The spokes on your bike’s wheels are like the foundations of a building. They’re out of the way, but they determine how strong the building is. No one ever notices them when everything is working well, but without its proper setup and operation, all sorts of trouble can break loose.
Most cyclists have experienced an occasional broken spoke. It can be due to potholes or simply do to general wear and tear. You might even hear it break or feel the wheels getting wobbly. But this is not something you should worry too much about, as it is just a part of being a cyclist.
Can you ride a bike with a broken spoke? Yes, you can ride with a broken spoke without harming yourself or the bike. The immediate step should be to remove the spoke from the nipple so that it does not damage the other parts of the bike. However, if you have multiple broken spokes, it’s best not to ride the bike.
Replace the broken spoke as soon as you can though. The problem is not that you’ll have trouble riding but that a broken spoke can throw the load distribution off-balance. This can lead to more spokes breaking which will make the wheels very unstable.
How to Identify If You Have a Broken Spoke
Finding out that you have a broken spoke isn’t always obvious. In some cases, you might be able to hear it break especially if you’re just been over something wobbly. Another way you’ll know something is wrong is by wobbly wheels. It’s good practice to inspect your wheels occasionally for damage.
Are Broken Spokes Dangerous?
Generally, it is not dangerous to ride with a broken or missing spoke. It is pretty safe if only one spoke is broken. But if three or four spokes have broken, it’s best to stop cycling. This could lead to more spokes breaking, the wheel bucking and more expensive repairs. And if your wheels are lights, they may fall off if many spokes break.
A few broken spokes in the front wheel can be a bit dangerous as they could seize or get thrown over. As for the back wheels, they would mostly skid or stop. Broken spokes can also get caught in the outer wheel and cause a puncture. Or in some cases, they can get trapped between the other spokes, and the frame, causing you to fall off.
Here’s what some riders had to say about riding with broken spokes:
I rode a whole summer of commuting with a broken spoke with no issues.
I had a broken spoke at the start of a 210km organized ride! Finished the day with no problems, although the number of people who let me know that my wheel was buckled was funny.
This is to say that broken spokes shouldn’t be taken care of, as they should. Most mechanics advise on replacing the wheel if more than 3 spokes are broken. But at the very least, replace the four spokes, re-tension and re-true the wheel and test the bike. If the spokes continue to break, it’s best to change the wheel.
Here’s a pro-tip: Try to carry tape with you in your backpack for an emergency fix. Also once you’re sure that your spoke has broken, try not to speed or pedal too hard as this could break more spokes.
What Causes Broken Spokes
A broken spoke can be frustrating. The rim could start rubbing on the brakes or the frame and the whole wheel will be left unusable. There is no single answer to what causes a broken spoke, but these are the common factors:
- If your spokes break often, the blame could lie on the rim. When the rim is damaged, the tension of the wheel is affected because some spokes need to be tighter to maintain a balance. This balance in tensions is important, otherwise, there will be more revolutions of the wheel than usual which will stress the spokes beyond their capacity
- Fatigue could be another reason. If you’re a heavy rider, are carrying a lot of gear, or riding rough, this could cause a dent in the rim or loosen the spoke.
- If your bike is new and you’ve experienced a broken spoke or wheel, then defective manufacturing could be the cause. If your bike has inexpensive wheels the spokes could face excess pressure.
- If you’ve been riding your bike for years, it is natural for some things to break and experience wear and tear. A single spoke on its own is quite thin and flexible. But when interconnected, they can handle a rider’s weight well. The spokes do tend to flex against each other and this friction over a long time can cause the spoke to break.
One way to avoid breaking spokes is to get regular maintenance twice a year. A skilled mechanic can check for loose spokes, rim weight and correct spoke tension on your wheels. It’s not always possible to check the spokes before every ride but try to check weekly.
Repairing Broken Spokes on the Road
A single broken spoke isn’t so bad, but depending on where and how you ride, you might want to fix it on the road.
Some riders carry little repair kits and even replacement spokes. This is particularly handy when distance riding our out on tours.
Spokes are lightweight, but they are long which makes them a little awkward. But if you want to carry extra bike spokes, there are a few ways to do it.
Some riders carry extra spokes attached to their chainstay protector.
If you’re looking for a chainstay protector, Lizard Skins is a fine choice. If you want something a little more affordable, chainstay protectors from Vabneer are also popular. These chainstay proctors come in a pack of two on Amazon.
Another option is to slip the spoke down the edge of your bag or tape it to a tube. You can also store spokes in your set post using a ball of tape, cork, or rubber stopper.
Along with carrying extra spokes, some riders also carry a chain wrench and cassette tool.
There are even emergency repair spoke kits available on the market. The FIBERFIX Emergency Spoke Replacement Kit is one such solution. The Fiberfix is a kevlar cord designed to replace a broken spoke of any length.
Here’s a quick video of the FiberFix kit works:
The FiberFix kit is available at Amazon, so be sure to check out the reviews
Of course, you can’t be expected to have a DIY kit with you all the time. You should stop riding if more than one spoke is broken as it could snag on the frame.
So what happens if you can’t fix a broken spoke on the road?
First, remove the spoke from the nipple. If you cannot unscrew it, bend the broken spoke around an adjacent spoke to keep it from wobbling. You can even tie the broken spoke to the adjacent spoke using duct tape.
If you happen to have a spoke key, use it to tighten or loosen nearby spokes to make sure the rim is straight.
How Much Does It Cost to Fix a Broken Spoke?
Spokes are relatively inexpensive. From a bike shop, you can expect to pay between $1-2 per spoke. If you’re shopping online, you can find spokes much cheaper. For example, a pack of 36 spokes might go for $18, including nipples. Keep in mind, for high quality or specialty spokes, expect to pay a little more.
If you’re not doing repairs yourself, a bike shop can replace the spoke in a few minutes and will cost anywhere from $10-50 in labor depending on how many spokes you need to be repaired.
What Are Spokes For?
The spokes on your bike’s wheels are unassuming and quiet but they are also quite important.
The function of a bicycle spoke is to:
- Add strength to the rim
- Transfer the force applied by you to the hub of the wheel
- Support your weight on the cycle
They are tiny in size and are present in the space between the axle and wheel but without them, cycling is nothing short of dangerous. When you pedal, force is applied to the hub via the chain and the spokes then help move the bike forward.
Spokes are threaded through the hub flange and fixed to the rim via brass nipples which are screwed to the end of the spoke. The spokes are connected to the rim under pressure, which can be adjusted by twisting the nipples. Adequate tension allows the wheel will spin ‘true’ and bear the weight of the rider without damaging the shape of the wheel.
How Many Spokes Does a Bike Have?
A typical bike can have 28, 32 or 36 spokes, wheels on a tandem can have 40 or 48 spokes and lowrider cycles can have up to 144 wheels. But some bikes can have as many as 100 depending on the intended use.
One advantage of having fewer spokes is to reduce drag. The downside is, it leaves larger sections of the rim unsupported requiring stronger, deeper-section rims. This makes the wheel more aerodynamic although this reduces the amount of weight the bike can take. The key to a strong wheel is a balance between equal and appropriate spoke tension.
Is There a Difference Between Mountain and Road Bikes?
The major difference in the spokes of a mountain bike and a road bike is the quantity used on the wheel. Today a mountain bike wheel has 24-28 spokes on the front wheel while the rear wheel has 28-32 spokes. The trend has been to reduce the number of spokes over time and we might see fewer in the future.
A road bike will have 18-24 spokes in the front wheel while the rear wheel has 18-24 spokes depending on the brand. There are more spokes at the rear to increase the strength of the wheel and stiffness for a smooth ride.
Road Bikes are lightweight bikes with drop handlebars and slim tires for recreation, races and endurance biking. A road bike has thin tires and a curved handlebar making it suitable for roads or daily commutes. As the handlebar is curved, you can use 6 positions to grip on it which comes handy during long rides. Road bikes are made faster because of their gear ratios. A standard road race is about 100 miles while a mountain bike race is generally 25-30 miles.