A incorrectly installed spoke is almost certain to break the next time you ride and the consequences could be irreversible.
The spoke is an essential part of the wheel design. There are a lot of technologies developed by manufacturers. Changing a spoke is possible, but it is important to do it right.
For that, you will find in this article the method I use and the precautions to take while replacing bike spokes.
What do you need?
The breakage of a spoke is usually caused by two things:
- an external element that came directly in contact with the spokes
- a bad tension of the spoke that caused the wheel to break due to an impact (e.g. a hole on the road) or heavy stress (e.g. a cyclist in a standing position).
Therefore, the use of a spoking bench and a tensiometer is strongly recommended for all wheels and indispensable for the high-end ones with advanced technologies. Among them we find low spoke count spoking, radial spoking, direct-pull spoking and carbon wheels, and others (don’t panic, we will detail all this in a future article).
On old or classic wheels, many spokes will reduce the consequences of a bad tension balance.
In any case, you will have to remove the tire/inner tube, the rim tape, the cassette (for the rear wheel), and the broken spoke of course.
Equip yourself with :
- Tire changers
- A new rim tape
- Cassette tool
- A spoke wrench
- An identical spoke (see below)
- A spoke nipple
How to replace a bike spoke – Step by step
For each work you will do on your bike, I recommend you position and equip yourself properly, working with the wrong tools is quickly discouraging. I say this with experience! This is what allows me to remain efficient and patient when situations are delicate in the shop.
Let’s get started.
Remove the broken/old spoke
First, let’s replace a rear wheel spoke, which requires the same steps as a front wheel, with the addition of removing the cassette. The only real difference between a rear wheel and a front wheel is that the left and right spokes of the rear wheel are not the same length.
Once the rear wheel is separated from your bike, remove the tire, tube, rim tape, and cassette.
If you need the method to remove the cassette from your bike, you will find all the details in our article.
Once you are facing the wheel alone and its broken spoke, you will find the spoke nipples that were under the rim tape. You just have to unscrew the corresponding one, by hand or with a spoke wrench to free the damaged spoke. On the hub side, get it out by releasing the spoke head.
A technique to simplify the task is to cut the spoke near its ends to facilitate its extraction.
Install the new spoke
To reassemble, make sure you have the correct spoke and nipple. Start by inserting the new spoke into the hub. Be careful to respect the direction of insertion, as every other spoke head is on the inside. To be sure, look at the placement of the other spokes.
A tractor spoke has its head on the outside while a carrier spoke has its head on the inside.
Then, depending on the type of spoking of your wheel, the path varies to reach the nipple on the rim. To do this, read the spoke crossing logic of your wheel and copy it for the new spoke. You’ll see it’s repetitive and quite easy to identify.
For information, if your spoke length is good, only its good positioning will allow you to screw it.
Tighten the new spoke
To tighten your spoke, use a spoke wrench to put it under tension. Note that a nipple is screwed clockwise from the outside of the wheel.
If you have a spoke bench and/or a tension meter, compare the tension of all the spokes and make sure to respect homogeneity without creating a haze.
Without tools, do it by touch and by eye, although not ideal.
The unveiling principle aims at playing on the spoke web tension (all the spokes, fixed on the left or right side of the hub). Tightening a spoke from the right side of the wheel will move the rim to the right and vice versa. It’s important to do it without loosening the spokes, so as not to affect the rigidity of the wheel.
I’m repeating myself, but the use of a spoke bench and a tensiometer is really ideal to ensure the reliability of the assembly. Understand that an improperly mounted spoke or a spoke with bad tension will often lead to its breakage and/or to the wheel’s fogging which sometimes proves to be irrecoverable.
It seems to me impossible to change the spoke of a high-end wheel without any tool!
How to choose the right spoke length?
To choose a replacement spoke, several criteria must be taken into account.
First, the type: is it straight, bent, or flat (aerodynamic)? What material is it made of? And of course, how long is it? To determine the length of your spoke, you can measure one of those present on the wheel.
Be careful though because the spokes are not the same length on your wheelset:
- Skate front wheel = Right & Left spokes of the same length
- Disc front wheel = shorter disc side spokes
- Rear wheel with skate or disc brakes = Right & Left spokes of different lengths
Alternatively, you can use a spoke length calculator such as Sapim which will give you the length of spokes you need based on your wheel characteristics:
- Inside diameter of the rim
- Hub diameter
- Distance from the center of the hub to the flange
- Number of spokes
- Number of crossings
- Rim thickness
Why do bicycle wheel spokes sometimes break?
There are two main reasons why a bicycle spoke breaks.
The first one is the direct contact of an external object or a component of the bike (e.g. derailleur) that comes in contact with the spokes.
The second one is related to bad tension, it leads to the breakage of spokes during an impact on the road or an important constraint (standing position for example)
Can I replace a spoke without removing the tire?
This is not possible. The replacement of a spoke must be done by disassembling the tire/inner tube, the rim base, the cassette for the rear wheel, and the discs for those who have them. Without this, you will not be able to remove the spoke from the wheel even if you cut it.
Can I ride my bike with a broken spoke?
Although not recommended, an old wheel or a wheel with many spokes can be used temporarily with one less spoke. On the other hand, on a modern or high-end wheel, this would deteriorate it and make it unrecoverable.
Now you have in hand the means and the method to properly change a bike spoke. It is an operation that is useful for the restoration of a vintage bike for example. It limits the labor costs of a bike shop without taking too many risks. On the other hand, if you want to replace the spoke of your regular and sporty bike, it must be done with a spoke bench and a tensiometer.