How To True A Bike Wheel In 5 Steps [With Video Guide]

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When it comes to bike maintenance, there’s a lot to learn.

Learning how to true a bike wheel might not be top of the list for key maintenance skills newbie cyclists need to nail, but for riders wanting to keep their ride in tip-top condition it’s a process worth mastering.

In modern times wheels are built to be very strong, but there’s always that chance on a rough road, you hit the wrong pothole and knock it out of true. The art of truing a wheel can come across as very complicated, but actually, it’s a very simple process.

In this article, we are going to be speaking about how to true a bike wheel at home. We will be focusing on basic wheel straightening, covering:

  • What Is Bike Wheel Truing?
  • Why Is It Important Your Wheel Is In True?
  • What Tools Are Required To True A Wheel?
  • How To True A Bike Wheel In 5 Steps
  • Robbie’s Video Maintenance Guide: How To True A Bike Wheel

Let’s dive in!

How To True A Bike Wheel: Title Image

What Is Bike Wheel Truing?

Bike wheel truing is the process of straightening a wheel. A wheel is “true” if it is straight and well-aligned, with no wobbles when you spin it.

It’s not unusual for the wheels on your bike to come out of true, especially if they’re aluminum or alloy. An out-of-true wheel can be incredibly annoying; not only can it slightly knock the brakes every rotation, but it can ruin the handling and feel of the bike.

Modern-day wheels are much better than they used to be at staying true. In the past decade, wheel technology has come a long way.

Why Does A Wheel Come Out Of True?

There’s a lot that can knock a wheel out of true.

The first is an impact. Anything from hitting a pothole or coming off a curb a little too quickly can knock your wheel out of true.

Another reason could be just general wear and tear. Over time, you can lose some spoke tension, allowing the wheel to become misaligned.

The marking pins of a truing stand with a bike wheel inside.

What Tools Are Required To True A Wheel?

When it comes to how to true a bike wheel, there’s quite a wide range of tools that you can use, but not all of them are essential.

We’ll keep this article as simple as possible and give alternative options. 

  • Spoke Key
  • Wheel Truing Stand (alternative: a bike and cable ties)
  • Spoke Tensioner (alternative: your hands)
  • Dishing Tool (alternative: bike frame)

You will only typically have a spoke tensioner and a dishing tool if you work at a bike shop or are building wheels. The job can be done without them, as we will in this guide today.

Note that spoke keys come in many different shapes and sizes, and aren’t all compatible with all wheels. Check with your manufacturer which type you’ll need!

How To True A Bike Wheel In 5 Steps

Step #1. Preparation 

Bike wheel in a truing stand being worked on.

Find a safe place to work and set your wheel truing stand up. Having it on a bench or a desk will make the process much easier.

Then, remove the wheel that you will be truing via the quick release or thru axle. Removing the tire can make the job easier, giving you a much better view when inspecting the wheel. 

Pop the wheel into the truing stand and adjust the pins until they sit just on either side of the wheel, so when you spin it, you can see the bend going either side. It should slightly touch the guide when spinning making a small tinging sound each rotation.

Side Note: How To True A Bike Wheel Without A Truing Stand

If you don’t have a truing stand, you can leave the wheel in the bike’s fork and use cable ties as indicators instead.

Try to position them so that they’re just touching the rim. When you spin the wheel, you should then be able to see any movement via the cable ties.

Step #2. Checking And Identifying The Problem

Checking the spoke tension by hand in a bike wheel truing stand.

Once you have the wheel out and set up in the stand, it’s time to start checking it over.

Doing these checks can tell you a lot about a wheel and make the process much easier when truing it. If you know the problem before you start, you’re not playing a guessing game. We will be checking the following:

  • Cracks and Breaks
  • Spoke Tension
  • Radial Deviations
  • Lateral Deviations
  • Dish

It’s worth running through all of these checks before you start making any adjustments, so you can formulate a plan (more on that later!).

Cracks And Breaks

Start by looking for any cracks in the rim. Follow the wheel all the way around the inside where the spokes sit, and look for any cracks or empty spoke holes. 

Solution: If it’s cracked on the rim, unfortunately, the wheel is written off and will need to be replaced.

Spoke Tension

Next, check the tension on the spokes. The professional way of doing this is a spoke tensioner, but we appreciate this isn’t something we all will have.

Instead, go around the spokes one by one by hand, giving them a gentle pull and pinching them together in pairs. Any that feel especially loose, be sure to mark.

Solution: To correct spoke tension, you need to tighten the loose spoke via the nipple.

Radial Deviation 

The next check is for “radial trueness”.

Radial trueness is essentially how round the wheel is. A wheel that’s not radially true will be very slightly oval or egg-shaped.

You can check whether the wheel is radially out of true by spinning it in the stand and watching out for anything that looks like up-and-down motion on the rim. If this is the case, mark the area with the lump to come back to.

Solution: To correct the radial deviation, you tighten the spokes on the section of the rim with a lump, pulling it back towards the center.

Bike wheel spinning in a truing stand with hex keys hanging behind.

Lateral Deviation

Lateral trueness is how straight the wheel is. This is the most common issue cyclists face when their wheel is out of true.

To check for lateral deviation, look for any side-to-side movement when you spin the wheel. This movement should be made more visible by the pins of the truing stand or the cable ties you set up.

Solution: To fix a lateral deviation, you must tighten the loose spoke or spokes on the opposite side to pull the rim back to the center.

Dish

“Dish” is essentially how centered the wheel is.

Bikes are designed so that the wheels are in line with the middle of the bike, and the rims in line with the center of the hubs.

However, to accommodate the cassette and/or disc brakes, the “hub flange” will be offset – in other words, the spokes stick out further on one side than the other. So, a correctly dished wheel will have the rim in line with the center of the axle, even if the spokes are offset.

To check the dish, the most reliable method is a dishing tool, but few of us have one at home.

If you don’t have a dishing tool, put the wheel into the bike frame, ensuring it is in properly and the frame is straight, then spin it. The rim should sit exactly centrally between the fork or frame.

If it’s clearly not centered, check that the wheel is mounted correctly in the frame. If so, and the rim is still off-center, then the wheel’s dish is likely the issue.

Solution: To correct the dish, you must tighten the majority of spokes on the relevant hub side to pull it across. If you think the dish of your wheel is off, it might be worth taking it to a bike shop so they can check it with a proper dishing tool first.

Step #3. Make A Plan

Checking the lateral deviation of a bike wheel while it is in a truing stand.

Now you have identified the problem, it’s important to go in with a plan of how you will fix it. It’s easy to start twisting spokes and hoping for the best, but this rarely ends well. You can easily make a wheel much worse before you make it better.

Once you’ve planned which spokes to adjust, you’re ready to get to work, using the fixes detailed above.

Step #4. Fix The Problems

Using a spoke key to tighten nipples on a bikes wheel while it is in a truing stand.

To finally get to work with truing the wheel, you’ll need to know how to tighten bike spokes.

To adjust a spoke, you need to tighten the nipple, which sits by the rim. You should usually focus on a few different spokes in the area to distribute the load evenly.

When truing a bike wheel, note that the spoke is tightened anticlockwise (assuming you’re tightening from the inside rather than the outside of the rim).

Stick to your plan and start by making small quarter to half-turn adjustments on the nipples where needed. After every adjustment, spin the wheel to ensure it is improving the situation.

Keep turning the wheel in the truing stand and fine-tuning it as much as you possibly can until you have a true bike wheel. Once you feel you are in a good place, then it’s time to move on to the next step.

Step #5. Redo The Checks And Finalize

A bike wheel against a brick wall without a tire on.

Now you feel you have it perfect, it’s time to check the wheel again to ensure that everything is correct and you have a true bike wheel. It’s possible that in solving one problem, another one may have cropped up.

You should check everything we mentioned in Step 2 and, if anything needs changing, make the adjustments.

Once you feel it’s perfect, we recommend getting it back on the bike and taking the bike out for a little spin. You might hear a click or two when you first ride it where the spokes are setting, which is normal!

Robbie’s Video Maintenance Guide: How To True A Bike Wheel

Check out the BikeTips YouTube Channel here for walk-through bike maintenance guides and more!

Now You Know How To True A Bike Wheel…

Truing a bike wheel can be challenging, depending on how badly your wheel is out of shape. Many cyclists say there is an art to bike wheel truing, and we agree. Bike wheel truing takes time and patience, and it can feel like a guessing game. 

As you get more experienced, it becomes much easier, however. And once you get it right, it’s incredibly satisfying – and you’ll feel the difference in the bike’s ride!

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Robbie has traveled the globe as an endurance athlete and bikepacker, challenging world records and competing in international ultra-cycling events such as the BikingMan series and the Transcontinental Race. He's also worked as an ambassador for some of the industry's leading names, including Shimano and Ritchey. If Robbie is not on a bike, he's either fixing them or out walking with his dog.

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