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3 of the spokes on my wheel are broken. How can I tell if the wheel is still good to use?

Can I just replace the spokes or do I need to buy a brand new wheel?

  • Replace any broken spoke at once. If one breaks it will be followed by more. 3 broken spokes are not take lightly. And yes you can buy spokes by the unit from your LBS. – Carel Apr 17 '16 at 18:56
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    It's probably worth getting the bike shop to replace the spokes and check over the rest of them for tension (or even true the wheel properly). This will cost you a little bit but will save you a huge amount of time and may save you in the long run if the wheel is in need of attention. – Chris H Apr 17 '16 at 19:03
  • Are the broken spokes all together or spread around the wheel? Is it a front or rear wheel? Did the spokes break at the bend (at the hub) or elsewhere ? If rear wheel, are they all drive side or a mixture ? – Criggie Apr 17 '16 at 19:58
  • @Criggie Spread around, rear wheel, broken at the center (hub I guess). Not sure if its drive side or mixture – David Grinberg Apr 17 '16 at 19:59
  • How old is the wheel, what kind of riding (MTB XC/Downhill/road etc) and did they 'just break' - all at the same time or over time, or did something happen? – mattnz Apr 17 '16 at 21:28
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The spokes support the wheel under compressive load. The rim in itself is relatively weak in compression. Of course, losing a spoke means that the remaining spokes have to carry increased load and you risk breaking more spokes or buckling the rim beyond repair.

(Note: minor buckles can be removed through "truing" the wheel, a process of adjusting spoke tension to pull the rim in both the axial and radial directions so it is round and straight again)

Recommendation:

Have a bike shop assess whether the rim has been damaged from riding on 3 less spokes. If they deem it is still usable, then they can replace your spokes (possible more than just the 3 which broke) and true the wheel if necessary.

Further reading:

There are some interesting websites that consider analysis of a spoked wheel:

Spoked wheel analysis

Bicycle wheel stiffness

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I just talked to an experienced wheel builder -- Rich, the guy who builds for Rivendell -- and he said that his rule of thumb is after three spokes have broken, it's time to respoke or rebuild the wheel.

That assumes you've replaced the spokes as they broke, and re-trued the wheel if necessary from any time riding with missing spokes.

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    And it may turn out that buying a premade wheel is cheaper than having a shop rebuild an existing wheel with new spokes. – Adam Rice Aug 29 '17 at 21:46
  • Yeah, it's generally going to be cheaper to buy a new wheel than to get your existing one respoked. And if you obtain the new wheel from a vendor like Peter White you've typically get a better job than either a factory wheel or respoking at your LBS. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 29 '17 at 23:31
  • True to all that, but some spokes for $2 each and buying a proper spoke tool is always cheaper than a new wheel. Plus you get to learn some valuable new skills. – Criggie Aug 30 '17 at 8:13

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