By Pico Triano http://frompicospen.blogspot.ca/
Photos: Pico Triano and Simon Shirley
If your bicycle wheels are perfectly true, your spokes are tuned to perfection, you weigh 160 lbs or less and you never carry a load of equipment on your bike, you will probably never suffer from spoke woes. I'm not so lucky. I weigh 210 lbs and often carry additional gear on the bike. What that means is that regular spokes for me are good for maybe five thousand miles at best. Regular spokes are just not engineered to handle the kind of load I routinely subject them to. I didn't know!
Most of my cycling friends were substantially smaller than me. I was told that I could resolve my spoke breaking problem by taking better care of them. They advised me to get a spoke wrench and after a couple weeks on a new or newly laced wheel, to tighten all the spokes a quarter or half turn. Another instruction was to take the new wheel and manually squeeze the parallel pairs to pre-stress the spokes because machine laced wheels needed that. None of these precautions are bad ideas, in fact, I would recommend following them. Problem is that it didn't solve the problem for me.
Not understanding the engineering, I learned to replace spokes as they broke and true up my wheels on the road. If you carry spare spokes and a spoke wrench while you ride it isn't that difficult - unless you break a spoke on the rear wheel on the gear cluster side. The hard part isn't changing the spoke, it's removing the %$#@! gear cluster. Bike shop told me it was easy. Just put the removal tool in a workbench vice and use the whole wheel for leverage. I don't carry a workbench with a vice while I'm touring – too heavy. I watched a demonstration video on YouTube where the cyclist used a 24 inch adjustable wrench and a lot of muscle to take it off. How many bicycle repair kits come with a weapon like that? Again that's a lot of steel for someone trying to save weight on a tour. Granted it could double for self defence purposes. I use an eight inch adjustable wrench. I grunt and groan looking for all the leverage I can get. Usually I end up getting my heel on the wrench and put a full body flex on the thing hoping that nothing slips and leads me to bruising and skinning some part of my anatomy. I'm not completely stupid though. I put clean grease on the hub threads before I put the gear cluster back on. Doing that makes it easier to remove next time I have to repeat that little bit of bicycle repair hell.
If you're a Clydesdale like me and you want to do lots of riding, you've got a couple options. Replacing broken spokes as they break is probably the poorest in the lot. The reason I say that is because once they start breaking they keep breaking. They'll keep breaking until you break down and either gut the wheel and re-lace it or you just replace the whole wheel.
The best option is to get a heavy duty wheel with spokes engineered to handle the stress you intend to put them through. If you intend to ride your bike a lot, it's a worthwhile investment.