Thursday, March 11, 2010

Top 7 Reasons to Dread Replacing Spokes

I've had a run of bad luck with spokes lately, and now I'm two bikes down in my stable. Time to pay the piper and fix some wheels...

Why do I dread spoke replacement so much? It's not that complicated. It doesn't seem rational. But here's why I think I avoid it like the plague:

  • There are always more spoke issues than I thought. Sure one spoke broke. But 3 others are bent or gouged. If I'm going to the trouble or replaceing one, might as well do everything that needs it. But a little job just got much bigger.
  • Rim tape. I hate removing perfectly good rim tape just to get at one spoke. Guess this is just me being cheap/picky. Does anyone spot-cut out old tape just at the spokes being replaced?
  • Getting the right replacement spoke at a LBS is difficult. The bike techs are usually nonchalant about finding an exact replacement spoke when I bring the broken one in. "This is pretty close." Rarely is it an exact match. With a recent spoke breakage on my MTB, on close inspection, I'm realizing this is a spoke I replaced a few years ago, and the butting clearly does not match that on the original spokes. Probably why it always creaked and finally snapped. Sigh.
  • Spoke wrenches. Never found one I really like that doesn't tend to round the nipples. Please someone recommend a wrench they use and like!
  • Spoke prep. Do I need it? I know I can get away without it, but am I making the job harder and will it have less longevity? I think the issue here is that I have never used it, but then I worry that since I didn't use it, I somehow screwed something up...
  • "It takes brass nipples to sell real estate." - Glengarry Glen Ross (sort of). Alloy nipples suck. Never again. I have an MTB wheelset that was obviously built to be light, but never again would I opt for alloy nipples. They are too soft. They round, strip, and crack so easily it's a crime. Maybe these wheels just used the crappiest alloy nipples on the market. But it's brass for me from here on out.
  • Truing. And More truing. I actually don't mind wheel truing. I kind of like it. But if I'm replacing 4 spokes, must I re-true the wheel after replacing each new spoke? This takes a long time, but it seems less risky than replacing 4 at once and truing once. What do you do?
There you have it. As I head to the bike shop this evening, hoping for the best, in the back of my mind, I know it will be painful.


Ted Diamond said...

Yeah, but you'll feel better after it's over.

Interesting idea, to spot cut and replace rim tape. I, also, have a disproportionate number of broken spokes 90-270 degrees from the valve stem hole.

About a year ago, I saw someone was selling plugs for nipple holes. The idea is you use 20 or 24 or 28 or 32 or 36 (you get the idea) individual plugs instead of a continuous run of rim tape. Seemed like an interesting idea, but a little high-endy and new-fangled for me. But then again, I've always thought rim tape was overpriced.

I don't know what the gospel is on replacing multiple spokes simultaneously -- whether you true once or true after you insert each new spoke. I've always replaced all the spokes and then trued.

I've always been satisfied with the Park spoke wrenches. Yeah, sometimes they round a spoke, but I reckon that a spoke that's so hard to turn that you round its nipple is probably seized or over-tensioned, and it's going to break soon anyway.

I don't have any data on the efficacy of prepping, but I figure it's reasonable to spend an extra 1-2 minutes when building the wheel to prep, on the off-chance it'll save truing and replacement time down the line (especially on disc hubs). I use linseed oil on the spoke threads, and a dab of grease around the nipple seat.

But my biggest agitation about the whole business is why they have to be called "nipples." It's really, really hard for me to have a conversation about wheel repair without breaking into giggles.

Phil Evans said...

I'll second on the Park wrenches, they're great.
Charles at Wright Bros in Fremont sure won't sell you an "almost" spoke.
I have to admit I have some old rubber rim tape that has been used on a half dozen wheels. I've had some Pedro's cloth tape that I've thrown away before it ever met a tube.
The great thing about nipples is that you can easily make old ones into a nice bracelet and then shock and amaze with "want to see my bracelet made of nipples?". The great thing about spokes is that there are 1M+ uses for old spokes. This morning I used one in a drill chuck to stir paint.

Rodrick Megraw said...

Are we talking the classic U-shaped Park wrenches (e.g.: this one)? Or one of their other models? Where can I buy a small amount of linseed oil?

Phil: thanks for the suggested uses for old spokes and nipples. Perhaps a topic worthy of it's own post!

Teehee... nipples!

Ted Diamond said...

Yep, that's the Park tool.

I think you get linseed oil in quarts at a hardware or paint store. But even that's a lot. You're welcome to some of my supply, if you want to schedule a meeting time/place. (I bought a gallon before I realized it came in quarts. Wish it came in pints. Ah, but then I'd end up drinking it...)

Rodrick Megraw said...

Ted, thanks for the offer! I'll gladly take an ounce or two off your hands. Could meet you in Pioneer Square Friday sometime, or perhaps on Monday? I'm flexible. We need to ride sometime soon too. Once I get this bike back on the road!

Kevin Connors said...

Art shops typically sell small quantities of linseed oil. One such shop is Utretch on Pike across the street from 6 arms.