You’re out ride and you just got out of the saddle to accelerate up a small hill and suddenly you hear a small “ping” followed by a clunk, clunk, clunk of a spoke bouncing off your frame with each turn of the wheel. If you don’t know what to do and how to fix a broken spoke, this can end your ride right there.
With just one broken spoke, your whole wheel can go out of true, making it impossible for the wheel to turn without hitting your brake pads and/or your fork or frame (depending on if you have a broken spoke in the front or rear wheel). Basically, this repair involves a two-step process: getting the wheel true enough to get home and then replacing the spoke and re-truing the wheel once you get home.
How to Fix a Broken Spoke Just to Get Home
First, you need to get the spoke out of the way so that it doesn’t interfere with your wheel turning. If you have a broken spoke on the front wheel, you should be able to just slide it out of the hub. If it’s on the rear wheel, bend the broken spoke around one of the spokes adjacent to it. Then you can adjust the tension on the rest of the spokes in your wheel.
To adjust the other spokes to accommodate for one missing spoke, you’ll need a spoke wrench, conveniently on many multi-tools, to tighten or loosen them by turning their nipples at the rim. Turn each spoke on either side of the one that just broke clockwise as if you’re looking from the hub of the wheel toward the rim. This will loosen those spokes. If this doesn’t move the rim back to center enough, ie. it’s still bouncing off the brake pads, go one more spoke in either direction and turn them counter-clockwise. This will tighten the spokes pulling the rim back toward the side of the broken spoke. fIf the rim is moving too far to the right, you’ll want to either tighten the spokes that attach to the left side of the hub or loosen the spokes that attach to the right side of the hub. You’ll make this decision by testing the spokes and determining whether they feel too loose or too tight.
Never make drastic changes to the tension of a spoke at any one time. Just make half-turns with the spoke wrench each time and check and see how true the wheel is. It is easy to go too far. Once you get it roughly straight, you can ride the wheel. If the rim is still slightly touching the brake pads, open the brake quick-release to allow for more space.
Finishing the Repair at Home
After you’ve gotten home and you’ve gone to your local bike shop to buy a new spoke and nipple, you’ll install the spoke and thread it into place in the same pattern as the other spokes around it. Then use your spoke wrench to loosen the nipples on the spokes in the area around the broken spoke as you tightened and loosened them to get home. Then test the tension on all of the spokes around the whole wheel.
Go ahead and take tension off of any spokes that feel overly tight, and then work your way around the wheel truing out any wobbles by turning the nipples counter-clock wise to tighten and clockwise to loosen a spoke if looking from the hub at the nipple. This time, however, if you can, you’ll want to use a truing stand and get the wheel as straight as possible. Watch out for overly tight or overly loose spokes, as you could be looking at another broken one in the near future if the tension is off. As always, if you have trouble, take the wheel to your favorite local bike shop and get a little bit of professional attention.
There you have it; how to fix a broken spoke. When it first happens it’s always like “Danggg-it”, but it’s actually pretty straight forward to fix. There are far worse things that could break on your bike. Safe Riding!