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.