Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
Bont’s New Budget Shoes
Before getting to the wheel tip, here’s a bit of product news you might like. I’ve reviewed Bont’s Vaypor S and Helix shoes and from the number of comments know that Bonts are popular.
So, I think you’ll appreciate learning of their new $129 road shoe, the Riot Buckle. For that affordable price, you get most of the features of Bont’s pro series models including the tub style chassis strengthened with a carbon band across high stress areas and an anatomical heel cup for stability during the pull through and up stroke.
The Riots also feature composite, heat-moldable soles for a custom fit and maximum power transfer. While the microfiber uppers with extensive perforations, and integrated air vents on the front bumper provide ample ventilation. Where Bont cut cost is by using buckle and Velcro closures instead of BOA lacing. The Riots are available now in white with black logos and accents (photo) and vice versa.
The Wheel Tip
The goal of this tip is to make sure you can ride home if your wheel gets damaged out on the road. The reason this tip is important is because many modern road rigs (those made in the last 20 years or so) have two issues that can stop your ride if you’re not prepared.
The first issue is that many companies have decided to fit their latest bikes with low spoke-count wheels. What this means is that instead of the 32-spoke wheels that had proven to be super durable over the decades, your wheels may have 28, 24 or even fewer spokes.
The second issue is that many frames now have minimal wheel clearance between the fork blades and the rear stays. So, a wheel knocked out of true by striking a bad pothole or a broken spoke, which makes an even larger wobble, will usually hit the frame.
There’s one more issue related to wheels rubbing you might find interesting. It’s the way wheels are attached to the frame now. Wheels fit into the ends of the frame and fork in what’s called “dropouts,” though with through axle wheels, what’s in the frame are just holes. A little trivia for you: through axles were common on bikes in the 1890s.
The issue is that these dropouts on frames today allow little to no wheel adjustment in the frame. So you can’t simply loosen the wheel, move it slightly over and get a wobble to not hit the frame. There is another type of dropout, however, called a horizontal dropout, which used to be on the rear of almost all road bikes (it’s usually rear wheels that get damaged).
In contrast to today’s standard dropout, the horizontal dropout allowed easily moving the rear wheel and you could often get a wobbly wheel to stop rubbing that way. Some custom builders still choose to use horizontal dropouts when they know the rider might require wheel adjustability.
There are many reasons why newer bikes have reduced clearance and fewer spokes in the wheels. But, there’s no need to discuss or debate them here.
The thing to understand so you appreciate the risk, is that wheels with less than 32 spokes in them get more wobbly and are more difficult to straighten when they are damaged or when a spoke breaks. This is because there are fewer spokes supporting the rim.
Which is also why low spoke-count wheels in general are more likely to suffer broken spokes – due to each individual spoke having to work harder.
If you don’t log lots of miles you might not break a spoke on your low spoke-count hoops, but sooner or later, with enough miles, they will break due to how hard each one is working. I’ve seen it over and over on even the major brand name wheels. Fortunately, on the best designs it takes years of consistent riding for it to happen.
The Big Problem
When a spoke breaks or a wheel gets hit so hard it has a major wobble, it means your ride is over unless you can get the wheel straight enough again so that it clears the frame and can spin freely. If you just keep riding on the wheel allowing it to hit the frame, it will likely wear out the sidewall of the tire and you’ll then suffer a blow-out, which could cause a crash.
But, even worse, it doesn’t take long for a rubbing tire to wear a hole right through a carbon frame. It only takes a little longer on some aluminum frames with thin tubing. So you definitely don’t want to risk riding on a wheel that’s rubbing.
The good news is that in most cases it’s possible to fix even low spoke-count wheels on rides enough that they stop rubbing. How easy it is and how straight you can get it depends on the wheel and the amount of damage.
1. The first thing to do is to check your wheels to see how many spokes are in them. The front and rear might be different. If either or both of yours have fewer than 32 spokes, your risk of someday having a wobbly wheel is increased. Now you know and can prepare yourself.
2. To be prepared, I recommend you carry the spoke wrench that fits the wheels on the bike you’re riding. This small inexpensive tool is used to turn the nipples on the ends of the spokes to loosen and tighten the spokes, which is how wobbles are fixed.
It used to be that almost all road bikes used the same couple of spoke wrenches. Not any more. Today there are many different sizes (photo). You want to get and carry the correct spoke wrench for working on your wheels. The easiest way to do this is to stop at a bike shop on a ride and ask them to sell you the right wrench for your wheels. Then put it in your kit so it’s always with you on rides.
Note that even if you don’t know how to work on wheels, carrying the right wrench is still important. Because with any luck another cyclist will come to your rescue who knows how to straighten wheels. But, they won’t likely carry the right wrench for your wheels. So they’ll need to use yours.
If you’re riding with a buddy and one of you ends up with a wobbly rubbing wheel that you can’t or don’t know how to fix, try this: switch the wobbly wheel to your friend’s bike and see if by chance it has more frame clearance and the wobbler doesn’t rub. If so, put their wheel on your bike and you both can ride home together.
I hope these tips help ensure that you’re never stranded roadside due to a rubbing wheel. Next week, I’ll provide some basic wobbly wheel truing instructions because once you have your own wrench, you might as well learn how to use it. That way you can come to someone’s rescue, too!
Ride total: 9,171
When using my bike with a 24-spoke rear wheel, I keep a FiberFix Kevlar emergency spoke with me. The spoke is coiled in a small plastic tube along with a small spoke wrench. The spoke is designed to allow installation without removing the cassette. I’ve never actually used the thing, and am wondering if others have had any luck with this product.
Fritz Mueller says
I have carried a FiberFix Kevlar spoke on my bike ever since they became avaialble. I have only used it one time, but that time was when I was in the middle of nowhere during a cycling event and at least 50 miles from our inn. It worked exactly as it was supposed to and saved the day for me. I carry one with me even though I’m riding super strong 32 spoke wheels.
Joe Mitchell says
Back in the 90’s I had a rash of broken spokes on a couple of bikes. Bought the kit and it got me home twice. Haven’t used it in over 20 years though, but know it will work if needed.
Brian Nystrom says
I bought one for each of my road bikes, but unfortunately it was AFTER a broken spoke episode. I was able to loosen the adjacent spokes enough to get me home, but it would have been better if I’d had the FiberFix kit.
I take issue with the statement that “low spoke-count wheels in general are more likely to suffer broken spokes – due to each individual spoke having to work harder.” Spokes don’t break from the normal stresses of riding; they’re plenty strong enough to easily deal with that. Spokes fail from fatigue, which is caused when tension on them is released, then reapplied. It’s these cycles, similar to bending a wire back and forth until it breaks, that cause spoke failure. This shouldn’t happen in a properly constructed wheel with sufficient spoke tension and repeated stress-relieving during the building process. In fact, the higher spoke tension used in low-spoke-count wheels should actually make them less prone to spoke breakage.
That’s why the situation above was both aggravating and embarrassing; I was riding wheels that I had built. Oops! 😉
At mile 10 of the second day of a double century weekend, we went down on a steel deck RR crossing. The front wheel was warped. It still held air so I disconnected the front brake. I knew the route had only one mild downhill. We made our way back to the car without incident. It was annoying how many people told us the front wheel was warped.
James Wilkinson says
I will be a true friend who rides the warped wheel home while you have the good one!
For Bert: I have used the Fiber Fix Kevlar spoke at least twice over the years, both on 36 spoke wheels, and you can get true enough to get home without any rubbing.
Will Haltiwanger says
Been there – low spoke count. After breaking spokes and thinking of what if it happened going down a Blue Ridge Parkway grade into a tight turn I now ride 36 spoke wheels. Unless you are racing why take the risk? Having more spokes means a single failure has less effect on the rim and simply by relaxing the two closest opposite spokes you can usually ride home without any problems.
Recommend that you either buy a spoke tension gauge or have a trusted friend/mechanic check your wheels, especially new ones. I once bought a new set of fashionable wheels which I proudly put on for a multi day ride only the have the front wheel collapse on day 1 when I swerved to avoid a dog. When I checked the rear wheel tension it was all over the place even though the wheels were new and true. If a wheel has an adequate number of spokes and is set up properly it can go years without being touched. Relax new spokes by laying the wheel on a flat surface and pressing on the rim or by squeezing pairs of spokes together, recheck tension, ride on them and recheck tension.
This is great except where does it tell you what to do when a spoke breaks. I have the tool and then what …
Jim Langley says
Steve, stay tuned, please.. I will cover that next week. Thanks for your patience.
On trips I tape 2 spare spokes to the bicycle pump where they are out of the way and yet readibly available. I learned the hard way to check whether my buddies wheels used the same length spokes. He broke a spoke on Hwy 1 north of Rockport and my wheels were 4-cross laced to minimize spoke breakage with my touring load and so my spare spokes were 1/2 inch longer that was needed for his wheels. We use pliers to bend the spoke around the hub and then tightened the spoke and got the wheel enough in true to make it the 200 miles to Mill Valley which was the nearest town with a real bike shop in 1972.
I have wheels for general riding and wheels for touring and trivial expensve to do this in the overall scheme of things.