How to True a Bike Wheel

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If you’ve noticed your bike wheels getting a little warped or wobbly to one side, it might be time to adjust them.

To do this, all you need to do is follow out steps on how to true a bike wheel. It takes a bit of time and patience, but it will save you money in the long run.

For anyone getting a lot of mileage, especially mountain bikers or gravel or fat tire bike fans, truing their wheels is a great skill. You can do it with relatively little equipment, and it can save you from a bad ride.

In this article, we’ll go through all you need to know so you can true your bike wheel at home.

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How to True Your Wheel at Home

These instructions apply to standard bike wheels. With some high-tech racing bike wheels, you might want to take them to the shop. They sometimes have hidden or locked nipples, special or fewer spokes, and require specialized tools. If you don’t know your way around them, you’ll risk doing more harm than good.

What You’ll Need

These are the basics you should have when learning how to true a bike wheel at home:

Spoke Wrench

The spoke wrench adjusts the nipple, which attaches the spokes to the wheel.

It’s a small, horseshoe-shaped wrench that doesn’t cost much, but you’ll need to make sure it’s the correct size.

If you aren’t sure about the nipples’ sizes, take the wheel with you to the bike shop or simply ride there. This way, the professionals will find you the right tool, and you’ll see for yourself if it’s the right one before you buy.

Truing Stand

Bike repair shops use a truing stand. It helps them keep the wheel at eye level, rotate it and see exactly where the problem is.

For a serious cyclist, this may come in handy, but it can be a steep investment for a weekend rider.

Without a Stand

You can learn how to true a bike wheel without a stand, too.

Just leave the wheel on and use your bike in place of a stand. You’ll only need to elevate it enough to see it comfortably and turn the wheel as you work.

Another DIY option is to simply turn your bike around and rest it on the saddle and handlebars. This will allow you to turn the wheels but might be more uncomfortable to work with because you’ll be closer to the ground.

Bright Light

Another good thing to have is good lighting. You’ll need to see the wheel and the spokes when you’re working.

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Steps to True a Bike Wheel

Truing the bike wheel is as simple as finding the spokes that cause the wobble and tight the nipples.

However, you need to be careful in spotting where the problem is and turning the nipples in the right direction.

Here’s how you go about truing the wheel:

1. Understand the Basics

Keep in mind that the spokes are basically rods under tension and distribute weight. They go from the rim to either the left or right side of the hub at the center of the wheel. The spokes pull the rim to both sides of the wheel, which is why an imbalance makes it wobble.

When you tighten one of the spokes, you bring more tension to that side of the wheel and make it bend in that direction. If the spokes on the other side don’t have the same amount of tension to counteract it, the result is an out of true wheel.

The goal is to keep it balanced by having roughly the same amount of tension on both sides.

2. Spot the Obvious

Quickly go through all the spokes with your hands and see if there are any that are loose to the touch.

Do they wiggle a bit? When you find one that’s very loose, follow it to the nipple.

3. Tighten with Care

  1. Grab your spoke wrench and get to tightening all the loose spokes.
  2. Looking from above, turn counterclockwise to tighten and clockwise to loosen the spoke.
  3. Always remember to be patient and turn the nipple a maximum of half a turn every time.

4. Leave a Mark

Leave a mark, such as a piece of tape, on any spoke you’ve tightened. This will make it easier to follow the work you’re doing and undo any errors. You can even mark the tape with a pen to know which way you turned the spoke.

5. Look Closer

If you can’t find the spot where your bike wobbles with just your fingers, you’ll need to look closer. Spin the wheel on the bike or the stand and try to locate the wobbly spot.

  1. If you’re using the bike as a stand, place your finger at the brake pad, or use a pencil.
  2. Keep your finger or the pencil in the same spot by resting it on the brake pad to follow how close it is to the rim as you spin.
  3. You should be able to spot any place where the pencil touches or separates from the rim.

With a wheel stand, you’ll see exactly where the problem is with a spin of the wheel.

6. Pick a Side

When you’ve located the spot, see which side the tension directs the bike. For example, if the wheel wobbles towards you, at that spot, the spoke is too tight compared to the spokes on the other side.

Use the wrench to loosen it half a turn but also tighten the two spokes next to it to bring more balance to the other side.

Remember, when the spokes pull the wheel to one side, it means that spoke is too tight. But, it also means that the opposite side is looser.

7. Spin Check

When you’ve found and tightened the spokes, it’s time to give the wheel a spin. It’s best not to work on more than a couple of spokes at a time, so you don’t go overboard with the tightening.

Again, check if the rim rubs against the brakes or wobbles. If it’s still not straight, go through the marked spokes and give them another half turn. If you spot any new spots where the wheel is warped, tighten or loosen the spokes as needed.

Tip: If you have a good ear for music, you can also locate a loose spoke by tone. Just pluck the spokes with your finger and listen to the sound. If one of the spokes has a dead sound or one that doesn’t sound like the rest, it’s probably the loose one you’ve been looking for.

Why Do Bike Wheels Go Out of True?

Bicycle wheels can go out of true and even warp because of a crash or extended use on bumpy roads or trails. The spokes on the wheel may have become loose, and when you keep riding, the problem gradually gets worse.

Sometimes, you might have some damage to the spokes themselves, or one might have snapped. If this happens, you can still ride your bike for a while, but you should replace the spokes or fix them as soon as possible.

Otherwise, you’ll risk ruining the wheel completely or affecting your stability on the bike, which can be dangerous.

Note that your bike wheel can also get bent, especially after an impact. In this case, merely truing it won’t be enough. You may have to get a new wheel altogether, but in any case, it’s best to take your wheel to a bicycle repair shop.

How to Know Your Wheels Are Out of True

Not sure about whether your wheels need some care? Here are a few ways to know if you need to true them.

Brake Rubbing

A clear clue of your wheels going out of true is when you notice your brake pad rubbing uncomfortably against the rim’s wheel. You’ll feel or hear it when you’re riding, especially when it gets really bad.

If this happens, don’t delay. Riding your bike when it’s gone out of true will only cause more damage in the long run. It can affect the other wheel or the rest of your bike.

You might also tire yourself more when trying to pedal through it.

On top of this, the brake pad can also get too close to the rim and stop the wheel from turning, which can be dangerous.

Wobbly Rides

Does the bike feel wobbly when you’re riding?

Do you lose balance when going at high speeds and riding downhill, even when your tires are properly pumped?

Maybe you get more tired trying to keep the bike stable.

If your wheels aren’t visibly bent, this wobbliness can be because they’ve gone out of true.

Spin the Wheel

You can check if your bike wheels are out of true by spinning the wheel with the bike elevated. Watch closely at the space between the brake pads and the rim. If you see it growing or shrinking as you spin the wheel, your wheel has gone out of true.

Check out both sides of the wheel to be sure. Also, remember that if one of your wheels is unstable, it’s probably causing instability to the rest of the bike. In many cases, you’ll need to true both wheels.

Check the Spokes

Go through the spokes and squeeze them with your fingers. You should be able to tell if you’ve got a loose spoke easily.

Inspect the Rim

If there are dents and bulges on your rims, it might be a sign that your wheel is bent. This is a bit more serious because it means your wheel has structural damage. In this case, it’s best to take your wheels to be repaired by a professional or change them.

The rims’ sidewalls can also wear out, especially if you ride in harsh offroad conditions or bad weather. They can bend or get more concave, but the good news is you can often replace the rims and save the rest of the wheels.

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What Does Truing a Wheel Mean?

Truing a bike wheel means bringing balance to the wheel by loosening or tightening the spokes in the right spot. This way, both sides of the wheel will have an equal amount of tension, and it will remain straight when you ride.

How Much Does It Cost to True a Wheel?

Truing a wheel is an easy and relatively inexpensive fix, costing around $20 to $30, depending on your location. If you use your bike a lot, consider investing in a truing stand. This will set you back the same amount as two or three trips to your local bike shop. The essential tool for truing—a spoke wrench—is also very cheap.

Is It Easy to True a Wheel?

Yes, it’s relatively easy to true a wheel, but you’ll need the right wrench and patience. When you get how to do it correctly, it won’t take you more than 10 minutes. The important part is not going too far with loosening or tightening the spokes and taking it one spoke at a time.

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The Takeaway

Learning how to true a bike wheel is a skill that takes a bit of practice, but it’s extremely handy.

Even if you don’t use this skill all the time, it can give you more control over your bike in a matter of minutes. Nothing is better than being able to sort out simple issues with your bike on your own.

A spoke wrench is a good addition to your toolkit, especially if you use your bike in rough conditions or are planning a longer tour. And, when you know how to use it, you’ll be more popular with your riding buddies!


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