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Short version of question:

If a rim becomes bent due to a loose or broken spoke, is there a general rule for determining when the rim is beyond repair?

Long version:

I bought a roughly $500 (US) aluminum rim brake wheelset online from Hunt and rode the wheels for 2,000 miles with no trouble. I got home from a ride one day and noticed one of the spokes on my rear wheel had become very loose and the rim was very bent. I took the wheel to three bike shops with the following results:

  • Shop 1: The mechanic told me the rim was bent beyond repair and immediately started selling me on a new hand-built wheel from the shop. This felt wrong to me - I had paid good money for these wheels and this seemed like a sell job - but also because I've fully broken spokes on wheels in the past and was able to have the spoke replaced and the rim trued up again. So I took wheel to...
  • Shop 2: I brought only the wheel to this shop, but the mechanic said it was fixable. When I got it back it was so out-of-dish it wouldn't fit in my frame and all the bladed spokes were twisted. I learned my lesson so I took my whole bike to...
  • Shop 3: They got the wheel mostly in true, although it's visibly a little off from round (I'm guessing they didn't take tire off), the bladed spokes are still twisted, and measurement showed that it's also a little out-of-dish

In the meantime I became frustrated and bought a truing stand on sale. At this point I could have just bought a new wheel, but I figured that since I plan to keep riding I might as well have this tool for the future and if I can fix this wheel then that will just be a nice bonus. Which leads me to...

My Qquestion: If I watch enough YouTube videos and move very slowly/carefully, can I fix this wheel myself? Is there any risk the rim is damaged beyond repair and I should abandon this wheel? If so, how can I tell and is there a general rule for determining this is the case?

Also, I contacted Hunt with similar questions and they were very nice/helpful, but there's only so much they can do from the UK (I'm in the US) without me shipping my wheel to them (too expensive).

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    Exactly how bent is “very bent”? Make sure to inspect for cracks, which could be the cause of your loose spokes. I just killed a rim myself thanks to a big crack. – MaplePanda Dec 18 '20 at 7:34
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    What's the spoke count? More spokes means more room for manoeuvre even when the difference is between 32 and 36. A low spoke count won't be very forgiving at all - and I suspect given the bladed spokes it's not got very many – Chris H Dec 18 '20 at 12:54
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    Nobody has stated this outright yet, but a good wheel should not have one spoke completely de-tensioned after initial use. It's possible that the OP hit something, or the shipping companies handled the box roughly, or that Hunt didn't build them well to begin with. It's possible the rim was out of tolerance to begin with, i.e. when you laid the rim on a table it was visibly out of round (read @Nathan's answer), but we obviously can't know that. It should be rare; I believe that Hunt is using the Kinlin XR31t, which is a very good rim. – Weiwen Ng Dec 18 '20 at 13:08
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    Bladed spokes are a royal pain. – Daniel R Hicks Dec 18 '20 at 13:21
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    @DanielRHicks: I think with normal, round spokes you just don’t see the twisting. The permanent deformation (-> weakening) and tension (-> tending to unscrew the spoke) are probably still there. With a proper spoke holder and plenty of grease I actually like truing with bladed spokes. – Michael Dec 18 '20 at 15:34
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Imagine a theoretical new bare rim made to perfect tolerances with perfect uniformity of materials and construction. Without spokes, it is perfectly round and flat.

Add spokes and tension them all the exact same amount per side. It will still be perfectly round and flat.

Make it a real, good quality rim. It now has a seam that makes the radial runout repond to tension a little different in that area, depending on how the seam is constructed and how good the cuts were, and it's made of real material that has minor deviations from perfect uniformity, and it's being built by a human or machine that's not practically capable of getting all the tensions precisely the same. So instead of the theoretical rim with 0% deviation from average tension per side, this one has +/-10% per side. That's about what most good wheels are built to, and is about what it takes for a wheel to reliably live its life without going out of true, although tension balance is only one of the criteria wheel builders need to check off to achieve that. If the wheel were overbuilt for its application, it could have a less dialed tension balance and still be okay, but in most cycling disciplines that's here nor there because it means excess weight. It is possible to achieve up to around +/-5% on some rims, but in practice if we're being honest it's pretty common for seam quality to get in the way.

An okay quality machine built wheel is more like +/-15% by the time a responsible shop puts it in the hands of a customer. A lot of such wheels are going to be somewhat overbuilt from what the rider could get away with given a perfect build quality. This is about the limit of how out the tension balance can be and still be somewhat reliable for most applications. Again, note that if it's a super heavy rim and/or a dishless wheel like a rim brake front, there's fewer penalties for poor tension balance, because the low ones won't necessarily be all that loose if the overall tension is the maximum the rim can take.

Take a tweaked rim. You stack it on top of your perfect rim and you can see all the spots it has deviations from flat and round. You apply uniform tension to it, and those deviations are still there. Usually it takes a pretty bad total per side tension balance number to make it look true in the stand, and at that point you'll have either spokes that are very loose or very tight or both. Either make the wheel unreliable and prone to going out of true repeatedly and/or failing.

The ultimate corroboration of whether a messed up wheel is fixable is to carefully detension it incrementally until there is zero spoke tension acting on it, unlace it all the way if you want to really be thorough, check it against a bare known good high quality rim, and then retension/rebuild it if its issues really are minor or nonexistent. Anything beyond about a 1mm air gap laterally when viewed this way, with one rim laid on top of the other and no forces acting on it, is where I would call it toast, or 0.5mm radial dip or bump, except maybe up to 0.75mm at the seam. When you're learning, this is a good thing to do. Those numbers are conservative but represent what I would be willing to do for a customer as a shop mechanic. If I was putting a wheel together for myself out of trash or a discarded rim, probably add 50-100% to those values.

Another approach is to use a tensiometer to simply tension balance it from where it is now and then you'll have a look that way at whether the rim is damaged and how severe of a tension imbalance needs to be introduced to get it straight. This is a way of doing largely the same thing as above, but in practice for a beginner it's too advanced and too easy to make missteps.

Proper working mechanics can typically detect a tweaked rim within seconds of handling a wheel in the stand; there are characteristic spots where to get it radially and laterally true, you're forced to make one or more spokes way too loose and opposing ones way too tight and where tension balancing techniques aren't able to help without introducing other problems. Bike mechanics have a lot to do and we had all our long nights wrestling with wheels like this early in our careers. Whether mechanic #1 did enough to earn your trust on the matter before starting the "sell job" is a philosophical question, but being unwilling to go further fixing your wheel is well within their right, and not being interested in charging you to do so was them having integrity if they felt they found evidence of significant tweakage.

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  • I think the question hinges a lot on the requirements you have. The OP spent more money on a wheel than some spend on a bike, so their standards are high, presumably. On the other hand, for my $1000 everyday bike I have re-straightened a rim after an accident by bending it over my knee and doing the rest with spoke tension. I've ridden it for years after that (probably 1000s of km). Of course it was never quite straight again, but good enough for me. It's also possible that spokes on that wheel cracked several times a year until I had them all renewed. But it worked. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Dec 20 '20 at 21:59
  • Oh, and I have never had bladed spokes. Just to define my level of equipment quality. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Dec 20 '20 at 22:01
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One general consensus is that if your wheel has suffered damage enough to break three spokes in the same event then the rim may have suffered enough damaged to write it off. You should clean the rim, remove the tyre/rimtape and give it a careful examination with bright light.

That's distinct and different from "I found three broken spokes on the wheel"

Other reasons for writing off a rim are a dent/crack from impacting a pothole or kerb, wear from rim brakes eroding most of the metal, spoke nipples pulling through, or a taco where the rim has gone very untrue. See What is a taco?

Sometimes a bike shop can predict how much labour a job will take, and those jobs can end up costing a few dollars for a single spoke but hundred+ dollars for the time to install it and true the wheel. So if they have a new wheel for less, its cheaper for them to sell you the replacement wheel.

On the other hand, if it takes you 5 hours of your own time to true the wheel, that's essentially "free" and the whole repair cost the same as the part. (hand wave)


If it were me, I'd get a bladed spoke holder and the correct size of spoke key, put some music on in the garage, and give it a go. Its not hard, its just iterating around the high/low spots till the rim is good enough.

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    If nothing else, a DIY job may be enough to get some more use out of the wheel, demonstrate whether it's recoverable or not, and/or improve the OP's truing skills. – Chris H Dec 18 '20 at 12:50
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First, make sure the rim doesn’t have any obvious damage. Check for cracks, especially along the brake surface, under the rim tape and around the spoke holes.

If there is no damage then I’d try to true the wheel. If you can get it true with roughly (±15%) equal spoke tension on all drive-side and non-drive side spokes you should be fine. Obviously a spoke tension meter would help a lot here.

Generally sudden, catastrophic wheel failure is rare. Even if you mess it up the worst that will happen are broken spokes and a locked-up rear wheel (assuming you have rim brakes).

I’ve had problems with permanently twisted bladed spokes in the past. I more or less solved it by greasing the nipples thoroughly and properly holding the spokes with an appropriate tool.

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As a mechanic I used to rescue a lot of wheels that other mechanics wouldn't touch. Our parts sales numbers weren't great, but in most cases you can tell if someone wants a new $100 wheel (in 90's dollars) or a brute force fix to get their wheel spinning again.

I'd warn the customer to "look away, you don't want to see this" while I did the slam-the-wheel-on-the-ground trick (Sheldon Brown's site calls it "Chopping"). It worked several times, even with severely bent rims - almost always getting the rider back on the road with a usable but imperfect wheel. A rim with a bent out flange is harder to get true, but a crescent wrench can correct some bends enough to make it ridable.

The rare wheels I'd write off were those that had rounded/seized spoke nipples, severe twists, creases, cracks or a sharp angle bend (not a curve). We didn't have the right tools for correcting those problems. There are a few types of wheels that aren't worth saving on the low and high end: steel wheels stay bent and wheels with less than 30 spokes will be difficult to make true.

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