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I am new to riding. I rode as a kid but stopped for many years. My Physio recommended riding after a leg injury while running, so I went down to the local bike shop and brought a new bike. I am now 100kg (220lb) so I need the fitness. Bike is a lower-mid level hybrid bike costing AUD$550 (Malvern Star Sprint 1).

When taking it out of the garage for a ride after doing about 150km (90mi) on it I noticed the rear wheel hitting the brakes as I wheeled it and then the broken spoke. So I took it back to the store. They told me that it was 100% my fault and it wouldn't be covered by manufacturer warranty, and I must have hit a pothole or something. They told me that they will still fix it for free as a goodwill gesture and some tips about not riding off the tops of gutters (I didn't), avoiding potholes (I try), and taking off in too high a gear (strange to me but ok). The only thing I can think of that I could have done was a flat gutter that had a bit more bump than I was expecting but nothing I believe that could have caused that.

A few rides later, about 300km (190mi) on the clock, it happened again, broken spoke and a bent rim as I was wheeling it out (both times I didn't notice wheeling in, but I didn't really check). I have been trying to follow the advice but some potholes I didn't see, but again nothing that I think was hard enough to do damage.

I know if I go down to the store again, they are going to charge me for the repair as they say it was my fault again. If they do, it probably means the end of riding for me as I can't see how I can avoid damaging it. So is it my fault, am I riding wrong or something wrong with the wheel? What should I tell the store?

Edit: Thank you all for your great suggestions, this is a very welcoming community. I took it to another independent bike store that I found with good reviews to do a wheel rebuild. Talking to them they said bikes at that price point had good frames but skimp on the wheels to get the cost savings. He recommended that I get a completely new wheel as the rim and hub weren't that good either. I don't know if he was trying to upsell me but he seemed to know what he was talking about. Total cost AU$200 with installation.

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    Do you lift your back-side off the saddle when passing over kerbs/curbs or other lumps? IE, do you "unweight" the saddle ? – Criggie Feb 11 at 10:20
  • Its very hard to answer this, but how's the spoke tension on the rear wheel? Are they single-finger floppy, or can you play a tune on them like a harp ? – Criggie Feb 11 at 10:21
  • Where are the spokes breaking? At the elbow / j-bend in the middle of the wheel, or at the nipple out near the rim ? – Criggie Feb 11 at 10:22
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    @Criggie 1. I don't unweight the saddle (new to riding) my strategy is just go slow if I see the pothole and not ride off curbs at all. 2. The remaining spokes is more of a harp level, some movement but not lose. 3. Breaking right near the j-bend, didn't even notice at first. 4. That's the correct bike (but in green :). I'm a tourer not a racer but wanted something alright so seemed appropriate. I can try another shop. The other shops are big chains though, don't know how much time they would have for me. – beetle120 Feb 11 at 10:54
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    A bike wheel should last much longer than that. The odd curb or pot hole is part of cycling, especially for a novice, if its not strong enough to handle the riding your describe, they should not have sold you the bike. I live in NZ and believe Australia has quite strong consumer protection laws similar to ours. If this is the case you have a claim against the bike shop that the bike was not fit for purpose and they must repair or refund your money. Its up to you how far you are prepared to go to fight them on it. – mattnz Feb 11 at 22:26
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Not enough points to comment, so here is an answer instead, based mostly on my own experience.

I've been using a bike as my main, if not sole, mean of transportation for the last 20 years or so. During that time, my weight changed a lot (from 80 to 130kgs (176 - 286 lbs)).
When I was 80, I nearly never broke a spoke (maybe once per 10 000km), and only after a big impact.

I began to break spoke significantly more often when I reached 95kgs. But it was very dependent on the bike. On some it never happened, on some other it happend more frequently (once per 3-4000km). On one (very cheap) bike, I even broke 5 spoke in 10 km without any kind of impact on the wheel.

At 130kg today, with a 400€ bike (Trekk 7.1), I broke spoke even more frequently, like once per 1000-1500km. Always on the rear wheel. I changed all the spokes on my rear wheel to more thick ones (I can't recall previous and current diameter though), and since then and 8000km, I didn't break a spoke once.

I spoke about it to 2 repairmen in a bike shop, both said it was just that my weight was too heavy for the bike.

So, to answer tour question, I think it's both you and the wheel. You just have a wheel with too weak spokes for your weight. It can be because of the base quality of the spokes, or because of a bad set up of the spokes tension though.

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  • At just over half your weight I agree with you: The weight of the rider vs the strength of the wheel. The bike will have an official maximum rider weight, as long as OP is below that it's the product's fault. I've only ever had a bike that broke a spoke, and it broke them every few dozen km: A folding bike (rated for 95kg) promoted early 2000s by the Dutch car assistance/ touring club. Which sent me a few new wheels and paid for a few repairs under warranty. And the cycle shop agreed it was pure concentrated rubbish. – user3445853 Feb 13 at 17:26
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I suggest you get the wheel rebuilt properly, once and for all (probably by a different bike shop).

A well-built wheel should be able to handle even riding off kerbs or small unavoidable potholes without breaking spokes. You should unweight the saddle and take the weight on your feet, but even if you don't it should survive an occasional hit. A hybrid like that should be able to ride unsurfaced fire roads all day, for example. I'm a little lighter than you these days, but was heavier when I bought my hybrid, and I've never broken a spoke on that bike, though I broke the back rim at a spoke hole (shortly after riding it on dirt trails, bumping over tree roots, with an extra 20kg of child+seat directly over the back wheel).

I suspect your wheel was never very well built. You have to pay quite a lot to get a hand-built wheel, or even a hand-finished wheel. It is recoverable though. Getting a proper bike shop to rebuild the wheel using new spokes but the same hub and rim would almost certainly sort it out. I'm the other side of the world from you, but converting from our pricing, parts and labour would be around AU$80-100 for a real fix. Paying the bike shop to replace broken spokes one at a time would soon cost more than that and the wheel would never be as good as if it had been fully rebuilt, as the new spokes would be stressed. An e-bike I used to care for had a habit of breaking spokes, then we got it rebuilt by a pro and it never broke another.

Not all bike-shop technicians build wheels, but most independent bike shops will take the job on for a fair price.

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    AU$80-100, so cheap? I would expect to pay at least twice that much. – gerrit Feb 11 at 20:47
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    @gerrrit, I paid £40 (=AU$77) for labour a few years ago, sourcing the unusual spokes myself from the bike manufacturer. More recently I had a wheel built and the built only cost £36 more than the rim+hub from the same bike shop, to cover spokes and labour. That's the wheel I crashed on and wrecked. Now I build my own – Chris H Feb 11 at 21:50
  • ...note that I'm assuming the rim and hub are OK for reuse – Chris H Feb 11 at 21:50
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    @gerrit : In France, I paid 100 € (~160 AU$) to have all my rear wheel spokes changed. Spokes price included. – Tahn Feb 12 at 9:42
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First congratulations and encouragement for getting out there on the bike. Don't get discouraged, the problem is fixable.

I totally agree with other answers saying get the wheel rebuilt with new spokes. I'd go with heaver gauge spokes as well. Although this will cost some money it's likely the most cost-effective option in the long run. I'd make some effort to find a bike store with a well regarded repair shop in your area so you have some confidence in the new wheel build.

Some other things:

See if you can fit slightly larger tires in your frame and fork to help cushion bumps. I think the Malvern comes with 32mm tires, see if you could go to 35mm. The distance between the chain stays behind the crank is usually the narrowest spot.

Learn to stand up slightly on the pedals with bent knees if you are going to hit a bump or hole. You only need to do this momentarily as you roll over the obstacle.

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    A decent double-butted spoke like Sapim Race isn't expensive, and bound to be better than something really cheap and overstressed , though it may even be lighter gauge in the middle (but heavier where it's needed) – Chris H Feb 11 at 21:57
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I see that Malvern don't highlight rider height and weight on their website info (https://www.bicyclesuperstore.com.au/malvern-star-sprint-1-2019.html) for this bike, but they do highlight that it's a lightweight alloy framed bike. I'd suspect that at 100kg you may be at or above the intended weight for the bike (I know my road bike has a 95kg rider weight limit on a steel frame and I've broken spokes when over 100kg).

Close to the limit of the bike's weight riding style will affect whether you damage it or not... riding 'light' - using your ankles / knees / arms to soften your impact on bumps - or riding 'heavy' by just sitting on the saddle can alter how well the bike carries a rider around its limit.

The geometry of the bike (Malvern describe the riding position as upright) means more of the impact is carried by the back wheel than if you were less upright. And because of the odd dishing of the back wheel (to make room for the rear block) the spokes are quite heavily stressed already.

It would be worth talking to the bike shop about the weight limit - if they sold you a bike that has a rider weight limit of 90kg then maybe it was mis-sold. If it was mis-sold, perhaps they would fix it for free or maybe they'd replace it with one more suited to you. I've been down this route you are starting on... I used a heavy (steel framed) mountain bike initially until I'd lost enough weight to ride the lighter faster bike. The mountain bike feels agricultural but it survives all I've thrown at it over really bad roads.

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100 kg is quite a lot and some wheels can stand more and some less and it is not a manufacturing defect to stand less, it is just a feature. So it may be the wheel, but not something you can claim warranty for, that is usually reserved for manufacturing defects. It is really hard to say more from a simple description. Two occurrences can still be a coincidence, but it is less likely.

For heavier riders I would recommend using wheels with higher number of spokes and not modern road wheels with a smaller number of aerodynamic spokes. With cyclocross wheels I can do jumps, hit curbs and so on, and even though I am less than 70 kg the momentum can be high with some speed. I basically do not care about speed bumps, I can hit most of them in full speed or jump over them if the shape is less convenient.

It is highly recommended to learn how to change them yourself, if it is not on the cassette side of the rear wheel, it is easy for the simple round spokes and you just have to true the wheel to some usable shape. On the rear wheel on the drivetrain side you need to remove your cassette or freewheel but the tool can still be massively cheaper than what they charge for spoke exchange in bike shops in Western Europe and likely also in USA.

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One thing to keep in mind is that with regard to broken spokes, misery loves company. If one spoke breaks, the others get a lot more stress. Once two break, you get into serial breakage county. Typically one notices a broken spoke only once it flips out. And it's almost impossible to notice a fractured one unless you are stress testing.

Another thing to note is that particularly given your weight, the rim will deform easily after spoke breakage. That means that the replacement spoke will have to pulled tighter at first to compensate, again making for easy followup problems. In general it is recommended that newly spoked wheels are checked after the first 50km or 100km or so in order to see whether they settled well after the rim stabilised.

And of course, unless you have very effective spring dampers, make it a habit not to take on any unlevelness (like pot holes etc) without standing with crooked legs ready to give way. Having to teleport all of 100kg in milliseconds is not good for the wheel. If it's instead mostly the weight of the bike and your calves, that's a lot less brunt to take.

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My background: While not riding anymore, during college I did everything with my bike. I spoked several wheels (more expensive ones) on my own and never had a spoke snap except on cheap wheels that I hadn't spoked myself.

Never had your weight but I was abusing my bikes (downhill, potholes with 20+ kg of luggage). So I would almost bet the stress I put on my wheels surpasses your 100kg on normal or slightly more demanding roads.

I think a properly spoked wheel should hold you well.

If you buy a bike for 500, the manufacturer will try to save on everything that you will not ask for in the store. Who asks for the spokes when buying a bike?

My 5 cents:

  • Have your wheels rebuilt.
  • Change your spokesman!
  • Get all new good spokes and nipples (if a spoke snaps, the neighboring spokes might very well have invisible damage and be more likely to snap on lighter stress).
  • IMHO, you don't need to go for the thickest spokes, but don't get racing spokes, either.
  • Keep in mind while a single spoke is rather thin, 64 of them add quite a bit of drag, and in fact they are responsible for a good chunk of overall drag.
  • The spokes need to be tight. It shouldn't be too easy to squeeze them together.
  • The spokes need to be evenly tight.
  • Evenly tight spokes distribute the load onto many spokes and they won't snap.

Don't expect this being cheap. But you will benefit from a much smoother ride and more precise braking.

You can do it on your own, too. It's not rocket science. Find some good tutorials and expect the first wheel not being your best one.

It's quite tedious at the beginning, my first wheel easily took a day (I didn't have a spoking stand and was doing it in the frame with chalk to mark the deviations).

But it also has its own zen. I enjoyed doing it.

Good luck.

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It could be your riding style, but I would suspect that it's mostly the wheels.

The first two things that come to mind here are single vs double walled rims, and tire inflation.

Addressing the latter first, if you ride hard on tires that are under-inflated, especially as rider weight increases, you will have less cushioning between your rims and the road. This makes lots of opportunity to impacts the rims at speed and cause wheel failure.
Riding style can come into play here, and the more of a 'feel' for your particular bicycle that you gain the better you can control this problem. Little details like how fast you hit a curb or pothole at, or how heavily you're leaning on the handle bars vs holding yourself upright may make some difference in this.

Rims though. Those should be well built to start with. My experience in cycling has been that bicycles tend to come with wheels constructed using single-walled rims - nice light and cheap to manufacture and ship, but terrible for long term riding.
Spoke counts and riding styles can play into wheel failure quite a bit, but not nearly as much as the quality of the rims.

Any time I buy wheels for my cycle these days, I specify at the bike shop that they should be double-walled rims.

While riding on single-walled rims I have experienced wheel failure simply going down a curb or over a pothole - and I'm by no means a very heavy rider at 60KG and in these events there was no additional load on my bike.

Since replacing my wheels with units using double-walled rims I have had one single wheel failure in a decade of riding - and that was after many hundreds of kilometers and making great abuse of the wheel in riding hard up and down curbs, as well as hauling two to three times by body weight on the pannier racks.

If you want some greater detail on bicycle rims, this article on cyclingabout provides some nice diagrams and explanation on choices you may find on the market, specifically it offers a good visual illustration to tell single walled from double walled rims, though it's far from the only resource discussing such a topic.

Happy riding :)

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I rode bicycles for years hitting a lot of times hard potholes edges, tram tracks protruding from poorly resurfaced roads and so on. I often ended up with at least one the rims full of dents, but that never caused the spokes to snap. It happened only after I was lightly hit by a car from behind and I started riding with the rear wheel slightly bent.

I think you need to check regularly your wheels, they might bend a little bit with time, that's an easy check to do, touch some of the spokes and feel how much they are pulled. They should feel more or less the same, but if some of them feel stretched like violin chords while others feel loose they might need to be checked.

If they need to be fixed take care, it's not easy to tighten them properly because every single turn of the screw might affect the rim shape. You might need help from an expert.

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