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I was in a bicycle crash recently, and noticed afterwards that the wheel was out of true (it hits the brakes once every revolution). The damage doesn't seem extreme to me though: it's not visible just by looking at the tire. I have little experience with bike maintanance or repair, and have read that truing is hard. However, I don't think I can afford professional maintanance/repair right now.

So, should I attempt truing the tire myself (with the help of online resources), or am I likely to just destroy the whole thing?

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    Everyone is an amateur at some point. If you're worried you can practice on some cheap used wheels. – Rider_X May 28 '16 at 1:39
  • Thanks. Any advice on where I could get cheap used wheels? I just have this one bike and live alone. – Heihej May 28 '16 at 1:48
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    A little tweak like you seem to need is less daunting than fully truing the wheel, and there's less to go wrong. This is a good time to try it. – Chris H May 28 '16 at 6:28
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    Give it a go. The worst that can happen is a spoke breaks, which it could have done if a shop was doing it anyway. Make the wheel a little better could be all you need - it doesn't have to be perfect, just less-bad. – Criggie May 28 '16 at 6:37
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    If it is an expensive wheel I would not do it as a beginner but otherwise yes. – Carel May 28 '16 at 7:39
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If your question is, "Can an amateur successfully true a wheel on their first try?", the answer is "Yes".

A quick search on the internet reveals plenty of videos explaining the process.

Some things to consider:

  • Make sure you fully understand the process before you start
  • Don't use excessive force and take your time
  • Use a spoke wrench
  • Make small adjustments (1/8th of a turn)
  • You probably shouldn't attempt DIY repairs unless you can afford to replace anything you break, it's always possible you mess it up on your first try
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    Yes, it's important to have a GOOD spoke wrench, not just a stamped metal thing. And make sure the wrench is properly seated on the nipple. You don't want to round over the nipples. And it takes awhile to "get your head around" the process -- it's easy to turn the wrong nipple the wrong way if you don't think it through. – Daniel R Hicks May 28 '16 at 2:03
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    (And make sure the wrench is the correct size -- there are about 4 popular sizes.) – Daniel R Hicks May 28 '16 at 2:53
  • And nipples can vary in size on the one wheel too. I'm forever flipping the spoke tool from 1 to 2 and back again. – Criggie May 28 '16 at 6:36
  • @Criggie - If nipples vary on a single wheel it's because some nipples have been replaced or (very rarely) because different nipples have been used on the two sides. Normally there is a slight difference in spoke length between the left and right sides of a rear wheel (or, possibly, between left and right sides of a front disk brake wheel), but nipples should be identical from the factory. – Daniel R Hicks May 28 '16 at 11:36
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    Do note, however, that typically front and rear spokes have different lengths, and taking a front nipple and placing it on the rear may not work. (Be wary of a longer nipple -- it can very easily puncture the tube if the long end is not ground down.) – Daniel R Hicks May 28 '16 at 11:38
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Yes you could try truing yourself, but also yes you could "destroy the whole thing"! Well, not destroy it, but end up with a wheel more out of true and maybe some damaged spokes. Out of any repair on a bike this one is one you need to get your head round first and take your time on. Don't let that put you off, just take it slowly and carefully and it should be fine.

Here are some things from my experience:

If you have an old wheel you can practice on, that's a good idea to get a feel for the process.

You don't need a truing stand but it makes things way quicker and easier. If you belong to a club or can get to a cycling community meetup, chances are you can borrow a stand or even find someone to get you started. If you can't get a stand you can use your frame and / or brakes as a guide. (The wheel will need to be off the floor so you can spin it).

Make sure you lubricate the nipple thread before trying to turn it. Some people may disagree but I always start by spraying some lube down into the thread. Take care not to lube the tyre or brakes...

If you have bladed spokes keep in mind you'll need to keep the blade in line as you adjust.

If you do round the nipple, you can replace the spoke, but this is a fair bit more work and it's better to avoid it. It's painfully easy to round the nipple, so as people have said in the comments, make absolutely sure you have the right size and decent quality wrench.

Do make small adjustments, but also remember to reduce the adjustments you make as you get closer to true. It's easy to go too far and come out the other side! Start with quarter turns, then eighths, etc.

If from all of that, online videos and tutorials, you feel like you're happy to do it, the answer is yes you should give it a go.

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    Fair points - I can't see how one might "destroy the whole thing" though. What might OP do to avoid that? Overtensioning a spoke to breaking point ? I've had a spoke so overtightened it would not undo, even pliers wouldn't cut it so had to use bolt cutters. The nipple end shot out so hard it dented my metal garage wall. But the wheel was fine. – Criggie May 28 '16 at 10:15
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    @Criggie maybe not actually destroy it, that's why I used inverted commas! But certainly end up with a wheel out of true and some rounded nipples / broken spokes which is why I was saying to take it slowly without wanting to put OP off. – vanmem May 28 '16 at 12:24
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    It is possible to overtighten spokes on a poor-quality wheel to the point that the nipple pulls through the rim. But even this is not fatal, as a small washer can often be used on the nipple to span the enlarged hole. – Daniel R Hicks May 28 '16 at 20:49
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whack rim with heavy rubber hammer Undeforming a deformed alloy rim can be done, but it takes patience and skill. After a successful treatment the rim may clear the brakes, but braking will be strange. This might be acceptable for a rear wheel, but it wouldn't be O.K. for a front wheel, assuming rim brakes.

If you have a nice hub, you can buy a rim, put the two rims together and just move the spokes over to the new rim - the lacing problem doesn't arise. Then true the wheel on the bike between the brake pads, supporting the bike on its seat and a couple of blocks, or if you can, rent time on a truing stand.

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Not a full answer, but using an answer block instead of a comment as the bits in the comments can get lost quickly and your question is generating a good number of comments.

Read Daniel R. Hicks' comments on good and correct sized spoke wrenches. This is key, you will think they all fit correctly, you want the smallest one that fits or you will strip your nipples (which is not a good thing). Don't get one of the adjustable spoke wrenches. I keep one handy for odd wheels, but they are much harder to use and they are murder to keep exactly adjusted.

As others have said, go slow. If the wheel starts looking worse instead of better, stop for a bit and think through what's not working right. Keep in mind the entire wheel is a dynamic construct, changing something in one place can affect things all over the wheel (this is why Lachlan's "make small adjustments" is so important).

If possible, go to your local bike shop and see if the bike mechanic will help you the first time...many will do so for free and others will do it for the price of the mechanics time. If your LBS will not do it at all, find a better LBS.

Once you do it a bit, it gets pretty easy.

Happy Riding.

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