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Advanced technique: Truing wheels properly

Even the mechanically savvy rider will admit that truing a wheel is intimidating. If it is done incorrectly, it can mess up your wheel.

by Amanda Beattie


This article first appeared in our June/July 2012 issue.

Even the mechanically savvy rider will admit that truing a wheel is intimidating. If it is done incorrectly, it can mess up your wheel. If you are new to wheel truing it’s best to leave your bladed spokes or low-spokecount wheels to a professional. When it comes to regular spoked wheels, though, the basic principles will help make sure they are properly aligned.

Thoroughly inspect your rim for damage before truing. If you find dents or bends it’s best to bring your bike to a mechanic who can tell you if truing will help or if your rim needs to be replaced.

““If it is done incorrectly, it can mess up your wheel.”

If there is no damage to the rim, assess what type of truing is required. If your wheel is wobbling side to side then you’ll require a lateral true. If your wheel is wobbling up and down you require a radial true. A radial wobble is more difficult to completely eliminate. You will likely notice a radial wobble while riding since it will bump as it hits the high and low spots in the rotation. You have to consider both radial and lateral truing when tensioning your spokes. Making an error in a lateral true can affect your radial alignment and vice versa. 4

The right tools for the job are essential. Spoke wrenches come in several sizes. Select the right size so you don’t accidently strip the nipple. If you don’t have access to a truing stand leave your wheel in the frame. Your brake pads can act as a guide. This setup, however, will not allow for radial truing. For a more accurate true use a truing stand. If you are working on your rear wheel in the frame you may want to take your chain off so the wheel can spin freely.

Lateral Truing
Spin your wheel and watch closely for which way it wobbles. Tightening spokes on the right side of the hub flange will pull the wheel to the right.

Tightening spokes on the left side of the hub will pull the wheel to the left. If you are using your frame as a guide, watch for which side the rim rubs the brake pads. Once you find the spot that is rubbing, use a spoke tension gauge to determine which spoke is excessively loose or tight. If it’s rubbing on the left then find the closest nipple on the right side and tighten by a quarter turn. Move the wheel back and forth across the deviation. If the spoke on the opposite side already seems especially tight then loosen the nipple on the same side as the wobble by a quarter turn. Work your way around the wheel until it no longer touches either brake pad.

If you are using a truing stand, you will be tightening or loosening the spoke nipples at the bottom of the wheel. To tighten the spoke, turn the nipple counterclockwise. To loosen the spoke, turn the nipple clockwise.

Radial Truing
Remove the tire from your rim before making any truing adjustments radially so you aren’t confused by any imperfections in your tire. Radial truing is best done in a truing stand. Adjust the caliper on the stand until it nearly touches the outside of the rim. Spin the wheel. Your problem area is where the rim scrapes the caliper. Tightening spokes will pull your rim closer to your hub. Loosening will pull them away from the hub.

When truing radially, tighten or loosen your spokes in pairs in order to not throw out the lateral trueness. Tightening a left hand spoke always tightens the opposing right hand spoke the same amount. Where the rim hits the caliper, tighten the spokes by a half turn in the middle of the rub. Move the caliper in until you hear a continuous scrape. Areas pulling away from the caliper are now ‘low spots.’ Loosen the pair of spokes on either side of the low spot and check again. After three adjustments to your radial true it is best to go back and check your lateral true once again. If you have not tightened or loosened spokes evenly your wheel will now wobble side to side.

Amanda Beattie is a writer and cyclist based in Toronto.