Originally printed in the January issue of TransWorld Motocross. Subscribe for more monthly tips!
Skills | Proper Spoke Maintenance with Team Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull /GoPro/KTM’s Jordan Troxell
Dirt-bike wheels have had the same basic design since the beginning of time, and on every single current production model you’ll see the same traditional laced-up spoke configuration. The design is tried, true (hopefully!), and very strong—as long as you hold up your end of the deal. What’s that, you ask? Proper spoke maintenance—the key to keeping your wheels happy!
We’ll admit that it’s sometimes easy to overlook certain aspects of bike maintenance when you’re out riding motos with your buddies, but one area you should always be on top of your game in is your spoke maintenance. Spokes are the strength within your wheels, and they just may take the most extreme stress on your bike with the size of modern-day motocross jumps. From the day you buy your motorcycle it’s important to keep the spokes properly maintained, and we stopped by the Troy Lee Designs/GoPro/Red Bull/KTM race shop to learn how factory mechanic Jordan Troxell keeps his wheels tight and true. Read on for a few key things to know in the world of spokes and wheels.
Brand-New Wheels: Whether you buy a new bike or build a new wheel, I’d say the first hour of the wheel’s life is the most important as far as trying to keep it true and preventing future issues. When spokes get loose the wheel will get out of true and can get flat spots or become bent easier. Most people want to just get out there and rip around when they get a new bike, but I’d recommend no more than 10 to 15 minutes maximum before you bring it in to take a break and go through the wheels. You should do this two or three times before you start putting some longer motos on them, just to keep them true and straight. That first hour really is the most crucial, but even after that keep the habit of tightening spokes in your daily maintenance, and go over them in between motos at least once during your day of riding. If you get lazy, it can cost up to $1,000 to rebuild a wheel if you destroy a hub in the process.
Tools Of The Trade: Here at TLD we run the Fasst Company spoke torque wrench, which is something that keeps me consistent. We’re talking about keeping the spokes tight, but you can also go too tight. When they’re too tight you start to stress the spoke and stretch it out, and you can seize the nipple to the spoke. With a spoke torque wrench you’re keeping the spoke in its happy spot. There’s no question, and it takes the guesswork out.
Order Of Approach: Each wheel might have a different spoke pattern, but I usually begin with the valve stem or the rim lock for a starting point. I’ll start with a spoke there, and then count what would be every third or fourth spoke depending on the pattern, and that brings you to the other side of the wheel. So basically you tighten one spoke on the disc side, count three or four spokes, then tighten one on the sprocket side. Do this all the way around the wheel, and I wouldn’t do more than a quarter turn at a time on each spoke. If you have a spoke that’s very loose, chances are there are more around the wheel that are loose, too. Continue around the pattern and return again to that loose spoke, and then keep tightening them all uniformly until they’re torqued. Doing it this way assures the wheel should stay true. For this particular wheel it takes three trips around the wheel to hit every spoke once.
Thread Lubrication: When I build a wheel I build them with high-pressure grease on my threads and the nipple so I don’t have to worry about the nipples seizing to the spokes after a long period of time. Spraying a little lubricant on the nipples of a stock wheel isn’t a bad idea, but keep in mind a little bit goes a long way. You don’t want to soak the lubricant into your wheel; you just want to keep the nipples from seizing.
Finding A Broken Spoke: When I find a broken spoke, sometimes it’s just a rogue spoke that breaks, but it will definitely alert me to inspect the rim and the rest of the spokes. Depending on how much time is on them, I’ll usually just replace that one spoke for the time being and go over the wheel. If more continue to break, it’s usually time to replace them all and re-lace the wheel or also replace with a new hoop to make life easier when truing it.
Truing Stands: Obviously a truing stand works best, and building a wheel from the ground up and truing it could be a whole separate article. If you’re in a pinch, you can kind of ball park it with the wheel on the bike, taking a sharpie and taping it to your fork guard or swing arm. That can give you a quick idea if the wheel is true if needed at the track!