Bike Tune-up For Dummies?
June 5, 2010 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Tuning (trueing) a bike's tires (spokes) for dummies?

Can someone explain to me, as though I'm really really stupid with mechanics things, just how to tune a bike tire?

Let's say there's a part when I spin the tire that it catches on the brake or the side of the frame. I don't want it to do that. How do I adjust the spokes so it's straighter and doesn't catch? Which ones would I adjust?
posted by tybeet to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You might start here, for at-home advice with lots of pictures.

It's a frustrating process for the first few minutes (or hour), but is pretty simple once you get the hang of it. I'd start by going to re-cycles and doing the work there, using their truing stands (which will make the process far easier than measuring against your brake pads).
posted by soviet sleepover at 1:37 PM on June 5, 2010

The Park Tool website has a guide

Essentially find the spot where the rim is out of true (bumping into the brake pads) and concentrate on the spokes in that area.

Make sure you go slow, only turn a spoke 1/4 or 1/2 a turn at a time. Maybe consider using tape to mark your place.

If you don't want to bother with doing, it getting a wheel trued isn't that expensive at a shop, maybe $10-15.
posted by ghharr at 2:04 PM on June 5, 2010

You need a spoke wrench, which fits over the flats on the spoke nipples just inside the rim. Notice that half the spokes go to one side of the hub, and half to the other. If a section of the rim needs to move to the right, then tighten the nearby spokes that go to the right side of the hub and loosen the nearby spokes that go to the left side of the hub.

It'll take practice to do it well, but that's the basic idea; tightening spokes one one side pulls the rim towards that side.
posted by jon1270 at 2:06 PM on June 5, 2010

I think this is one of the hardest and most delicate of all bike maintenance projects.

I won't do it since that time I destroyed a beautiful old 40 hole, large flange, Campagnolo rear hub by over-tightening the spokes.
posted by jamjam at 2:55 PM on June 5, 2010

If your bike is old and/or has spent any time stored outdoors there's a good chance many of your spokes will have frozen in position where they thread into the nipple. Before you start this project, get some Liquid Wrench and put a drop on each spoke nipple, allowing it to work its way in and hopefully free up the threads.
posted by contraption at 3:31 PM on June 5, 2010

Truing a bicycle wheel (you're truing the wheel, not the tire) is tedious, and a bike shop could do it a lot easier than you can. If you feel like you have the patience, what I would do is this:

1. Follow contraption's advice above (or use WD-40). Also make sure the wheel is clean so that you don't grind sand or dirt into the spoke threads.

2. Get a spoke wrench. There are universal ones, but the Park ones that are sold at bike shops are better. Take your wheel in to the shop to make sure you get the right size in that case. (It will probably be the red one, especially if your wheel was built in a factory, but if your wheel is custom, it will probably be the black one.)

3. Have some masking tape handy.

4. Loosen each spoke a quarter turn, then tighten it a quarter turn. Note how the tension of the spokes feels in your hand. If any of the spokes feel loose, stick a piece of masking tape on the rim to note it.

5. With the wheel on the bike and the bike upside down, spin the wheel and note the areas where the rim gets too close to the frame. If any of those spots corresponds to your masking tape, tighten those spokes. Tighten no more than 1/2 a turn at a time and pay attention to the tension you feel in your hands. Don't overdo it. You won't get rid of all the wobble this way. Also, you might not have any loose spokes that you can discern and just skip this part.

6. Throw away the masking tape bits.

7. Now spin the wheel and notice the remaining areas where there's still wobble. Mark the beginning and end of the wobble with masking tape again on the side where the rim gets too close to the frame.

8. Note that every other spoke will go to each side of the hub. One the side with the masking tape (the side where the rim gets too close to the frame), loosen each spoke 1/4 turn. Then, tighten the spokes on the other side 1/4 turn. This will pull the rim to the center.

9. Reposition the making tape and repeat. Make sure that every time you tighten spokes on one side, loosen them on the other and you won't over-tighten them.
posted by zinfandel at 5:48 PM on June 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's the wheel that's out of true, not the tire. The tire's the rubber bit outside the tube. Slight truing of a wheel is actually pretty easy but if you get carried away, you can prime the wheel for sudden catastrophic failure. The basic process is look at the bump and figure out which way it needs to move. Tighten the spoke nut on the side it needs to move to, and loosen the nearest nut on the opposite side. These tighten/loosen operations should only be about 1/4 or 1/2 a turn. and should be done in pairs. If you start to get too aggressive, spokes start to come out or the wheel may become out of round. Spokes must always be under tension or they aren't doing their job.

It might not be fixable, as the wheel may be dented. In any case, don't be afraid to take this to a shop if you screw up. Simple truing of the wheel is an easy job but rebuilding a wheel is not a simple job.
posted by chairface at 8:38 AM on June 6, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone, I have managed to get the rim of this $5 bike to stop catching on the brakes. For a while there I was making it worse, and I was on the verge of giving up and getting the local bike repair shops ($35 or $60) to take over, but with a little persistence I managed to avoid that. Sweet!
posted by tybeet at 11:57 AM on June 6, 2010

Yay! In future you might consider availing yourself of the services of re-Cycles, a bike co-op on Bronson that offers a workshop, tools, and advice for $5/hour (and I suspect they'd do PWYC if $5/hour isn't affordable.) And you can spend time working on the bikes they're refurbishing, learning as you go, and get an hour of shop time for every hour you spend on their bikes.
posted by mendel at 4:37 PM on June 6, 2010

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