Saturday, February 20, 2010

May your wheels be true

(Duchamp's "Wheel")

The weather has been much better this week and I have been riding my bike further and more often. The other day, I was riding around North Portland on some bumpy roads and I heard the Special K (my bike) make some noise. The bike had been making mysterious noises ever since I'd gotten it, but now there was some new noises as well. I wasn't sure what it was at first, but it turned out to be the saddle. You may recall that I had gotten the Selle Anatomica saddle last year. It's the first leather saddle I've had and I'd never had saddles that made noise before so this was a bit of a surprise. Afterwards, I tightened the bolt on the saddle and then the noise was no more. While I was at it, I decided to give the bike a check up. I'm not really an expert mechanic or anything, but I find that giving your bike some TLC once in a while does seem to make it ride smoother.

What I usually do is, I take a damp cloth and wipe all the surface area of the bike other than the chain. Then I flip the bike over and take the wheels off (which may be harder to do with heavy city bikes) and wipe the parts that were hard to reach with the wheels in place. I also wipe the wheels as well. You can wipe the tires too and check the wear of the tread too. Then I put the wheels back on, wipe the chain with a dry rag and apply clean lube. Then I take an allen wrench and check all the allen bolts to make sure nothing is loose. All of that is pretty easy and does not require any expert knowledge, but the last thing I usually do which is truing the wheels does take a bit of know-how, so I thought I'd write about that. Again, I'm no expert, so some of you may know much more about this than me, but I thought maybe this could be helpful for those who's never done it.

Just in case you don't know, truing a wheel is what you do when a wheel gets out of alignment. Wheels do sometimes can get out of alignment and become untrue after hitting a pothole or if you crash your bike. Major damage may need expert help or replacement, but for minor misalignment, you can fix it fairly easily.

The proper way to true wheels is to use a truing stand and a spoke wrench. I used to own a truing stand and with it you can definitely true wheels better, but even without it, you can do it with just a spoke wrench using the same method.

a spoke wrench looks like this:
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or this:
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A spoke wrench is a wrench for the nipple (yes, that's what it's called) that connects the spoke to the rim.

With a truing stand (like one below), you have the two metal pieces (calipers) which look like they are pinching the rim. You can control their distance to the rim by turning the knob. With a true wheel, you can bring them very close without touching the rim, however if it's untrue, the wheel will touch as you turn the wheel. What you want to do then is pinpoint where the wheel is touching. If it's touching on the left side at one point, then you take the spoke wrench to a nipple for the spoke going to the other side (to the right) on the hub and turn it counter clockwise. What that will do is tighten the nipple and pull the rim to the right and thus making it straighter. You can also tighten the nipples on the other spokes around the area. Unless the nipple was really loose, it's best not to over tighten them. Maybe give them a quarter turn at a time. As you tighten one part of the wheel, it may affect the tension of other parts of the wheel, so you can turn it and see if you notice other areas of misalignment. Also, after you think you've got it perfectly true and put them back on and ride, your weight might affect the tension, so it's a good idea to check it again.

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Since I don't have a truing stand on hand, I make due without one.
What I do is I flip the bike over and use the brakes instead of the calipers. You can't really move the brake shoes like you can with the truing stand calipers, so you just have to kind of eye it to see if a part of a wheel is coming closer to the shoes as you turn them. If you notice a misalignment, then you just tighten the nipples as you would on the truing stand.

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You can't really get it perfectly true this way, but I think it's better than nothing as I tend to find loose spokes while doing this. If you don't do it, chances are the wheel will go out of alignment to the point of no return much sooner than if you regularly checked them. Also, even with damaged wheels, you may not be able to make them perfectly true, but you can get them true enough that they are usable, so you will prolong their usefulness.

Some bike shops also have truing stands that you can use. I think it's a good skill to learn and I kind of like doing it. It's kind of similar to oiling my work boots in a way. With proper care, wheels will keep turning and taking you places for a long time.

p.s. I found some how to videos on the YouTube. I won't link them here, but you can find them quickly by searching with keywords "truing bicycle wheel". Maybe more helpful than what I wrote here.

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