Intro» Ryan Cooley // Photos» Garth Milan
REQUIRED TOOLS: If you bought your bike new, then it probably came with a spoke wrench to fit both your front and rear spokes. These wrenches work okay if you¿re in a pinch, but I highly recommend purchasing a high-quality, torque-style spoke wrench to get the job done properly. Not only do they fit more precisely, therefore reducing damage to soft aluminum spoke nipples, they also ensure that you¿re tightening each spoke to its ideal tension. They can be a bit expensive, but they work great and will last you forever. I use the Fasst Company Spoke Torque Wrench (www.fasstco.com). In addition to the wrench, you¿ll need some WD-40 and a Sharpie marker.
You may recall reading words such as ¿bike prep¿ and ¿routine maintenance¿ quite a bit in past Race Shop articles. Hopefully these words have inspired you to take care of your bike¿s regular needs, but if they haven¿t¿well¿your bike is probably falling apart, and chances are your wheels are wobbling around like the head of a James Stewart bobble-head doll. Spoke maintenance is an important part of your bike¿s performance, and spokes should be checked periodically for proper tension to ensure that your bike is rolling safe and straight. Loose spokes may not only lead to flat tires; they can ultimately cause your wheels to fall out of true, become warped, and even gain flat spots. So why take the risk of endangering yourself or having to replace those expensive wheels, when in just a couple minutes before each ride you can keep your spokes perfectly in check? We asked our friend and Josh Hansen¿s factory KTM wrench Oscar Wirdeman to stop by the shop to show us the proper technique. Take `er away, Oscar¿
GENERAL SPOKE MAINTENANCE
INSPECTION: I inspect the spokes on Josh¿s bike before each time he rides, but it is especially important to check the spokes on a brand-new bike. Typically, they come from the factory a little soft, so my advice is to check them before the first ride, and then again after every 20 to 30 minutes of riding for the first few hours of use. If you¿re working with an older set of wheels, it¿s a good idea to spray a small amount of WD-40 on each nipple to lubricate the threads.
With the bike on a stand so the wheel can spin freely, start out by rotating the wheel as you squeeze and apply pressure to the spokes with your hands to check for any that may be excessively loose. Next, if you don¿t have a torque wrench, you can use the ¿old school¿ method for checking spoke tension by lightly tapping each spoke with your wrench. A higher-pitched ¿tinging¿ sound generally indicates that a spoke is tight, while a duller-pitched ¿thud¿ sound means it is loose. This of course is not an exact science, but it¿s a good rule of thumb. With the proper torque-style wrench you can eliminate the guesswork and this step altogether.
TIGHTEN EVERY THREE: Choose a starting spot on the wheel, like the rim lock, so you can easily keep track of where you are in the rotation. Now it¿s time to start tightening or loosening each spoke as appropriate. And remember, righty-tighty, lefty-loosey, even with spokes.
Note: If you¿re working with an older set of wheels, or if this is your first time and you¿re not sure of the condition of the spokes, it¿s a good idea to slightly loosen each nipple before tightening them to their proper torque tension. If the nipple is rusted or frozen, it could give you a false reading on the torque wrench.
Starting with the first spoke, tighten it about a quarter of a turn, unless the torque wrench breaks at the desired tension before you get that far, and then proceed to skip the next two spokes and go to the third. Tighten that spoke, skip the neext two, and go to the third¿ Continuing this pattern, you will have tightened each spoke after three complete rotations around the wheel. If there were any spokes that didn¿t reach the torque tension within the first quarter turn, continue going through this pattern until all spokes are tightened to the desired tension.
THE SHARPIE TECHNIQUE: If your wheel has a severe wobble and you know it is in need of a good truing, here¿s a tip I recommend using to guide you when a proper wheel truing stand is not available. Grab a Sharpie, or a marker like it, and find a spot on the bike to help stabilize your hand. On the front wheel I use the fork guard, and on the rear wheel I use the swingarm. Get the tip of the Sharpie as close to the rim as possible without touching it, and rotate the wheel. At the points where the rim swings out and makes contact with the marker, the spokes originating from that side of the wheel are too tight. Slightly loosen a few of the spokes in the area around the mark that originate from that same side of the hub. Then, on the exact opposite side of the rim, tighten a couple of the spokes that originate from that side of the hub.
Use the Sharpie technique on both sides of the wheel until you get it as true as possible. In extreme cases you will never get it perfect. Once the wheel appears to be as straight as it¿s going to get, follow the ¿Tighten Every Three¿ procedure above to get the spokes to their proper tension.