Tensioning a front wheel is - at least in theory - very simple: Go around and tighten each nipple by e.g. a quarter turn. Then re-adjust trueness if necessary.

I guess if I'd do the same to a typical road rear wheel (with freehub / 10 speed cassette), it would loose the 'dishing'. Is there a rule-of-thumb for this, e.g. something like "3/8 turns on the drive side, 1/4 turns on the other"?

  • I should add that the wheels are currently true and have been built with 'normal' tension. I would like to increase the tension a bit as I have a more weight than average and found that another set of wheels that was build with a higher tension works much better for me.
    – Jens
    Aug 12 '12 at 15:44
  • Some sources... From jimlangley.net/wrench/wheelbuildfull.html: "For the rear wheel, which has less tension on the left, turn the right-side spokes a half turn and the left ones a quarter turn. This helps center the rim."
    – Jens
    Aug 14 '12 at 13:42
  • From crazyrides.com/apps/mastermechanic/part3_en.asp: "further work on the spokes, if done equally to both sides, will put the wheel out of dish. [...] add tension to only one side of the wheel at a time, trying to maintain a little overdish. This means more turns on the freewheel side than the left side. As tension builds, it becomes almost impossible to pull the rim to the right by increasing tension on the already tight, vertical freewheel-side spokes [...]. Finish tensioning, truing, and dishing mainly with left-side spokes."
    – Jens
    Aug 14 '12 at 13:48
  • Not directly comparable, but a similar approach from eastoncycling.com/en-us/road/faqs/wheel-faqs: "the drive side spokes are brought to the highest tension possible with a spoke wrench. Then, the builder will use the non-drive side spokes to bring the wheel into dish and true. [...] This affects maintenance in two significant ways. While truing the rear wheel, the drive-side nipples should not be used. [...] In addition, the uniformity of the drive-side spoke tension is essential to the wheel’s long term stability."
    – Jens
    Aug 14 '12 at 13:59

If you are just tightening it up, you should not have a problem keeping the same rules as the front. When you are assembling the when is when the hard part comes, as far as keeping the hub aligned properly.

I wouldn't suggest doing a 1/4 turn all the way around on either wheel. The spokes all come lose at different rates and for different reasons. My suggestion is to go through and get all the spokes evenly snug, barely past loose. If there are snug ones don't turn it at all, if they are loose, turn it 3 or 4 full times if it needs it, just get them all roughly even, but no need to loosen any if they feel too tight, that is for later.

Once you have them all barely snug, go through another time and tighten them up to proper spec tension. In the bike shop we had a torque wrench for the nipples, but if you don't have one, just tighten it up to what feels right. They don't need to be nearly as tight as your axle nuts, they will strip pretty easy if you over tighten them.

If you want to true them, it is best to use a stand, but you can tape a stick to the forks, or just use the breaks as a rough guide. Tighten the 4 spokes opposite the wobble. Just don't go over board, you could "egg" your wheel.


I'd still do an even small turn of the wrench, one side at a time, then re-evaluate. What side, if any, will require a bigger twist to keep things in dish may depend on a variety of factors. It will probably balance out fairly evenly. Non drive side has more leverage, drive side has more tension.

BTW, are you using a tensiometer? There is more to properly retensioning a wheel than just giving all the spokes a little twist. If you want your wheels to last, you need to have even tension, not just tension...

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