike wheels are composed of a hoop or rim with a range of spokes that connect to the hub. Spokes create tension and pull the rim from the right to the left. Wheel truing involves using a spoke wrench to adjust the tension in the spokes to make the wheel straight and round, or in other words, true.

Before we get started, here are a few things about truing a wheel you should know.

There are four things to think about when it comes to trueing your wheels; Lateral Trueness, Radial Trueness, Spoke Tension, and Dish/Centering.

Lateral Trueness

This is when you correct the side-to-side movement of the wheels, otherwise known as lateral deviations. It’s particularly important for bikes with rim brakes, but it’s also the first thing you correct when truing your wheels.

Radial Trueness

This has to do with the wheel’s roundness, or how much it moves vertically up and down. If your wheel has low spots and high spots rather than being even all round, then it is not radially true. You’ll need to adjust the spoke tension to correct this issue.

Spoke Tension

Spokes are located all around the inside of the wheel, connected to metal wires that lead to the center of the wheel. It is a fastener system, that serves to adjust the tightness. If the spoke tension is not equal all the way around, then the wheel won’t be true.

Dish/Centering

To make sure that the overall bike’s wheels are true, both of them need to be centered in the frame and aligned with each other.

Truing Tools

You’ll need a couple of things including the right tool for the job to help with your wheel truing. You don’t need a park tool for this.

A truing stand– this is going to be useful tool to hold the wheel steady as it spins. it can also help you identify and isolate where the issue is specifically. If you don’t have one you can use the bike or a repair stand, as long as the wheel can spin freely.

Stationary indicator– Truing stands will have one built- in the form of indicator fingers that you can adjust up or down or in and out from the rim. If you don’t have this tool you can make it by attached a zip tie to each side of the rim to show deviations as the wheel spins.

Spoke wrench– Used to adjust the tension by gripping the nipple or nut of the spoke system to tighten or loosen it. Ensure you get one that fits.

Lubricant- It’s useful to have a bit of lubricant and a rag to clean the tire and the nipples or spokes so you can turn it easily.

 

Method 1

Fix the wheel on the truing stand facing in any direction

This is to check for lateral alignment with the wheel pulling to the side. Remove the wheel from the bike and set it up the wheel in the truing stand so that it moves freely, dial in the calipers on the stand to make sure they’re level with the edge of the rim. If you don’t have a truing stand you can simply position the bike itself in a comfortable position off the ground where the wheel can move freely.

Tighten the lever and the quick release nut

Ensure that there is no way the wheel can wiggle while on the truing stand.

Spin the wheel

To check for trueness, rotate the wheel and move the calipers upwards until the teeth are half an inch from the metal rim. Make sure the wheel isn’t going up or down or you may have a problem, with radial truing.

Tighten the calipers

Tighten the calipers or brake pads slowly until they get into contact with the wheel on one side. This will show where it is the most buckled. Spin the wheel forwards and back to locate the center of the buckle, so that the brake pads are in place. Tighten and loosen as necessary.

Loosen the nipples

Unscrew or loosen the nipples of the spoke on the same side the caliper is touching, for example if the issue is on the right side then loosen the right side nipples. If it’s on the left side, then you need to do it on the left side nipples. Once you loosen the spokes then you can adjust further. For example, if the rim is pulling to the left then the spoke coming from the right of the hub nearest to the center of the buckle needs adjusting.

Tighten the spokes on the opposite side of the hub

This is where you adjust the tension. Tighten or loosen so that the brake pad is in line with the wheel. Turn the spoke nipples slightly, going clockwise if you’re looking up through the rim. In the stand, turn the nipple be anti-clockwise. Whether it’s left or right, I would stick to clockwise.

Check

Spin the wheel forwards and back and tighten all the calipers once again. Ensure that they are touching the rim on one side. Repeat the process until the caliper brakes touch the two sides of the rim uniformly at each point of the rim. Do this in small adjustments so you can get a precise fit. Put the wheel back properly. Wheel truing complete!

 

Method 2

When you are a beginner, for an easy repair it may best to remove the entire tire off of the rim to see lateral deviations easier.

Take the tire off

Pull the tube and the tire off if you want to get the best results. This will also allow you to check the shape of the rim easily.

Make an indicator

Place a pencil, ruler, tape or any other thing that has a straight edge on the forks in such a way that it touches the rim. This will enable you to see any small fluctuations where the rim is far or close to the straight edge.

Rotate the wheel

Spin the wheel and place the straight object where it touches the straight edge.

Turn the spokes

If the spokes are loose then you’ll need to tighten the spokes either side equally not more than half per turn. Turn the spoke nipples and try one spoke or two spokes and then keep checking. For a true wheel ensure that you have tightened the spokes on the two sides.

Checks

Spin the wheel after every adjustment and check the side of the wheel. Continue to do this until the rim brake is at the same distance as from the straight edge. Check for loose spokes, and have a look for the side spokes to see if they are tight.

 

Method 3

Sometimes the spokes are bent, here’s what you can do.

Inspect the wheels

Look over the wheels to check whether there are some bent spokes.

Use a spoke wrench

Grab a spoke wrench to determine the tightness of the spokes. There is a nipple at the end of every spoke which you can use for loosening or tightening the spoke. Loosen the spokes, starting with left side spokes. On a true rim or wheel, the spokes are usually tight.

Flip your bike upside down

Turn the bike upside in such that it is resting on its handlebars and seat. This will enable the wheels to turn freely which means you can easily check them for wobble.

When to move on

The more you complete these procedures and adjust the spoke tension, the more true your wheels become. But when do you stop?

This is dependant on a few factors. The condition of the wheel. If this is your bike from new, then it’s really about how well you looked after it. If it’s a second-hand bike it may be more difficult to know.

The type of bike, frame, brakes, brake pad that the wheel will be used with. This can affect how the wheel should sit.

What you want and prefer. In general, 0.5 mm or less of lateral deviation is the ideal sweet spot.

Something you can do is spin the wheel and adjust the indicator so it just skims the side of the wheel. Look for the largest lateral deviation and compare it to your feeler gauge. Keep adjusting until you get it right.

Radial truing

Once your wheel is laterally true, you can check for radial trueness. This is where it gets slightly more complicated, as in trying to fix radial errors you can create lateral errors.

As you rotate the wheel, if you notice there is a section of the rim where it moves inwards or towards the hub, then you have radial deviation. Also called a low spot.

There is another type of radial error called a high spot, where the section of the rim moves away from the hub. This can span a short or long section around the wheel.

Conclusion

If you want to continue enjoying cycling, you need to know some basic maintenance tips.

It’s not always rocket science when it comes to bikes, and you’ll find if you start with easy repairs you will be more motivated to try your hand at bigger repairs, perhaps even customizing your bike.

Truing a bike wheel is one of the most important things you will require to do every now and then. Even with the best care in the world, sometimes a wheel can bend from a crash for example and you may have to adjust spokes left and right to fix it.

Always follow the above steps for the best results. At the end of the day, it’s only a bit of clockwise tightening and you can repair and fix your bicycle.

My point is, if you read the article, to true the wheel you don’t need to go to the bike shop. Truing the wheel is a skill you will be thankful you learned.

Sources:

1. How to Replace a Bicycle Spoke – Post by How Stuff Works

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