How to Center a Wheel: Tensioned Spokes

Basic mechanics of cyclist survival

Sometimes there is no other choice. As much as we want to ignore it, the bike spoke wheel moves clearly from one side to another when rolling and something must be done. It can be with time, or by some strong wiggle, but if the wheel (especially the rear one) moves from one side to another and comes to touch the brake shoes, it is not worth separating the shoes more, which then does not brake. You have to solve it .

As always, two options. One, (do it yourself) is almost at zero cost, quite entertaining and very fast. The other option (a professional workshop) is more expensive and slower but guarantees good results. It is about seeing if I can convince you to try the first option with certain possibilities of success. Total, you know that if you have to pull bike spoke mechanic, you will charge the same and have spent a while entertaining. I do not know if it’s nice, but it’s entertaining.

If the wheel has started to oscillate suddenly you have to check if a radio has been broken. Pass the hand touching all the spokes on both sides of the wheel, which often is not visible to the naked eye. If there is a broken radio, replacing it will fix the oscillation. If you do not fix it, another will be broken in a short time and it will oscillate more and so on. Come on, a little disaster. Normally radios do not usually break. In many years of mountain biking, I think I have only broken one in a hard landing, but in my beautiful (and very cheap) Eliops 4 of the Deca I have already broken more than two thirds of the radios. The first, I did not know until I broke another and the wheel was slowing down. Now I am able to hear the click of a radio when it breaks and I always bring some spare, but I am afraid that, although I have lowered the tension and I have balanced all, they will continue to break while there is one of the originals.

I was recently asked by a friend what it took to center a wheel . Besides a certain idea (that’s what this article is about), you need a spoke key (better one), a marker, sometimes a light oil (3 in 1 or WD-40), a screwdriver and, fundamentally, a stool, a stereo and a beer. It’s about that you can take a quiet step and do not get overwhelmed. As you can imagine, surely it is not the most professional or the most perfect way to center wheels, but I usually work quite well and you know that constructive comments are well received.

First, a certain idea of how they work and what the radios are for. It is clear that to give shape and rigidity to the wheel could have been put metal plates or bars or something else. But almost any solution would be more sensitive to the wind and much heavier than steel rods in tension, which are the spokes. The spokes are attached to the bushing (the axle), with the head (like that of a nail) and its tension is adjusted with a thread at its end, on the side of the rim. There is a special, very long nut that is called ringleader, which holds from the outside of the tire, where the camera is, with a widening that it has. On this outer side of the rim, the rims also have a notch like a flat screw, so they can be moved with a screwdriver. On the side of the spokes, the ringleaders have a cylindrical shape with flat grooves forming a square that allow you to rotate them with the proper key without removing the cover and camera.

The idea is that the spokes only hold tension , as if they were strings. That means that when you pull the spokes to one side and the other side of the hub, and as the rim holds the pressure and does not collapse, some spokes are balanced with others and a very light and resistant structure remains. It’s something like the structures they call tensegrity . The radios, with the use, the blows and the time, never tense on their own , they always tend to go loose. Except that, for a bad assembly they were too tense from the beginning, the only thing that will have to be done to adjust them will be to tighten them little by little.

In addition to supporting lateral efforts and the weight of the bike spoke and load, the spokes have to withstand great turning efforts of the wheel. The tensile force applied from the chain to the shaft is transmitted through the spokes. Just as all the effort of disc brakes is transmitted to the wheels through the spokes. Therefore, especially in the rear wheels, the spokes do not go just radially but with a certain transversal angle and each radius is crossed with several more, typically with three others.


There are three types of mismatch:
The jump . It is when somewhere in your turn the rim is closer or further from the bike spoke axis, producing a small jump when turning. If it was produced by a blow, it has no easy fix, let alone playing with spoke tension. Fortunately, it is rare. So I do not give more details.

Wheel mismatched. This is a story that, I do not know why, you see a lot on the internet, but I’ve almost never seen it in reality, so it happened too.

Decentered . The typical wheel that goes from one side to another when turning. Sometimes, it seems that it is okay and suddenly it goes quickly to one side and the other. It is the most normal and I will tell you how to solve it.

Be aware that there are times when the cover is not very well aligned and confused. It may seem that the wheel oscillates and is the cover. What you have to watch and align is the tire. The reference will be the friction band of the brake shoes or equivalent.

If the wheel is not very deviated and the spokes and ringlets look good, it is likely that you can turn directly with the spoke key the heads that you have to tighten. As the radios and their heads are more oxidized or blocked or the correction has to be greater, you may be interested in removing the cover, the camera and the protection tape and even take a drop of oil for each radio thread.

First you have to place and place the wheel. There are supports to radiate, but nobody who is not professional usually has one and nobody who has one will need to read this. In addition, the bike itself already has some great supports for the wheels.

The idea is simple, where the tire goes to one side, you have to tighten a little the radius that pulls towards the other.