How to Re-Align a Bicycle Wheel

How to Re-Align a Bicycle Wheel
Bicycle wheels frequently fall out of alignment and develop a slight wobble as they rotate. This is due to the spokes on the rim becoming loose over time. When this happens, you will need to "true the wheel," a simple process where you tighten the wheel to bring it back into alignment. The process requires patience, particularly for those who are new at wheel alignment or if the wheel is in bad shape.


Difficulty: Moderate

Things You’ll Need:
  • Spoke key
Step 1
Place the bike upside down on its saddle and handlebars. This allows the wheel you are working on to move freely, which is key to evaluating its alignment.
Step 2
Move the wheel slowly by hand, watching for spots where the bike tire moves close to the brake pads, or where the distance between the tire and pad fluctuates. This is a spot on the rim that will need adjustment. Mark the spot on the rim with a pencil to make it easier to locate.
Step 3
Put your finger at the point where the tire comes closest to the brake pad. This is where an adjustment needs to be made. On the underside of the tire are the rim and spokes. Spokes connect to the rim in two different rows on either side of the rim. This equal tension applied by the spokes on both sides of the wheel is what keeps the wheel in the middle and running straight. A wheel that wobbles to one side when turned indicates that a spoke on the opposite side has become too loose and needs tightening. If you are looking at the wheel and the bike wheel moves towards to the left, the spoke underneath that spot on the opposite side will need to be tightened to pull the wheel back towards the middle.
Step 4
Attach the spoke key to the spoke nipple on the loose spoke. The spoke nipple looks like a small bolt connecting the long, thin spoke to the wheel rim. It has four flat sides where the key attaches. Make short turns--no greater than 1/2 of a rotation--checking the alignment after each turn. Continue this until the wheel returns to center in that location.
Step 5
Continue spinning the wheel and looking for misaligned segments until the wheel runs smooth for a full rotation. Depending on the condition of the wheel, this may take less than 15 minutes or more than an hour.

Tips & Warnings

Check your wheel's alignment every month. This will make your wheel last longer, and it will make realigning it much easier and quicker.
If you over-tighten the spoke and it comes out of alignment in the opposite direction, do not tighten the spoke on the opposite side. Instead, slowly loosen the spoke you have just tightened until it returns to center. Tightening an already-tense spoke could cause it to bend or break.

Article Written By Jonathan Croswell

Jonathan Croswell has spent more than five years writing and editing for a number of newspapers and online publications, including the "Omaha World-Herald" and "New York Newsday." Croswell received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Nebraska and is currently pursuing a Master's of Health and Exercise Science at Portland State University.

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