How to replace a spoke

Spokes are an integral part of a wheel, if they become faulty or damaged, they should be replaced. Learn how to replace a spoke from the Cycle Maintenance Experts. They cross over each other to create triangular patterns offering a strong, lightweight structure. 

how to replace a spoke

Depending on how many times one spoke crosses over or under is the reference to the cross spoke pattern. Whether a wheel is built one, two, three or four cross is based on preference and practicality.

Spoke crossings

  • 0 cross or radial– These are not as strong as other wheels and only found on the front. They give a slight aerodynamic advantage and are lighter as they use the shortest spokes. 
how to replace a spoke
  • 1 cross- Each spoke crosses over or under one other spoke. 
how to replace a spoke

Any wheel with a small gap between the diameter of the rim and the diameter of the hub, such as on some hub motor electric bikes or small children’s bikes will use less crossings, putting minimal strain on the spokes.

  • 2 cross– Each spoke crosses over or under two spokes. Used on some performance wheels. They offer similar strength to the wheels with more spokes and save weight. However, they need to be regularly tensioned. 
  • 3 cross-  Each spoke crosses over and under three spokes. The most common lacing, offering strength and the right combination of flexibility and rigidity.
  • 4 cross– Each spoke crosses over or under four spokes which is quite rare these days.

How to replace a spoke preparation

There are a number of tasks to be completed before you can fit a new spoke. In this example we are replacing a spoke on a 3 cross pattern wheel.

  • Take off the wheel. While it is not impossible to change a front spoke with the wheel in situ, removing the wheel will make the job easier. 
  • Remove the tyre and tube. This will give you access to the inside of the rim.
  • Detach the rim tape that covers the spoke holes.
  • Take off the cassette or freewheel. This will allow better access to the spoke holes in the hub.
  • Undo the disc rotor and remove. 
  • Next remove the broken spoke.
  • If you haven’t done it already, you can select the replacement spoke.  You can measure the broken one or measure an existing one.  Take the measurement from the elbow to the bottom of the thread.  If the nipple is still attached, take it off so that you can get an accurate measurement.  The spokes vary in length by one or two millimetres.  While each spoke should be exactly the same length when building a wheel from scratch, when replacing one spoke it can be up to two millimetres different.

How to replace a spoke

  • Put a small amount of cycle oil onto the thread of the spoke.
  • The spoke is fitted by passing the threaded end of the spoke through the hole in the hub from either the inside or the outside. If the spoke is fed through from the inside then the bend of the spoke will be visible when looking at the hub. 
  • Feed your missing spoke through the empty hole.
  • Find the space in the rim.

This will help you to identify the direction of the spoke. It passes over the first two spokes

and then goes under the final spoke.  

The spoke is quite flexible, so try to pass under the crossing spoke by flexing it rather than bending it.  Try not to scratch the rim as it will spoil the appearance.

  • If the spoke is fed through from the outside then the spoke head will be visible.
  • Feed your missing spoke through the empty hole.
  • It needs to go above the cross on the opposite side. Because you are pushing the spoke in an angle it might be quite hard to slide it in. You may need to flex the spoke to achieve this. Keep going as it will eventually ease into place. 
  • Position the spoke under the first two spokes on that side.
  • Now cross it over the final spoke.
  • When the spoke is in place, attach the nipple.  If you have a double walled rim, use something to guide the nipple into the hole and hold in place while you attach the spoke.  You can use the threaded end of another spoke, a matchstick or a nipple grip. 
  • Hand tighten the nipple. 

Now it’s time to true the wheel.

When a spoke breaks, the rest of the spokes have to support the wheel and in doing so can sometimes lose tension, especially if the wheel has been ridden quite a bit before spoke replacement.  This is why it’s important not to overtighten the nipple at this point. When you are truing the wheel you will be able to gauge the correct tension in relation to the rest of the spokes. 

A wheel with a replacement spoke can last for years, but it is important to remember that a wheel with a new spoke will probably not be as strong as before and if another spoke breaks it is a good time to invest in a new wheel.

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