This article originally appeared in Issue 18 of TransWorld Motocross. Get all this and more delivered straight to you each month by subscribing!
Spoke Maintenance with Team Honda’s Kenny Germain
Words: Kenny Germain
Intro: Big E
Photos: Garth Milan
Spoke maintenance is one of those tasks that you either know how to do or avoid at all costs. Either way, neglecting to maintain your spokes will ultimately cost you: both in your wallet and in your bike’s performance. Loose spokes in your wheel will make your machine ride like a three-ring circus bike, making this task a fundamental part of bike prep/maintenance. Spokes should be checked periodically in order to keep your bike rolling the way it should.
Though many a makeshift mechanic can turn a nipple, it takes experience to properly tighten spokes. There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to tightening the wires that hold the wheel together, and a specific pattern is required to ensure that your wheel stays straight. If the pattern is not consistent over the entire wheel, it will be knocked out of “true,” or become warped. There is also the factor of knowing how tight to make each spoke, and on what revolution to stop tightening the spoke nipple. Add in the difference of tightening an older spoke as opposed to a new spoke, and you can see just how difficult things can get.
This month we gave American Honda’s Kenny G a ring and asked him to explain and demonstrate how to correctly tighten spokes. Kenny, a long-time friend and wrench of Factory Honda’s Ernesto Fonseca, has tightened a few spokes in his day so we thought he would be perfect for the job. Keep in mind that this feature is about tightening a wheel¿not truing a wheel. That’s an entirely different Race Shop feature in and of itself. Let ‘er rip, Kenny.
“It’s important to have the right spoke wrench for your nipples. Different manufacturers use different sized nipples. Even a front and back wheel on the same bike utilizes different sized spoke nipples. Refer to your owner’s manual, or call your local dealer to get the correct size for your bike. The next thing you’ll want to do is invest in a spoke wrench. I would recommend using the wrench that came with your bike only in extreme emergencies. The reason why is that they are not as perfectly sized as they should be, and are usually made of the cheapest metal known to man. The result is that they lose their specified size almost immediately. Most manufacturers use an aluminum nipple these days, which is all the more reason to have the exact sized wrench. Aluminum is a soft metal that is easily manipulated out of its original shape.
“There are many spoke wrenches on the market to choose from; I use the Fasst Company model. It can accept any size nipple, including the Spline drive, and it also has a built-in torque meter that tells you when the spoke has been tightened to the right tension. Basically, it takes all of the guesswork out of tightening spokes.
“If you have an older set of wheels that you are working on, it is a good idea to lubricate the nipples with some WD-40, or similar light lubricant, before you start. After applying the lube you should wait a few minutes to let the lubricant saturate the nipple and the rim before trying to turn any nipples.”
Old School Tension Meter
“If you don’t have a torque wrench, the old school way of knowing if your spokes are at the right tension is by sound. Lightly tap the spoke with your spoke wrench. You should hear a high-pitched sound like a `ting.’ If the sound is dull, it does not have the proper amount of tension. This is more of a rule of thumb than an exact measurement, and it takes a little experience to recognize the right sound. You can see why having a wrench with a built-in torque meter is a big plus when you are trying to get your wheel to a perfect tension.”
“This is the old school way of knowing when your spoke is at the right tension. By lightly tapping on the spoke, you can hear the pitch of the metals colliding. If it is torqued correctly, the spoke should have a high-pitched `ting.'”
“As you start to tighten the spoke nipples in the wheel, remember: righty-tighty, lefty-loosey. The spokes in your wheel do not have reverse threads, and I can’t tell you how many times I have seen someone thinking they are tightening a spoke, when they were actually loosening it. It is easy to get confused because you’re looking down at the wheel. Just pay attention to what you are doing and you will be fine.
“When tightening spokes, you always want to have a point of reference to start from, like a valve stem. When tightening, you only want to go a quarter-turn on each nipple. Start on the first spoke from your point of reference, and then proceed to skip two and tighten the third. Use this pattern as you go around the wheel. After three laps around the wheel, you will have tightened every spoke a quarter turn. Go around the wheel and make sure all of the spokes are torqued; either the old school way or with a torque wrench. If the spokes can take another three laps, go for it. If you find a spoke that is super loose, just snug it! If you tighten it too hard, though, you’ll pull the wheel out of true.”
“Always keep an eye on new bikes, because the factory doesn’t torque the spokes, and the hub and spokes stretch a great deal when they are new. A new bike will need the spokes torqued right off the showroom floor, then after the first 15-20 minutes of riding. Go over them again after another 20 minutes of riding. You should be okay if you check them after each session.”