With this Quick Question series we will present fast fixes and collect comments from seasoned riders around specific D.I.Y. mountain bike repairs. While much of this trailside triage is covered in our repair articles and videos, this is a space for longtime riders and readers in the Singletracks community to share their knowledge. Please type your related experiences and advice in the comments below. Do you have a quick question? 🤔 Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
No matter how well built or expensive your wheel set is, you will eventually snap a spoke or break a nipple out on a ride. Modern mountain bike wheel systems are typically built with steel spokes and aluminum or brass nipples. The spokes often use different thicknesses along their length to provide maximum strength and durability at both ends while maintaining the lowest weight possible by thinning slightly through the midsection. Most spokes break at those thickness transitions, which occur near the hub and again out by the rim, though a spoke can break at any point with enough force.
Our crew has seen a variety of spokes break due to rock strikes, branches that flip between them, nipples that pull through carbon rims, and nipple threads that strip out leaving the spoke with nothing holding it in place. When this happens you will want to do two things: remove the broken spoke pieces or wrap them around an adjacent spoke, then make sure the wheel is true enough to pass through the frame without touching. If the spoke is left to flap around it can become lodged in the drivetrain, causing far larger issues.
Oftentimes a well-built wheel can keep rolling with one or even two missing spokes. Due to hub shapes and where the spoke breaks, you won’t always be able to slide it out and keep riding. Your best option, in this case, is to twist it firmly around a nearby spoke, making sure that it’s tightly wrapped so that it can’t cause other issues. You may need to tighten a handful of the opposing spokes to make the wheel straight enough to ride home.
While it’s best to roll easily after breaking a spoke, many a gravity race has been won with busted spokes cuddling tightly beside their neighbors. Higher spoke-count wheels with 28 or 32 steel sticks will often hold up better after a broken spoke than those with fewer, and a lot of carbon fiber rims seem to hold their shape better than alloy when missing a spoke.
It’s always a good idea to check over your whole wheel after replacing a broken spoke. The force that broke the spoke, and the forces that transfer to other spokes to make up for the missing one, can cause a lot of stress across the system and lead to more broken spokes. If the spoke broke randomly, without an impact event, there’s a chance that your whole wheel is fatigued to the point that spokes will start breaking regularly. Snapping more spokes on consecutive rides can be an indicator that a wheel needs to be rebuilt or replaced.
Please share your stories of snapped spokes and the following journey home.