Ep 9: New spokes on an old wheel

Watch Waz and Trent dismantle the wheel in Ep 3: Sand, heat and nipples and Episode 4: Wires, shocks and smoke.

A spoke wheel is a thing of beauty. Here at Garage Night, you can’t tell us otherwise. Cast wheels might be acceptable if you ride a road toad, but if you’ve got spokes, you’ve got class.

Just think, each thin metal spine is fragile on its own, but strong enough when laced together with a bunch of buddies to bear several times the weight of your bike when you’re full on the brakes, or keep your wheel from crumpling when you smash through a wash-out. And no matter how you try, for elegance of both form and function a cast or billet wheel can’t come close.

An old, neglected spoke wheel is NOT a thing of beauty, though – as I found when I bought a complete secondhand USD fork front end for my bike and discovered the seller had been less than honest about its condition. The Garage Night guys were never going to let me put it together in that state. So the wheel had to come apart.

At first the plan was to whip out the spokes, paint the hub, tidy up the rim and put it all back together – even retaining the original spokes, but with new nipples. It all went pear-shaped when we discovered how horribly seized the spokes and nipples were. You can see us locked in battle with the wheel in the episodes linked above.

Anyway. When I had it all ready to go back together – with new spokes and nipples from Hagon – Trent was the man to see. As a mechanic he spent some years respoking rims on everything from farm bikes to dirt squirters and classic cars.

It all looks horribly complicated – you’ve got the spokes lying like a pile of uncooked spaghetti on the bench, a packet of stubby little nipples and no assembled wheel (or photograph) to go by.

But Trent breaks down the job in typically methodical fashion, showing how to figure out the spoke pattern, then screw in the new nipples and “true up” the wheel to eliminate both lateral and radial run-out (in plain speak, that’s making sure the rim doesn’t wobble up and down or side to side).

Before you go ripping apart your wheel, there are some things you need to check. The hub and rim may be offset. This is best measured by placing a long straight edge along either the disc mounting surface or bearing face, and measuring at 90 degrees down from the straight edge where it crosses the edge of the rim. You’ll see what we mean in this episode.

You need to reproduce this offset when you tighten the new spokes and “true up” the wheel. Most bikes have the hub centred laterally but some have an offset, and there may be different lengths or bends in the spokes to achieve this.

As always, watch the episode and you’ll get the full picture. For me, the next step is to collect all the nuts, bolts and bits needed to get my twin-disc USD front end on my Cagiva Elefant. It’s a race between me and Richard – his BMW F650 is getting a USD front from a KTM 950 Adventure. Ooh-aah, you say. Well, stay tuned.

– Waz

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12 thoughts on “Ep 9: New spokes on an old wheel

  1. Hey guys,

    Thanks for the new episode. Great job as usual explaining the complicated to the clueless! Not ready to pull out the angle grinder myself yet but glad to see how it can be done.

  2. Great stuff! Some additional thoughts. Use bolt cutters to remove old spokes. If you’re using a laser cut spoke wrench, consider grinding the back side into a spoon shape, so that sharp edges don’t dig into the rim when tightening spokes. And wrap the handle with tape to protect your hands (it will also force you to use the correct end of the wrench). Be *very* careful when using a torch on an aluminum structural member. Keep the temperature well below 400 F to avoid weakening the metal. Use an oven or boiling water bath to avoid overheating.

  3. Hey Brian, that’s good advice. One thing about cutting spokes with boltcutters is that you should make sure the nipple end of the spoke is pointing away from you or anything you don’t want to break/kill. The tension can make them shoot out ‘like bullets’, according to Richard in a previous episode.

  4. Hey there Sam. We’re still here – we’ve just been taking a break for Christmas/New Year. Episode 10 is just about to go into production, so stick with us!

  5. Alright lads,

    Fantastic site, some great info and video too, any chance yez could do a night on valves and balancing carbs .. keep up the brilliant work …. CHEERS ..GER.

  6. Question!!
    I have a 92 Africa twin, I am in the process of lacing the rear wheel with new spokes from Central Wheel. There are 3 different lengths of spokes in this wheel.
    I do have a parts catalogue which provides the correct length of each spoke and I kept the original spokes that were removed and am using samples to measure new spoke lengths against. I also have photos of the wheel berfore dismantling. All is good so far.
    I have been placing the spokes in locations which appear to correspond to that provided in the same catalogues (diagram) locations on the rim and hub. This is where everything falls off the rails. The diagram provided is confusing, not clear or just outright wrong. Every time I think I have it right I am unable to true the wheel because the nipples run out of threads on the spokes before there is sufficient tension on them or the nipples do not cover the spokethreads because they are in the wrong location. I am also paying close attention to the rim offset.

    Does anyone have the CORRECT spoke lacing diagram or locations so that I can get on with my little project, Please?

    Thanks in advance from a cranky and frustrated old kodger who should be able to figure this simple task but for reasons unknown continues to suffer from brain farts or Old Timers Disease.
    Billy Bob Hamilton
    The Bunkmuffin (so my girlfriend calls me)

  7. Hey Billy Bob,
    I will ask the other garage nighters what they think.
    One thing I would mention though: sometimes aftermarket replacements will differ from the original spokes. A wheel guy at Hagon explained it like this to me: Bike wheels are usually laced up in the factory by a machine, and the spokes may have certain bends because that's what is needed for them to fit into the wheel-making machine.
    Usually when you get aftermarket spokes they will be more uniform. My wheel's original spokes seemed to have two or three different bends – but the replacements from Hagon all had the same bend, same length, and worked fine.
    Something you might need to take into account when assembling your wheel.
    Also, OFFSET. I gather that a rear wheel hub is more likely to be offset from one side to the other than a front wheel humb. You need to know the original offset and reproduce it on your wheel.

  8. Hiya Billy Bob,

    Unfortunately we don't have a diagram – I would take the parts diagram picture with a pinch of salt – they are not really accurate enough as a reassembly diagram. A service manual would be a better option.

    We happen to have an AT (RD04) in the garage at the moment, so I had a quick look at the wheel.
    The L/H side (Chain side) has a "Cross 2" pattern and the R/H side has a "Cross 1" pattern – Cross 1 is a bit strange for a bike of that size…

    To check the pattern, start at the head of a spoke and count how many other spokes it "crosses" on the way to the rim.

    The R/H side heads are very close and kinda cross each other, but don't count that – only count the spokes that actually cross.

    It sounds like you may be either using the wrong pattern (most likely if the new spokes are the same as the old ones), or have the wrong length spokes in the wrong holes.

    Insert all the inside spokes first and mate them with the correct nipples – Hold a nipple in the hole in the rim and it should point straight at the spoke it needs to mate with – If the wrong length spoke is in the wrong hole or you're using the wrong pattern, you'll get exactly the problem you've described.
    You can then insert the outer spokes while paying attention to the "cross" pattern and match up the rest of the nipples.

    If you still end up with long and short spokes when the offset is approx correct, try swapping them around if it's possible.

    Hope that helps…

  9. I guess I’m a little late to the party but better late than never. After watching your video ( a few times…) I decided to give it a try. I have an 2003 rim, 2004 front hub for a kx500 and a set of spokes on order.

    I know Trent makes this stuff look easy, but I’m hoping with a little patients and a little luck it will work out.

    Thanks guys. Keep up the great work!

    Fork swap is coming next.

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