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Video: How to true a bike wheel

How to true a wheel - spin
Joseph Delves
26 Apr 2021

Watch our new video on wheel truing: a valuable skill if you don't want little prangs to end your ride either at home or on the road

As the decades have rolled by, bicycle wheels have become ever more complex. However, almost all still adhere to the same basic design – one that a medieval cartwright would recognise.

Comprising a rim held in place by a series of tensioned spokes emanating from a central hub, the strength of the whole assembly depends on each component perfectly balancing the next. Smack them into a pothole and it’s easy to upset that equilibrium.

If your wheels are looking a little wonky, following the six simple steps below will soon whip them back into shape.

How to true a bike wheel with a stand

1. Place your wheel in the truing stand

How to true a wheel - adjust arms

We’re looking at lateral alignment, where the wheel is pulling to the side. Pop the wheel out of the bike and into the truing stand. Dial in the callipers on the stand vertically until they’re level with the outer edge of the rim. 

2. Spin the wheel

How to true a wheel - spin

Rotate the wheel in the stand. Adjust the distance between the jaws of the calliper until it sits just clear of the rim. Check the wheel isn’t bobbing up and down, as this will require radial truing – or a trip to the bike shop.

3. Locate the buckle

How to true a wheel - buckle

While slowly turning the wheel, dial in the jaws until they begin to lightly contact the rim, this will indicate where it is most heavily buckled. Rotate the wheel back and forth to locate the centre of the buckle

4. Find the relevant spoke

How to true a wheel - spoke key

If the rim is pulling to the left, find the spoke coming from the right-hand of the hub nearest to the centre of the buckle. If it’s pulling to the right, find the corresponding spoke coming from the left-hand side of the hub.

5. Adjust the tension 

How to true a wheel - spokes

Give the nipple half a turn. If viewed from above (through the rim) the nipple will tighten clockwise, however when viewed in the stand, this is reversed and it will need to be tightened in an anti-clockwise direction.

6. Check and recheck 

How to true a wheel - check

Move the wheel back and forth to check the result of your adjustment. If necessary tweak the tension further. Dial in the calliper slightly and move on to the next buckle.

Wheel truing essentials

Although it’s possible to accomplish a fast and dirty wheel true without using a dedicated stand, having the right tools definitely makes life much easier. Here are three to consider… 

Truing Stand

While the £250 Park Tool TS-2.2 Professional Wheel Truing Stand is awesome, it might be a bit steep for the occasional mechanic. This similar stand from Lifeline (£89.99, wiggle.co.uk) is a good budget alternative.

Repair Manual

If you want to learn more Park Tool’s Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair (£29.99, frewheel.co.uk) is a good place to start, with a comprehensive section on servicing and adjusting wheels. Parktool.com also has plenty of great free resources covering all areas of the bike. 

Spoke Keys

Even traditional generic spoke nipples come in an annoyingly wide range of sizes. That’s why it makes sense to get a spoke wrench that’ll fit a variety of different ones. This three-way wrench from Lezyne (£9.99, wiggle.co.uk) is pleasingly ergonomic to use.

Having checked you're still in one piece, the first question following any crash is usually, ‘How’s the bike?’ Unfortunately, even small spills can render your wheels too buckled to continue on your way to the nearest bike shop.

However, if you end up with a wheel that refuses to spin without grounding itself on either the brake or frame, follow our simple steps and you may be able to quickly whip it into shape.

How to true a bike wheel without a stand

1. Will the wheel still spin?

How to true a wheel - does it spin?

You may be able to roll all the way home without touching the wheel. Release the brake and spin the wheel. If the wheel clears the brake pads and isn’t contacting the frame or fork, it may be easier to wait to repair it. Just ensure the brakes still stop the wheel and ride very carefully.

2. Check the spokes

How to true a wheel - spokes

Working around the wheel, grab pairs of spokes in turn and squeeze – this will reveal any loose ones. If you haven’t had a collision, it’s possible that one spoke has simply slackened off and tightening it may be enough to quickly straighten the wheel so you can ride home for a more thorough check.

3. Find the buckle 

How to true a wheel - inspect the damage

Spin the wheel to identify which section is pulling to one side. Rim brake callipers can make a handy gauge. Otherwise, carefully position your thumb against the fork or seatstay. Then locate the one or two spokes opposite the centre of the buckle.

4. Adjust the nipples

How to true a wheel - use a spoke key

When tightened, the spokes on the left side of the wheel pull the rim to the left, while those on the right pull to the right. Once you’ve identified the correct spoke to be tightened, attach the spoke key and give it a quarter-turn twist counter-clockwise. 

5. Tighten or loosen

How to true a wheel - tighten and loosen

Make small adjustments and intermittently spin the wheel to see the effect they’re having. You may have to loosen the spokes adjacent to the one you’re tightening by giving them a clockwise turn. Be careful, as it’s easy to throw the balance of the wheel out.

6. Get it checked out

how to true a wheel - take a shop

Wheels are surprisingly complex creatures. Even if they seem to be spinning happily, it’s important that the spokes are evenly tensioned. If you’re unsure about the state of yours following an accident, it’s worth having a mechanic check them in a proper jig.