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Wheel Maintenance

Some of the following tips were gleaned from various sources, while some are of my own invention.

This is not a treatise on how to build wheels, that subject is covered far better than I can in a number of places on the web. If you want to learn to build a wheel, check in with Sheldon Brown at: "sheldonbrown.com" and look at his article on building wheels. Thats how I learned to build wheels. There are other sources but start with Sheldon's article. What I want to cover here is how to recognize that you have a wheel problem and what to do about it.

  1. Identifiying the problem

    If your brake pads only rub on the wheel in one or two places every revolution you have a wheel problem. Grab two spokes midway between rim and hub and press them together. If some of the pairs deflect much more than others, you have a wheel problem.

  2. Spoke tools

    Before you think about correcting a wheel problem you have to have a spoke tool. There are many kinds of spoke tool, some of them quite expensive. I recommend that you find the cylindrical type with many sizes of wrench gap. If you can't find the cylindrical type buy the single size type found in any bike shop and even in K-Mart or Wal Mart. These work fine on most older casual bikes.

  3. Getting down to it

    First you should determine how bad the run-out is and how much you are willing to tolerate. To much wheel runout will cause the brakes to pulsate. Casual, once-in-a-while riders using low end bikes don't need perfect wheels. Conversely if you are serious road rider with a mid or high end bike you will want the runout to be in the thousanths of an inch range. If you are striving for perfection you must remove the tires and tubes. For an adequate job just deflating them will do. Next turn your bike upside down or if you have a bike stand use that. Really fussy mechanics will use a wheel stand.

    Before you begin straightening the wheel, oil all of the spoke nipples. This will prevent spoke wind=up. Then go around the wheel and tighten all the spokes until the spoke tension is consistant for all spokes. An old method to determine if the spokes are all tightened alike is to lightly strike the spokes and listen to the "ring". They should all sound the same note or close to it. Next you will need an indicator to locate high and low spots. On casual bikes I use a piece of soft solder as an indicator. Wrap the solder around a stay and bend an end until it just touches a high spot on the side of the rim. For more precision wheels you should use a wheel stand although there are folks who can do the job without special tools. You decide your talent level.

  4. Correcting side-to-side run-out

    Rotate the wheel slowly and note where the high spots are located. With a wax pencil or some other marking pen, mark the extremes of the high spots. At the center of the high spot, tighten the opposite side spoke nearest the center mark 1/2 turn CCW looking toward the rim. Working on each side of the high spot, tighten each spoke a little less until you reach the last spoke. Tighten the last two spokes no more than 1/4 turn. After you operate on the high spots tackle the low spots.

    Identify the low spots in the same way you did the high spots only now you will tighten same side spokes. Repeat these procedures until you are satisfied with the wheel run-out.

  5. Correcting out-of-roundness (hop)

    I find wheel hop harder to eliminate than side-to-side wobble however it must be corrected. Adjust your indicator so that it near the outside rim of the wheel. Locate and mark the high spots. Starting at the center of the high spot, tighten the spokes nearest to the high spot 1/2 turn. Moving out from center tighten the next spoke on each side of the center spoke a little less than 1/2 turn. Check the hop. Continue this prosedure until the hop is eliminated or is to your your satisfaction. If you want to be conservative make smaller adjustments. After you have gained experience you will know how much to tighten the spokes.

  6. Stress relieving the spokes
  7. After you are satisfied with the wheel you will need to relieve the stresses built up in the spokes. Grasp pairs of spokes that are fairly parallel, not the crossed pairs, and squeeze them together. Do this for all pairs on one side then repeat on the other side. I think you are done.
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    Last revised 07/23/99
    E-mail me at: fredhaj@aol.com