Spokes are quite small and not very impressive as being strong. After all, you can take one in your hands and easily bend it. Yet when several are used together they provide incredible strength. Therein lies the key … strength in numbers … all working together. And that is why it is so important that they remain working together. When spokes start getting loose or breaking the strength factor is greatly effected. Once a spoke gets loose it can lead to other spokes loosening. And once a spoke breaks it can easily lead to other spokes breaking as well. Of course, the result of all of this is wheel alignment gets off initially. Eventually much worse can result up to and including major failure and a wreck. Wheels should spin straight and true. The wheel should be round vs. having flat spots, oblong, etc.
The spokes come in varying types, sizes and materials they are made of. They make spoke guages to check the diameter of the spoke so you can know what size spoke is needed when replacing them.
On a tadpole trike the wheels have to be quite strong due to the side (lateral) forces they undergo in hard cornering. Double wall wheels are normally used as they are considerably stronger than single wall construction. The spokes in a wheel are laced in a particular pattern and it is quite important that this pattern is maintained when replacing broken spokes. So be careful to observe the pattern and install the spoke(s) properly. If this pattern is not maintained things can get off when the spokes are tightened to their proper tension. The spokes must be fed in from the correct side and cross the other spokes correctly. Oftentimes when just replacing one or a few individual spokes with the tire mounted it is necessary to bend them some to get them to go where they need to. Try to be careful not to bend them too much and try to straighten them back out once they are in position. As long as they are relatively straight they will work fine as far as retentioning them and having them function properly.
When replacing spokes be sure you use the exact same sized spoke so that there is no change in individual strength factor for that spoke. As I stated, each and every spoke contributes to the overall strength of the wheel. If one uses a spoke that is different from the others it will effect the others. You most definitely don’t want to install a smaller diameter lighter duty spoke. If you don’t know what you are dealing with exactly it is best to take your trike with you or take a sample spoke so they can match it up. Not only does the diameter need to match up but the length does as well. Unless the spoke nipple is damaged I don’t replace it. Therefore it is not necessary to remove the tire and tube. In fact, depending upon what is involved in getting the new spoke in place I may even be able to accomplish it without removing the wheel from the trike. However, Murphy’s Law being what it is, I usually have to remove the wheel and not only the wheel but quite often the disc brake rotor as well as it is usually in the way. (But of course!)
Note: If you hear a clicking sound while riding and it changes in frequency as you speed up and slow down it might be a broken spoke you are hearing. They can be hard to spot so simply take your hands and check the spokes by squeezing two spokes together. When you come to a loose or broken spoke you should easily be able to detect it. Even if no spokes are broken sometimes there can still be a clicking noise being made by a loose spoke.
Purchasing spokes at a local bike shop is fine and I most definitely I believe in supporting them. However, if you find yourself replacing lots of spokes it can get expensive buying the spokes at a local bike shop. I ordered a package of 50 online for less than it cost me for just a few at a local bike shop.
There are special tools and equipment available to do the work involved in truing a wheel and adjusting the spokes. They can get pretty expensive, especially a wheel truing stand. I have never had one and they really are not needed although they are nice and handy. It is easy enough to true a wheel on a bike/trike. All one really needs is a good spoke wrench. I say good because there are some out there which are not worth buying. It pays to buy good quality bicycle tools (any tools for that matter). Be sure to buy and use the right size spoke wrench as there are different sizes.
When tightening or loosening spokes just pretend like you are a nut. (That shouldn’t be too difficult for many of us.) Visualize the nut as it is threaded onto the spoke. Looking down on the nut and the spoke from the top side where the nut goes thru the wheel (rim) the thread is always a right hand thread so that means it turns clockwise to tighten it and counterclockwise to loosen it. The spokes are laced from both sides of the hub staggered so that as each spoke is tightened or loosened the wheel (rim) will move one way or the other. In the image below this is illustrated.
One needs to be careful when adjusting the spokes as it doesn’t take much to really mess up the wheel alignment. This can involve pulling the wheel (rim) over too far to one side or “flattening” it so it is no longer round.
As to the matter of spoke tension they make various kinds of tools to check the tension. However, I caution you before purchasing one (like I did) and wasting your money (like I did) unless you have a 26 inch or 700 wheel in the rear these tools won’t do you any good. A 20 inch wheel is too small for them to fit in. I don’t have any advice for others concerning getting the tension correct other than to say two words … “uniformity” and “experience”.
Adjusting the spokes to proper tension, replacing broken spokes and aligning a wheel isn’t terribly difficult. You just need to be careful how you go about it. Keeping these things done properly means you can …
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