4 Signs That Your Wheels Deperately Need Truing

The wheels are the most important components on your bike. They’re big, they’re noticeable, and if they fail, you’re in trouble.

I’m shocked by how many people ride around on floppy wheels with loose spokes. It’s a hazard!

Truing is the process of tightening your spokes. It makes the rim nice and straight, and creates a strong structure.

Not sure if your wheels are out of true? Are you willing to bet your life on it?

Here are a few signs that your wheels are in dire need of truing.

1) Rattle and Hum: Tighten Those Spokes

For the most part, you shouldn’t hear a lot of ‘rattling’ from your ride.

If you notice a rattling sound when you pull it down from your hangers, or when you cross a fence, take note. It’s a common problem on vintage bicycles.

Try to narrow down the source? Is it the derailleur or chain (the most common source)? Or is it your wheels?

Your wheels should not rattle! It could be several things, but it’s often loose spoke nipples. (It’s what they’re called… go ahead and giggle.)

If your spokes are so loose they rattle, they’re providing virtually no strength to the wheel structure. It’s no better than if that spoke were missing or broken.

It’s a big indicator that your bike wheels need truing. Get thee to thy local bike shop!

2) Rhythmic Rubbing Sound, Brakes Acting Wonky

When you hear that annoying, rhythmic “rub” sound emanating from your wheels, it’s tempting to blame it on your brakes.

There’s a good chance it’s your wheels, actually.

When wheels become out of true, they lose their perfect shape. The rim will deform and pull to whichever side has more tension.

It’s easy to have happen. A large pothole will do it.

The result is that your wheel will wobble and rub against the brake no matter how much adjustment you do.

The only solution is to tighten the spokes on the opposite side, providing enough tension to pull the wheel back into shape.

Disclaimer: Most wheels have a tiny amount of wobble, especially over time. It’s normal. You should only be concerned with a serious deformity.

3) The Flintstones Wheel: True Vertically, Too

Another common way that a wheel deforms is vertically. In this scenario the wheel isn’t perfectly round, so it wobbles up and down while it rolls, like the cars in The Flintstones.

This can affect rim brakes too, since the rim will rise and fall as the wheel spins, diminishing contact.

It’s a pretty easy one to diagnose: just flip your bike upside down, rest it on the seat and bars, and give the wheels a spin.

Apart from diminishing your stopping power, a vertically untrue wheel is less efficient. What’s more, it’s an indicator that the strength and rigidity of your wheel is questionable. Bring it in, get it fixed.

4) Floppy Spokes: Tighten or Replace

You shouldn’t be able to move or wobble your spokes by hand. They should be extremely rigid.

That said, it’s amazing how often I see floppy, wobbly spokes in a wheel.

Even if the wheel is perfectly true, a sagging spoke is a sign of disaster. Your wheel strength is compromised, especially if you’re running a low number of spokes (18 – 28).

There are a few reasons this can happen. Your spoke nipple can be stripped, disconnecting it from the rim. A collision or crash can cause irreparable damage.

You might say, “It’s still true, it’s fine.” That’s a big mistake. It won’t stay true for long, and neglecting to fix a wobbly spoke could cost you the whole wheel.

Can I True My Own Wheel?

Absolutely! You’ll need to pick up a truing key, which can be had for under $15 at most bike shops. I always keep a key with me on long rides for in situ repairs.

There are several key sizes; be sure to pick up the right size for your bike.

A truing stand can be an immense help, but they’re somewhat expensive and cumbersome. I’d only get one if you’re doing a lot of repairs, or building wheels from scratch.

I won’t get into the precise ‘how to’ in this article; it’s precision work that requires practice. Generally speaking, when you tighten a spoke on one side of the rim, it should pull in that direction. Loosening it has the opposite effect.

You don’t want to over-tighten one side and under-tighten another just to get the wheel into shape. You’re looking for even tension across every spoke.

It’s a bit of an art, and I’d recommend practicing on a beater bike you don’t care much about. Take your expensive Mavics into the shop, don’t risk it.

Keep an eye on your wheels, and you’ll go far my friends! Thanks for reading.

Will Henry

4 comments

  1. Kiara Woodsland 18 January, 2018 at 07:43 Reply

    I like that you talked about how you can consider visiting a bike repair shop if you notice a rattling sound everytime you’re using our bicycle. My son told me that the bicycle I gave to him last week is producing a rattling and weird sound. It’s important for me to ensure that my son will only use a bicycle that’s safe to use and working properly. I will make sure to consider all your tips.

  2. David 13 October, 2017 at 22:29 Reply

    Hi there!
    My MTB’s front wheel is untrue but I dont feel any loose spokes. Am I looking at replacing the rim or is it still possible to true it? I am going to have my bike service next week but if the rim is irreparable then I can buy a new one before the service date so that they can build it up and put it on my bike.
    Thanks! Waiting for a reply. 🙂

    • Will Henry
      Will Henry 14 December, 2017 at 08:32 Reply

      Hi David, it depends on how big the wobble is. Best to bring it in to the shop to let a mechanic assess, but rims are often salvageable.

  3. Trent tiedeman 2 October, 2015 at 20:35 Reply

    How untrue is seriously untrue?
    My road bike’s back wheel is untrue about 1/8-1/4 of an inch is this bad enough to true it immediately and not to ride it till its true? Please respond asap, Thanks
    -Trent t

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