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Truing a wheel and lacing spokes is a big deal, requires a truing stand and everything. I know some do it without tool just with the spoke wrench and the naked eye, but feels like a big deal to me.

When one breaks a spoke, I believe it is safe to say the wheel is out of true within a few meters.

The question therefore is: is it worth it carrying spare spokes when touring longer distances (200+ km)?

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I think building a wheel requires a stand of some sort. Truing is easily accomplished with the brake calipers, zip ties, or some sort similar reference mark. –  Ritch Melton Apr 23 '13 at 16:19
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As others have sais, spokes are light and replacing one keeps things from getting worse. However, depending on how many spokes your wheel has, it may not be necessary. I've ridden a fully loaded 200k on a broken spoke on a 36 spoke wheel. When I got home and replaced the spoke, everything was fine. Still, if I had had one at the time, I would have put it in. –  jimirings Apr 23 '13 at 16:46
    
It is definitely worthwhile to carry a few spare spokes, especially if you do any real distance riding. I've replaced spokes on the road at least twice (oops, three times) that I can remember. You especially want to carry spares if your spokes are at all "odd" in length or diameter or profile. –  Daniel R Hicks Apr 23 '13 at 22:51
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5 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Truing a wheel and lacing spokes is a big deal, but even a novice like me can replace a spoke and get it good enough to ride if a single spoke breaks. Unless you have a really low spoke count (which seems unlikely on a tour), breaking a single spoke shouldn't make the wheel unrideable and replacing the spoke can improve things and prevent them from getting worse.

Spokes are light and can be slipped down the edge of a bag or taped to a tube.

Things are made a little more complicated if the broken spoke is next to your disc or cassette. If so you may not have space to lace the new one in. In that case you'll need the tools and expertise to remove the disc or cassette too.

I've heard you can often get away without a spoke or two if you adjust the adjacent ones (loosen on opposite side to broken one, tighten on same side). This isn't a long-term solution, but may be good enough to get you home.

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Actually, you loosen the adjacent spokes, since they will be on the other side and pulling the "wrong" direction. –  Daniel R Hicks Apr 23 '13 at 22:53
    
Thanks, I've tried to clarify my answer. –  JamesBradbury Apr 24 '13 at 7:49
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It's pretty easy/light to carry around a couple extra spokes per wheel and a pretty good idea for a long tour. You'll probably need a few different lengths though for the front, rear left, and rear right sides.

Another good option is to carry an emergency fiberfix spoke that can be used with most wheels, which will help in an emergency.

http://www.amazon.com/FiberFix-Emergency-Spoke-Replacement-Kit/dp/B001GSMQZC

You may want to work on your skills with truing a wheel without a stand as well. You can use a couple zip ties on your seat stays in place of a truing stand. Just make sure you are comfortable with this process before you go on the road, and don't forget your spoke wrench. You may need a cassette tool / chain whip as well if you need to replace a spoke on that side of the rear wheel.

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You might find it useful to carry a spoke for the rear right -finding the correct length spoke would be relying a little too much on luck..... Have one set of tools in the group, as cassete tool is universal. I am also sure in even the smallest town you will find someone with bike repair tools. –  mattnz Apr 23 '13 at 22:24
    
I do not understand how that FiberFix product works and I can't seem to find any demonstrations of it. How can a string replace a rigid spoke? –  Carey Gregory Apr 23 '13 at 23:27
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@CareyGregory - I've never actually used one, but FiberFix is a thin cord of some sort of strong, non-stretch fiber that you thread through the open hole left by the broken spoke and then tie to a hook that replaces the spoke end in the nipple. It will not bear as much load as a metal spoke (and there are cases where using it is difficult or impossible), but if you can get it installed supposedly it will help hold the wheel true. –  Daniel R Hicks Apr 24 '13 at 11:18
    
@CareyGregory remember that the hub actually hangs from the rim using the spokes, so they are always operating in tension. You could build a wheel using kevlar spokes if you chose (wouldn't be super robust, but would be possible) –  Byron Ross Apr 30 '13 at 22:48
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You want definitely want to be able to replace a broken spoke or nipple while on tour, as riding a wheel missing a spoke any significant distance, especially with the bike fully loaded, can stress other spokes and lead to cascading failures. By Murphy's law, any such failure is guaranteed to happen at the maximum possible distance from a bike store.

You don't need to get the wheel perfectly trued, just in decent enough shape that it isn't interfering with your brake pads. Just tighter or loosen the new spoke until the wheel's aligned.

You can keep a few spokes and nipples jammed up your seatpost with a ball of tape or the like.

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It depends on the tour length. It seems worthless to me to take them for three hours of riding in local park/forest (as pretty much anything beside multitool, purse and hydropack), but good idea for whole day length trip trough the desert.

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I have spare spokes tied with twist ties to the inside frame of my pannier. They weigh next to nothing, and I always have them with me (since I hardly ever travel without at least one pannier). –  Daniel R Hicks Apr 24 '13 at 18:06
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When I was a student, I used to re-lace and true wheels using the bike upside-down as the truing stand.

When touring, I carry a few spare spokes, and true by eye. It's better than riding a loaded bike on a twisted wheel.

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