Photo by Dan Goldwater
By Dan Goldwater
“Ksh ksh ksh” goes your wheel as your ride. This is the sound of a bent rim. Bent rims are frustrating because they slow you down, but they are usually easy to fix if you know how.
Rims can get bent out of shape from hitting a big pothole, by getting twisted when you try to wedge your bike in or out of a rack and when a spoke breaks. When the bend in the rim is large enough, it will hit your brake pad every time it goes around, causing the characteristic “thwp” or “ksh” sound, and slowing you down.
Fixing a moderately bent rim yourself is easily accomplished with a spoke wrench, which comes in several sizes. Most multi-tools will have two to four sizes of spoke wrench to fit the different sizes of spokes available on the market. Pro mechanics remove a bent wheel from the bike and put it on a special truing stand, but this is not needed unless you want to get a racing bike in tip-top shape. For a regular bike, you can true it quite nicely without even removing your wheel from your bike.
Checking the rim and spokes
Flip over your bike so you can spin the wheel easily. First check if you have any broken spokes. If so, you can follow the same process to straighten out your rim, but you will want to get that spoke replaced soon. Lighten the load on your bike as much as possible if you have a long way to go with a broken spoke. Next, check that your axle is fully seated in your dropouts. If you have a quick-release wheel, it might not be. You don’t want to re-true the rim if the only problem is that the axle is not sitting straight. Same thing with your brakes – first check that they didn’t get bashed to the side or the brake cable isn’t hung up on something.
Checking the alignment
Slowly rotate your wheel while you look at the size of the gap between it and your brake pad. As the wheel turns, you will notice that in some places it is closer to the pad and in some places farther away. With a perfectly true wheel, the gap will be even all around. You don’t need it to be perfect.
Finding the problem spots
Slowly rotate to the part of the rim where it is hitting the brake pad. Here my rim is bent to the left. To fix it, I tighten the spoke opposite the bend: the spoke circled in green. Tightening this spoke pulls the rim to the right. If the bend was going in the opposite direction, I’d instead tighten the spoke circled in blue.
To tighten a spoke, place the spoke nipple into the notch in the wrench. Check that you have the right size of wrench. Turn COUNTERCLOCKWISE to TIGHTEN. If you have any doubt, first “pluck” the spoke like a guitar string to make a sound. Tighten one full turn and pluck again. If the pitch is higher you are tightening the spoke; if it’s lower, you are loosening it.