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How to Change a Spoke and True a Wheel

By Filippo Mari

You are enjoying an amazing day on your bike. You tackle one uphill after another, followed by an even sweeter downhill. Your shifter works great, the chain is lubed and works smoothly, tyre pressure is just perfect. And then suddenly you hear that “pop” sound and you know that a spoke is gone and you have a problem.

A spoke can break for many reasons. Maybe the bike has some decent mileage, but the main cause is that you’ve hit some pothole or descent on that gravel road too fast with your bike fully loaded with bikepacking bags.

Provided that you have a spare spoke and a spoke key with you, in this article I would like to show you how to repair your wheel roadside so you can keep enjoying your ride.

Important note: if the broken spoke is on the rear wheel, cassette side, you just want to get rid of the spoke and continue riding, as this is more complicated to change. In fact, you will need to remove the cassette first in order to install the new spoke.

Spoke keys
Spare spoke and two kinds of spoke key
A broken spoke
Broken spoke

First of all, you need to remove the tyre, take off the rim tape and remove the broken spoke.

Broken spoke
Remove the broken spoke

Now you need to install a new nipple and spoke. A very good tip is to use another spoke to hold the nipple in place so it will not keep falling while you are trying to put it through the hole in the rim. Bike shops have a special tool for that, but you will not likely have it while out riding. Once the new spoke is in place, lightly tighten the spoke with the spoke key. 

Tightening a spoke
Use another spoke to hold the nipple in place
Lightly tighten the spoke with the spoke key

Now place the wheel back in the fork. Most likely it will not be centred. Because you are out riding and you don’t have a truing stand, I will teach you a nice trick for truing the wheel using zip ties. Place a zip tie on the fork if you need to true the front wheel, or on the frame if you are truing the rear wheel. Cut the zip tie close to the rim. Do the same on the other side.

Now you are ready to true your wheel. Here comes the hardest part because it is all about balancing forces and finding the perfect equilibrium in the spokes’ ecosystem.

Make the wheel spin and see where it touches a zip tie. Let’s say the left side is touching. In that case, you need to work on the spokes connected to the opposite side of the hub, the right one. Increase tension using the spoke key until the wheel is straight.

Once you are satisfied with your work, all you need to do is to put the rim tape back on (you can use a screwdriver, an old spoke, or an Allen key to place it), put the tyre back on, pump it and spin the wheel to check if the tyre sits well on the rim. You are now ready to start riding again and enjoy your day!