How to True a Bike Wheel: A Complete Guide for Beginners

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A wobbly wheel will disrupt your cycling journey and can negatively impact your ride in several ways. Firstly, it can cause your bike to handle poorly, making it harder to control and maneuver. Secondly, it can lead to unnecessary wear on your bike’s components, including the wheel rim and spokes. Lastly, and most importantly, a severely wobbly wheel can compromise your safety, especially at high speeds or during hard cornering.

And then that is how truing a bike wheel comes in, which refers to the process of aligning the rim of the wheel so that it spins true and straight, without any wobbles or hops. Personally, I would take it as one essential skill of bike maintenance that every cyclist should try to have.

But before we dive into the detailed steps of how to true a bike wheel, let’s first figure out how to know when the bike wheel needs truing (not just the wobble issue), especially for some riders who may have not known yet.

How to Know When A Bike Wheel Needs Truing

There are several signs and symptoms that a bike wheel may have and indicate that it requires truing.

1. Rubbing or Scraping Against Brake Pads or Frame

One of the most obvious signs that your bike wheel needs truing is when it rubs or scrapes against the brake pads or the frame. This friction can cause unwanted noise and affect the overall performance of your bike. To diagnose this issue, simply lift the wheel off the ground and spin it slowly. Observe the movement of the rim relative to the brake pads or the frame. Look for any lateral (side to side) or radial (up and down) deviations of the rim. Additionally, listen for any rubbing or scraping sounds.

2. Wobbling or Vibrating When Riding

Another clear indication that your bike wheel needs truing is when it wobbles or vibrates while you’re riding. This can greatly impact the stability and comfort of your bike, making it an issue that should be addressed promptly. To diagnose this problem, take your bike for a spin on a smooth and flat surface. Pay attention to any vibrations or wobbling sensations you feel through the handlebars or the seat. Look for any lateral or radial deviations of the rim that may be causing this issue.

3. Lack of Smooth and Free Spinning

If your bike wheel does not spin freely or smoothly, it’s a sign that truing may be necessary. This can have a direct impact on the speed and efficiency of your bike, making it harder for you to maintain momentum. To diagnose this issue, lift the wheel off the ground and spin it quickly. Observe the rotation of the wheel and the hub. Look for any resistance or drag that may be hindering the smooth spinning. Additionally, listen for any grinding or clicking sounds that may indicate further problems.

4. Compromised or Inconsistent Braking Performance

Lastly, if you notice that your braking performance is compromised or inconsistent, it may be due to a wheel that needs truing. This issue can greatly affect your safety and control on the road. To diagnose this problem, apply the brakes gently and gradually. Observe the braking response and the modulation of the wheel. Look for any pulsing or skipping of the wheel or the brake pads. Additionally, listen for any squeaking or screeching sounds that may indicate misalignment or rubbing.

How to True A Bike Wheel with the Truing Stand

Here are the detailed steps of using a stand to true a bike wheel:

Step 1. Preparing the Wheel and the Truing Stand

Before you begin truing your bike wheel, you need to prepare the wheel and the truing stand. Start by removing the tire, tube, and rim tape from the wheel. This will give you a clear view of the rim and spokes, making it easier to identify any deviations. Clean the rim and spokes with a rag and some degreaser to remove any dirt or grime that may interfere with the truing process.

Inspect the wheel for any damage, such as bent or broken spokes, cracked or dented rim, or loose or stripped nipples. It’s important to replace any damaged parts before proceeding with truing the wheel. Once the wheel is in good condition, mount it on the truing stand and secure it with the axle nuts or quick release skewers. Adjust the calipers or indicators of the truing stand to lightly touch the rim on both sides.

Step 2. Identifying the Problem Areas and Marking Them

To begin the truing process, you need to identify the areas of the rim that require adjustment. Spin the wheel slowly and observe the movement of the rim relative to the calipers or indicators. Look for any lateral (side to side) or radial (up and down) deviations of the rim. Once you spot a deviation, use a piece of tape or a marker to mark the spot where the rim touches the calipers or indicators. Make a note of the direction and magnitude of the deviation. Repeat this process for both sides of the rim.

Step 3. Adjusting the Spoke Tension to Correct the Deviations

Now that you have identified the problem areas, it’s time to adjust the tension of the spokes to correct the deviations. Start by locating the spoke that corresponds to the marked spot on the rim. Determine the direction of the spoke (left or right, leading or trailing) and the direction of the nipple (clockwise or counterclockwise). Use a spoke wrench to turn the nipple slightly in the appropriate direction.

Tightening the nipple will pull the rim towards the direction of the spoke, while loosening the nipple will push the rim away from the direction of the spoke. Make small adjustments of a quarter or a half turn at a time. After each adjustment, spin the wheel and observe the rim to check the effect of the adjustment. Continue adjusting the tension of the spokes until the rim is no longer touching the calipers or indicators at the marked spot. Move on to the next marked spot and repeat the process.

Step 4. Checking the Overall Trueness and Spoke Tension of the Wheel

Once you have corrected all the marked spots, it’s time to check the overall trueness and spoke tension of the wheel. Spin the wheel and observe the rim for any remaining deviations. Make any fine adjustments as needed. To ensure the proper tension of the spokes, use a spoke tension meter to measure the tension of each spoke. Compare the readings with the recommended values for your wheel type and size. Adjust the tension of the spokes as needed to achieve a balanced and even tension among them.

To check the alignment of the rim relative to the hub, use a wheel dishing tool. Adjust the tension of the spokes as needed to center the rim. Finally, use a truing gauge to measure the lateral and radial runout of the rim. Compare the readings with the acceptable tolerances for your wheel type and size. Adjust the tension of the spokes as needed to minimize the runout.

Tips and Tricks for Truing a Bike Wheel

Truing a bike wheel can be a time-consuming and delicate process, but these tips and tricks can make it easier and more effective:

  1. Use a nipple driver to speed up the process of tightening or loosening the nipples.
  2. Apply a drop of oil or grease on the threads of the nipples to prevent them from seizing or stripping.
  3. Use a pliers or a spoke holder to prevent the spokes from twisting when adjusting the nipples.
  4. Work on small sections of the rim at a time and alternate between the sides of the rim.
  5. Avoid over-tightening or over-loosening the nipples, as this can damage the rim or the spokes.
  6. Check the trueness and tension of the wheel frequently and make small adjustments as needed.

How to True Different Types of Bike Wheels

Truing a Front Wheel vs. Truing a Rear Wheel

The first thing to understand is the difference between truing a front wheel and a rear wheel. The rear wheel is slightly more complex due to its design and additional components. Here are a few key differences to keep in mind:

1. Spoke Configuration: The rear wheel typically has more spokes than the front wheel. This helps distribute the load more evenly and provide better stability. Additionally, the hub of the rear wheel is wider to accommodate the cassette.

2. Wheel Dish: The rear wheel has a dish, which means the rim is offset from the center of the hub to accommodate the cassette. This offset creates different spoke tension on each side of the wheel, with the drive side being tighter than the non-drive side.

Truing a Rear Wheel

To true a rear wheel, you’ll follow the same principles and steps as truing a front wheel, but with a few adjustments. Here’s what you need to do:

1. Check Wheel Dishing: Use a wheel dishing tool to check the alignment of the rim relative to the hub and the frame. Adjust the tension of the spokes on both sides of the wheel to achieve the correct dish and centering.

2. Measure Spoke Tension: Use a spoke tension meter to measure the tension of the spokes on both sides and compare them with the recommended values for your wheel type and size. Adjust the tension of the spokes as needed to achieve a balanced and even tension among the spokes, while maintaining the dish and centering.

Truing Rim Brake Wheels vs. Disc Brake Wheels

The next difference to consider is truing rim brake wheels versus disc brake wheels. While the principles of truing remain the same, there are a few adjustments to be aware of:

1. Rim Brake Wheels: Rim brake wheels have a braking surface on the rim, which needs to be smooth and straight for effective braking. Use the brake pads as indicators to check the lateral trueness of the rim. Adjust the tension of the spokes to eliminate any rubbing or scraping of the brake pads on the rim. Use a truing gauge to check the radial trueness of the rim and the braking surface. Adjust the tension of the spokes to eliminate any bumps or dips on the rim and the braking surface.

2. Disc Brake Wheels: Disc brake wheels have a rotor attached to the hub, which needs to be aligned and centered with the caliper for effective braking. Use the caliper as an indicator to check the lateral trueness of the rotor. Adjust the tension of the spokes to eliminate any rubbing or scraping of the caliper on the rotor. Use a truing gauge to check the radial trueness of the rotor. Adjust the tension of the spokes to eliminate any warping or bending of the rotor.

Truing Carbon Wheels vs. Aluminum Wheels

Finally, let’s discuss truing carbon wheels versus aluminum wheels. While the truing process is similar, there are a few adjustments to consider due to the differences in materials:

1. Carbon Wheels: Carbon wheels have a rim made of carbon fiber, which is lighter and stiffer than aluminum. They also have a higher spoke tension, making them more responsive and durable.

When truing a carbon wheel, use a spoke wrench that fits the size and shape of the nipples on the carbon wheel. Use a drop of oil or grease on the threads of the nipples to prevent them from seizing or stripping. Use a pliers or a spoke holder to prevent the spokes from twisting when adjusting the nipples. Make small increments of a quarter or a half turn at a time, as the carbon wheel is more sensitive to tension changes. Use a spoke tension meter to measure the tension of the spokes and compare them with the recommended values for your wheel type and size. Adjust the tension of the spokes as needed to achieve a balanced and even tension among the spokes, while maintaining the trueness and alignment of the rim.

2. Aluminum Wheels: Aluminum wheels are more forgiving when it comes to truing. The process is similar to truing a carbon wheel, but the spoke tension may not need to be as precise. Use the same techniques mentioned above, but keep in mind that aluminum rims can handle slightly looser or tighter spokes without compromising performance.

How to Avoid Common Mistakes and Pitfalls When Truing a Bike Wheel

Over-tightening or over-loosening the nipples is one of the most common mistakes when truing a wheel. This can cause damage to the rim or the spokes. To avoid this, it’s important to use a spoke tension meter to measure the tension of the spokes and compare them with the recommended values for your wheel type and size. This will help you ensure that you’re making the right adjustments.

When making adjustments to the wheel, it’s best to use small increments of a quarter or a half turn at a time. This is because the wheel is more sensitive to tension changes, and making large adjustments can lead to over-correction. By making small adjustments, you can fine-tune the tension of the spokes and avoid over-tightening or over-loosening.

Another mistake to avoid is using too much force or the wrong size of the spoke wrench. This can strip or round off the nipples, making it difficult to make further adjustments. It’s important to use the correct size of the spoke wrench and apply just enough force to make the necessary adjustments.

Twisting or kinking the spokes is another common pitfall when truing a wheel. This can weaken or even break the spokes, compromising the integrity of the wheel. To prevent this, it’s advisable to use a pliers or a spoke holder to prevent the spokes from twisting when adjusting the nipples. This will help keep the spokes straight and prevent any damage.

Before tightening or loosening the nipples, it’s important to ensure that the spokes are properly aligned. This means that they should be running straight from the hub to the rim without any twists or kinks. If you notice any twisted or kinked spokes, it’s best to replace them before proceeding with truing the wheel. This will ensure that the wheel remains strong and reliable.

In addition to truing the wheel, it’s also important to pay attention to the dish and the centering of the wheel. The dish refers to the alignment of the rim relative to the hub and the frame, while the centering refers to the position of the rim between the fork or the frame. Neglecting these aspects can affect the alignment and the clearance of the wheel. To address this, you can use a wheel dishing tool to check the alignment and make any necessary adjustments to achieve the correct dish and centering.

Lastly, it’s crucial to regularly maintain and care for your wheel to prevent it from going out of true or deteriorating over time. This includes cleaning the rim and the spokes regularly with a rag and some degreaser to remove any dirt or grease that can affect the performance of the wheel. It’s also important to inspect the wheel for any damage, such as bent or broken spokes, cracked or dented rim, or loose or stripped nipples. If you notice any damage, it’s best to replace the damaged parts as soon as possible to ensure the safety and reliability of the wheel.

How to True a Bike Wheel Without a Stand

While truing a wheel typically requires a truing stand, there are alternative methods you can use if you don’t have one on hand.

1. Using the Bike Frame and Brakes as a Makeshift Stand and Indicators

Step 1. Remove the Tire, Tube, and Rim Tape from the Wheel

Before you begin truing your wheel, it’s important to remove the tire, tube, and rim tape. This will give you easier access to the rim and spokes.

Step 2. Mount the Wheel on the Bike Frame and Secure It

To create a makeshift stand, mount the wheel on your bike frame and secure it with the axle nuts or quick release skewers. Make sure the wheel is centered and straight within the frame.

Step 3. Adjust the Brake Pads to Touch the Rim Lightly on Both Sides

Next, adjust the brake pads so that they lightly touch the rim on both sides. This will serve as indicators for any deviations in the rim.

Step 4. Spin the Wheel Slowly and Observe the Movement of the Rim

Spin the wheel slowly and observe the movement of the rim relative to the brake pads. Look for any lateral (side to side) or radial (up and down) deviations of the rim.

Step 5. Use Tape or a Marker to Mark the Spots Where the Rim Touches the Brake Pads

As you observe the rim movement, use a piece of tape or a marker to mark the spots where the rim touches the brake pads. These marks will help you identify the areas that need adjustment.

Step 6. Adjust the Tension of the Spokes

To true the wheel, you’ll need to adjust the tension of the spokes. If the rim is deviating to one side, tighten the spokes on the opposite side. If the rim is deviating radially, adjust the tension of the corresponding spokes.

2. Using Zip Ties as Indicators

Step 1. Remove the Tire, Tube, and Rim Tape from the Wheel

As with the previous method, start by removing the tire, tube, and rim tape from the wheel.

Step 2. Mount the Wheel on the Bike Frame and Secure It

Mount the wheel on the bike frame and secure it using the axle nuts or quick release skewers.

Step 3. Wrap Zip Ties Around Each Fork Leg or Seat Stay

Wrap a zip tie around each fork leg or seat stay, positioning them close to the rim. Trim the ends of the zip ties so that they are a millimeter or less from the rim.

Step 4. Spin the Wheel and Observe the Movement of the Rim

Spin the wheel slowly and observe the movement of the rim relative to the zip ties. Look for any lateral or radial deviations of the rim.

Step 5. Use Tape or a Marker to Mark the Spots Where the Rim Touches the Zip Ties

Similar to the previous method, use tape or a marker to mark the spots where the rim touches the zip ties. These marks will guide your adjustments.

Step 6. Adjust the Tension of the Spokes

To true the wheel, adjust the tension of the spokes based on the marked areas. Tighten the spokes on the opposite side of the deviation, or adjust the corresponding spokes for radial deviations.

3. Using a Screwdriver as a Truing Gauge

Step 1. Remove the Tire, Tube, and Rim Tape from the Wheel

Start by removing the tire, tube, and rim tape from the wheel.

Step 2. Mount the Wheel on the Bike Frame and Secure It

Mount the wheel on the bike frame and secure it using the axle nuts or quick release skewers.

Step 3. Hold a Screwdriver or Similar Tool Against the Fork Leg or Seat Stay

Hold a screwdriver or a similar tool against the fork leg or seat stay, positioning it close to the rim. This will serve as a truing gauge.

Step 4. Spin the Wheel and Observe the Gap Between the Screwdriver and Rim

Spin the wheel slowly and observe the gap between the tip of the screwdriver and the rim. Look for any lateral or radial deviations of the rim.

Step 5. Use Tape or a Marker to Mark the Spots Where the Gap is Too Small or Too Large

As you observe the rim movement, use tape or a marker to mark the spots where the gap between the screwdriver and the rim is too small or too large. These marks will help guide your adjustments.

Step 6. Adjust the Tension of the Spokes

To true the wheel, adjust the tension of the spokes based on the marked areas. Tighten the spokes on the opposite side of the deviation, or adjust the corresponding spokes for radial deviations.

With these bike stand alternatives, you can save money and space by not buying or storing a truing stand for sure. Besides, compared with the stand, you can use them and true your bike wheel anywhere and anytime, as long as you have a spoke wrench and some basic tools.

But it’s important to note that these alternative methods work quite well for rim brake wheels, as disc brake wheels may have different alignment and clearance requirements. And, you may still not be able to achieve the same level of accuracy and precision as with a truing stand. Additionally, you may have to deal with some limitations and challenges, such as the visibility and accessibility of the rim and the spokes, and have to spend more time and effort to true your bike wheel, as the process may be more trial and error.

Conclusion

Remember, truing a bike wheel takes practice and patience. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t go perfectly the first time. With time and experience, you’ll become more confident and proficient at truing your own bike wheels. So grab your turing stand, spoke wrench, tension meter, wheel dishing tool, etc. and start truing those wheels like a pro. Happy riding!

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AUTHOR

Randy Joycelyn

Randy is the founder and editor of Cycling Soigneur. He has been passionate about cycling since he was a kid. He has been riding bikes for over 10 years. Cycling has just become a part of life.

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