How do Bicycle Wheels Work?

How do Bicycle Wheels Work?
Comprised of many different parts, the bicycle wheel is a complex and amazing piece of equipment. Understanding how a bicycle wheel works provides interesting insight into this mechanical wonder.


At the center of the wheel is the hub. The hub is made of the hub shell, axle and bearings. The hub is made of two flanges that intermesh, allowing the bearings and axle to spin freely.



Made of extruded metal, the rim attaches to the hub via threaded spokes. Clincher rims hold tubeless tires, and other rims hold inner tube tires. The weight of a rim affects rolling resistance and rolling weight, giving the bicycle a smooth or lighter ride.


Much like a suspension bridge, spokes put the rim under tension, providing the stiffness needed for the wheel's integrity. Having the spokes properly tuned and tightened "trues" the wheel, allowing for effective and precise spinning.


Connecting spoke to rim, the threading, or "lacing," makes a difference in the performance of the wheel and bicycle. Tangential lacing patterns are used for maximum torque with minimal lateral stiffness to the rim and are solid choices for mountain bikes using disc brakes.

Finished Wheel

As with most mechanical items, when the sum of the parts are whole, the bicycle wheel functions as a result of torque, tension, and weight distribution. This gives the bicycle and rider a smooth and efficient ride.


Article Written By Eric Cedric

A former Alaskan of 20 years, Eric Cedric now resides in California. He's published in "Outside" and "Backpacker" and has written a book on life in small-town Alaska, "North by Southeast." Cedric was a professional mountain guide and backcountry expedition leader for 18 years. He worked in Russia, Iceland, Greece, Turkey and Belize. Cedric attended Syracuse University and is a private pilot.

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