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When out riding at the weekend, for the very first time, I managed to break a spoke on my wheel.

Because I've not done it before, and I want to get back out on the bike soon, this time around I am minded just to hand the job over to my LBS. However, I do like to do my own maintenance where I can, so was thinking about what tools I would need to be able to do the job myself in future.

I'm thinking I would need a spoke wrench, a truing stand and a spoke tension meter. But would I need anything else? Or are any of these items unnecessary?

As a follow on question, this was a spoke on the drive side of a rear wheel that was bought just 9 months ago as part of a new (and expensive) wheelset, and has done something like 1500km so far. The roads I was riding on were far from perfect, but I don't particularly remember hitting any potholes. Was I just unlucky or should I be concerned?

Update

I've now replaced the spoke myself with no hassle whatsoever. Thanks to all three respondents, every answer was good - a spoke wrench was the only tool required. I estimated the correct tension by plucking the spokes and made sure the wheel was approximately true just using the frame.

The only other thing to note was that, having decided to replace the spoke like-for-like, the particular spoke was very difficult to get hold of singly. In the end I ordered from an online shop in the US (I'm in the UK). I did approach my LBS but the best they could do was to order a box of 72 spokes for me which pushed the cost right up. I had a chat with the mechanic there who said that this was quite a common problem...

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Hmm, makes me think I should find a source of spokes for my new wheels before I need them. Out of interest, what wheels do you have? –  James Bradbury Jun 21 '13 at 11:33
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@JamesBradbury Fast Forwards, DT Swiss hubs and spokes (the particular spoke I needed was an aerolite). Beautiful wheels, but if I ever buy another wheelset I'll be asking this kind of question before I part with my cash. You live and learn... –  PeteH Jun 21 '13 at 11:37
    
Well I've heard of them at least, so not that weird. Good plan. –  James Bradbury Jun 21 '13 at 12:01
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@JamesBradbury - I mention this because I was unaware, so apologies if you already know (maybe useful to someone else in future): if you do order spares be aware that the drive-side spoke length is different to the non-drive-side spoke length. As Daniel says below (I've since read this elsewhere) rear drive-sides are the most likely to go so you may wish to order accordingly. Also as noted in another comment, I managed to damage a couple of spokes when the chain went into them (albeit a while ago), not visible until I'd taken the cassette off. So I think at least an element of "user error"! –  PeteH Jun 21 '13 at 21:20
    
Thanks, I didn't know that. –  James Bradbury Jun 25 '13 at 8:10

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

If its just one spoke, and you are after functional, not perfection, all you would need it a spoke wrench. If its the right hand side of the rear wheel, you will need to remove the cluster so need tools for that. Tourers often/usually carry spare spokes and can replace them on the side of the road if needed, so you don't need all the gear the LBS has (although it sure makes things easier).....

The actual task for replacement is straight forward (in theory) - replace the spoke, re-install the wheel on the bike and put the bike in a work stand or something so the wheel can spin (upside down is a last resort), use a zip tie on a frame member as a guide and tighten/loose spokes to true the rim. In practice, being your first, it will take all day as every "tweak" you make will appear to do strange things elsewhere. The trick is slow-slowly. Take you time, no more than 1/4 turn then re-check. You might need to tweak the spokes up to a few each side of the broken one - more than that and either the wheel was not true to begin with or something else is happening..

I would look for reasons why the spoke failed, and consider a visit to the LBS if truing the wheel gives you a heap of trouble.

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when you say "look for reasons why the spoke failed", are you saying that what I see when I examine the broken spoke might give some indication as to what made it fail? Can you perhaps elaborate? –  PeteH Jun 17 '13 at 22:09
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Mainly look at the spokes around it - things like a chain wedging between the large cog and spokes can damage them, think about the history of the wheel - was it hit by a car in past etc......Its possible, even likely, more then one spoke is damaged. –  mattnz Jun 18 '13 at 4:05
    
You may have something there - the chain came off the top and into the spokes very early on. (I'd bought a new cassette for the new wheel and the "old" derailleur needed its limit tweaking.) I'll check the other spokes on that side. Thanks –  PeteH Jun 18 '13 at 6:58
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I just changed the spoke myself and as soon as I got the cassette off saw tell-tale scratches on a couple of the other spokes. At least now I know to be on the lookout and have a bunch of spares ready should anything else happen. Thanks for the tip Matt –  PeteH Jun 20 '13 at 18:53

A spoke wrench is required, the stand and tension meter are optional but can make your job easier. You can use the frame of your bike and the brakes if you have rim brakes as your truing stand. If you have disc brakes you can use wire/zip ties wrapped around your frame tubes and poking toward the rim then trimmed to measure true (assuming the wheel is aligned in the frame.)

If you are replacing a spoke on a rear wheel you will likely need a lock ring remover and chain whip to remove the rear cassette.

Note that each time you break a spoke, the others become a little more fatigued, and a little more likely to break. Over time you may find yourself breaking spokes with more frequency. My rule of thumb is that if I've broken 5 spokes on a wheel I get it rebuilt, or at the very least professionally trued and tensioned.

Like most things the late Sheldon Brown is a great resource as is http://www.parktool.com/blog/repair-help/wheel-and-rim-truing.

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how far, ball park, have you ridden on a wheel before you've broken five of its spokes? Just to give me an idea. –  PeteH Jun 17 '13 at 22:24
    
Just to be clear - I'm not saying all 5 are broken at the same time... I'm a big guy and I mostly ride with a bike loaded with panniers and probably break spokes more frequently than some others. I usually figure that if I've broken the first I need to start budgeting for the rebuild over the next couple of months. –  Gary.Ray Jun 18 '13 at 12:35
    
ha, sorry Gary, my comment was unclear. I understand you, I was just trying to get a handle on roughly how frequently the average rear wheel will go through spokes / will need rebuilding. –  PeteH Jun 18 '13 at 15:05

If the broken spoke is not behind the rear cassette, replacement requires only a spoke wrench.

However, 3/4ths of broken spokes occur on the rear wheel and on the drive side, so you need the appropriate tools for removing your cassette.

Truing a wheel after replacing a single spoke is usually relatively easy, and does not demand fancy tools. (Though of course if you're looking for an excuse to buy a tension meter and truing stand, have at it.)

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+1 for the 3/4, gives me a sense of perspective. Not looking for an excuse, per se, but I do like to be self-sufficient when it comes to my bikes. I'm happy to spend time working on them and to learn about them along the way - I figure I've got maybe 30 years riding left in me, that's long enough for me to spin tool purchases as an investment! So I may or may not.....I'm sorted re cassette removal, this is something I've done a few times before. –  PeteH Jun 18 '13 at 7:01
    
@PeteH - Yeah, the problem is that the rear, drive-side spokes (on rim brake bikes) are subjected to the most stress, and hence tend to be the first to fail. –  Daniel R Hicks Jun 18 '13 at 10:47
    
Just as well I ordered a bunch then. But can you believe I had to order them from the US? I've just discovered the perils of "designer" wheels - sourcing the exotic spare parts look to be a nightmare. I've assumed my best bet is to replace like for like, and for these particular spokes, the best my LBS will do is to order a box of 72 for me - at a cost of about USD150! But as my mate pointed out, at least then I'd have 71 spare spokes. From a site in the US I was at least able to order them singly, and to get spares for the other lengths in the wheelset. –  PeteH Jun 18 '13 at 15:11
    
Yeah, it can be hard to find specific spokes. I had to clean out 3 bike shops to find enough heavy-gauge spokes for a mountain bike wheel I was rebuilding for Christmas Anonymous. –  Daniel R Hicks Jun 18 '13 at 17:13

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