How to Tighten Bike Spokes

A bike is only as good as its wheels… 

There are two main causes of the dreaded wheel wobble. 

  1. Your wheel has been dented by something it has hit 
  2. Your bike spokes are loose 

Unfortunately, we can't undo the damage done to your bike if something has hit it. However, we can teach you how to tighten your wheel spokes. 

a picture of the spokes of a yellow and blue bike

In this article, we'll be talking you through everything you need to know about this topic; from what bike spokes actually are, to telling when they're loose, and even teaching you how to fix them. 

Carry on reading to find out more… 

What are bike spokes?

So, what are bike spokes? 

Well, bike spokes are the thin rods that run from the hub of the bike to the wheel's rims. They are designed to be load-bearing rods that stop the wheel from warping under the weight of the frame and rider. 

Spokes were developed to help reduce the weight of the bicycle wheels without compromising on the structural integrity of the wheel itself.

In fact, a well-constructed wheel with spokes is just as strong as a completely solid one. 

The original wheel spokes were made out of wood, but these days they are often made up of aluminum or steel. Though you may find some exciting ones made out of unexpected materials like ceramics or carbon composites. 

Why would you want tight bike spokes?

The longevity of a bicycle wheel entirely depends on the strength and tightness of its spokes. The tension of the spokes must be uniform. If one stoke becomes looser than the others it can cause the wheel to buckle. 

On the other hand, if one of the spokes is too tight it can put too much pressure on the surrounding spokes.

This pressure can cause them to snap. If these spokes break then the wheel will become weaker and the chances of an accident happening shoot up. 

We need the spokes in our wheels to be at an even tension so they can perform their job efficiently.

Spokes are load bearers, they help the wheels to keep their shape under the weight of the rider and frame of the bike. They are particularly important when the bike is moving at high speeds. 

How to tell when your bike spokes are loose or damaged?

The most obvious sign of damaged spokes is fracturing along the rods, or rods that have completely sheered off at the base. As we mentioned about, this kind of damage is indicative of one of the stokes being too tight. 

Another way to tell if there is something wrong with your spokes is if they go 'floppy'. This means that you can use your hand to move and manipulate the spokes.

You should never be able to move a properly tighten spoke (no matter how strong you are). 

If your wheel changes shape then your spokes are too loose. If the spokes are not bearing the bike's weight well enough then the wheel will get bent out of shape.

You will be able to feel that the wheel is not rolling smoothly as you ride. 

If you hear a repetitive, almost rhythmic rubbing sound when you are riding your bike this could mean that your wheel has bent out of shape and is now rubbing again your brakes.

A lot of people mistake this for a problem with their brakes. They then get confused when adjusting their brakes doesn't fix this problem. The problem wasn't with the brakes, it was with the wheel. 

If you can hear your wheels humming or rattling then this is a surefire sign that your spokes need fixing.

Rattling can be caused by your chain a lot, but if your wheels are rattling too then it's time to move onto the next section of this article.   

How to tighten bike spokes  

Changing the tension of your spokes is often referred to as turning the wheel. As it is not actually the spokes you are adjusting but the part of the wheel that is attached to the spokes. 

There are a few things you should keep in mind when 'turning your wheels'.

Firstly, you should be aware of which direction tightens the spokes and which loosens them. 

Secondly, you should make sure that you have the correct sized turning wrench (or tool of your choice), as using the wrong size tool can brush away the edges of the joints.

This happening can result in two things. The spokes snapping off at the wheel joint or you not being able to tighten that joint next time you need to. These joint points are also referred to as nipples. 

More complex or expensive wheels are best left for professionals to turn. However, if you are looking to turn your own wheels then read on. 

Begin by locating the problem spoke. This spoke may be rattling, or so tight the other spokes around it are twisting. The easiest way to find the bad spot is to slowly spin your wheel. 

Stop the wheel once you have located your problem spoke. Attach a small piece of tape to the spokes you need to be working on.

This will help you find them again when you have to turn the wheel to check for improvement. 

Once you have done this begin turning the corresponding nipple until the spoke is as tight as the rest of them.

It is best to do this in small increments as you do not want to make the spoke too tight. As we have learned, this can cause its own kind of problems.  

The most common mistakes made during this process are turning the nipple the wrong way or turning the entirely wrong nipple.

Therefore, the best thing you can do is to take your time during this process and double-check your work as you go. 

So there you have it, that is how you tighten your bike spokes. 

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