Fix a wobbly wheel for under $10

Over enough years, every rider has had it happen sometime. First, you start hearing the “thwip, thwip” sound of your rim hitting the brake on each wheel revolution. Even carefully re-adjusting the wheel alignment doesn’t help because…the wheel is bent. Riding it like that will wear down one brake pad more than the other.

Now what?

Well, now you have a choice. You can pay for a new wheel, pay a local bike shop to fix your wheel, or “true” the wheel yourself.

severely bent wheel
Buy a new wheel??? Well, yes, sometimes.

If you’re buying a new wheel, expect to spend at least $80. Sometimes much, much more.

super-expensive wheel
$4,150 for a Meilenstein Obermayer Schwarz wheel, anybody?

If the wheel is fixable–it generally looks good but has a wobble–you can expect your local bike shop to charge $20 – $30 to true it using professional equipment like a truing stand for the perfect line and roundness.

a professional truing stand
You can also buy a professional truing stand like this for about $50 to $80. If you really like truing wheels.

Or… the $10 solution to warped wheels.

But the fastest, cheapest way to fix it is to do it yourself with just a leg strap and a spoke tool. This is something you can do even on the trails, when no other options are available.

spoke wrench and leg strap
These (and some knowledge) can fix a warped wheel anywhere.

Spoke wrenches don’t have to look like ours above. They come in many shapes and sizes, are universally inexpensive…

spoke wrench collection

…and can even be discreetly part of something else, like this D-ring.

spoke wrench in a d-ring

Yet even the best tool is no good unless you know how to use it. Your leg strap will be used on the appropriate brake grip for the problem wheel on an inverted bike, pulling your brake pads in just enough to rub at the worst point on the wheel. You now know where the problem is, and which side of a pull (left or right) needs to be fixed.

On your rim, your spokes alternate between those that attach to the left side of your axle and those that attach to the right side. We call those left and right spokes. You will straighten your wheel by loosening and tightening spokes, as long as you remember these 3 rules:

  1. Remember clockwise or counter-clockwise (anti-clockwise in the UK and Australia). To pull to one side, tighten that side’s spoke–clockwise turn, as seen from the rim/tire side. Half or quarter turns are all you need.
  2. Loosen as you tighten. Every time you tighten a spoke, loosen a nearby opposing spoke by the same amount. This keeps the rim from getting overtightened and “out of round.”
  3. Cinch the brake tighter every time you get the rim to stop rubbing on one side.

That’s a lot of words. Here it is in action, with an out-of-true wheel we caught during our Flatbike 14-point quality check for incoming CHANGE bikes. (It can’t go to a customer, so we used it as a demo opportunity.)

In a quick 15-minute effort, we got a massively out-of-true wheel to be safe on the brakes. Observant wheel-truing experts will notice that, even with this massive improvement, the wheel still is still what we call “out of round.” To fix that without a truing stand, use a piece of masking tape like this.

masking tape to catch out-of-round during wheel truing
Adjust the masking tape like you did the brake calipers, bringing it in slightly tighter every time your wheel no longer touches. We’re talking millimeters.

To fix out-of round, you’ll be tweaking both side spokes at a time, 1/4 turn or less. It takes more time and more patience than side-to-side, so put some tunes on.

But the end result is a perfectly trued wheel, and a lot more life out of your current wheel and brake pads.

See you–but won’t hear you coming–out on the roads!

Bob Forgrave's Signature

Bob Forgrave




7 thoughts on “Fix a wobbly wheel for under $10

  1. Truing wheels is hands down my least favorite bit of maintenance. But, just like any other maintenance, it is necessary to get the most out of your bike. And, if you are an absolute cheapskate like me, it is a great way to breath new life into the same wheels for as long as they hold a circle.

  2. Wow, you made it to where it easy to understand. Im a new biker and don’t know the names of a lot of the parts. But you simplified it in a way thats easy to understand. Amazing! Keep it up!

    1. Thanks for the vote of support, Danny. Simplifying biking challenges and solutions is our goal throughout the Convenient Cyclist blog.

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