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I'm just getting back into cycling after a long hiatus. My bike is a little old and worn and its got some issues. The biggest one is the rear wheel.

My rear wheel spins, but it seems to be off center. When I look at the wheel spin the distance between it and the brakes varies. Also when I squeeze the brakes the break pads don't reach the wheel. How do I tell which part of the bike is messed up? Some thoughts I had:

  • The wheel itself is bent. Possible since it was in accidents before.
  • The wheel is attached to the bike at an angle. Possible since I did self repairs before and I'm not super experiences in bike repairs.
  • The wheel isn't fully 'screwed in' (not sure what the proper term is) to the bike frame. Unlikely since it doesn't seem to wobble at all.
  • The brakes are messed up and the closer-farther effect is just an optical illusion.

Also possibly relevant: 3 spokes on the wheel are broken.

How can I tell which of these possibilities is causing my issues, or if its a different issue? And if so, how do I fix it?

  • If there are broken spokes on the wheel then that is the first issue to deal with. The wheel will wobble badly until the spokes are replaced and the wheel is "trued". Of course, there may be other problems with the wheel as well, but we can't see enough from here to tell. But no way the wheel will work (for very long) with three broken spokes. – Daniel R Hicks Apr 18 '16 at 0:43
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You should take it to your local bike shop and get the wheel dished and trued. It is probably a mix of both those issues. Depending on how bad it is you may need to replace the wheel entirely.

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You need to replace the spokes. Just one is enough to put the wheel out of true. Once the spokes are replaced you use a spoke key (a special spanner) to tension the spoke nipples to drag the rim back into round.

This is a fiddly job which takes time, but is not beyond a home workshop.

Once the wheel's rim is running straight your other problems should be resolved.

You can take the wheel to a bike shop for this too - Downside is the labour to replace a spoke is 10x the cost of a spoke itself.

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    "you need to replace the spokes"? I think that's leaping to conclusions. – Móż Apr 17 '16 at 21:35
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If the wheel wobbles slightly, you don't need to replace the spokes just look for one or two that are loose, use a spoke key to tighten the spoke/spokes that are loose. You can spin the wheel holding a piece of chalk near the rim of the wheel and move the chalk in until it rubs on the rim, this will show you where the wheel is out of line it should only be in one place. You then tighten the spokes on the opposite side and this will pull the wheel back into line. Alternatively go around the spokes and see which ones are loose and tighten them but be careful and don't over-tighten just do it gradually as you could end up making the problem worse.

If you have put the wheel in out of line this could also be the problem, loosen the nuts, and use the frame to realign, ie make sure that the gap on either side is the same using the frame as a guide, tighten up gradually, don't just tighten one side really tight, tighten one side until it nips then the other side and repeat until properly tightened.

Check that the brake mechanism isn't seized up this could also be the problem.

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    OP says there are three broken ones, so there are at least three broken spokes. They all absolutely need replacing before anyone breaks out the spoke key! Your answer implies that broken spokes don't need replacing. – Criggie Apr 18 '16 at 2:39
  • brilliant idea with the chalk! – Trevor Apr 19 '16 at 18:54

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