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By Rick Sieman

Lacing and truing wheels has been a semi-mystery for quite some time, because people are just scared by what they don’t know. All of the  mysteries that surround wheel secrets are nothing more than tips and aids that people who do these jobs have formed.

Most guys can struggle by with their wheels and some even can do a fair job, but most have no idea what’s going on when they start tightening spokes. When you check the spokes between motos, most riders start at one point, like the rim lock or the valve stem and go one loop and that’s it.

That’s not the way to go about it.

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Place the axle or another shaft in a vise. This will give you something to rotate the wheel on. Make sure the wheel isn’t going to walk around on the shaft once it’s spinning. If possible, install enough spacers and the axle nut to the other side. This will add even more rigidity. The wheel must be steady. Place any stationary object close to the rim to use for a guide. Place something heavy on it, or find another way to keep it from moving while the wheel is spinning.
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If the wheel is out to the left…
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…loosen the spokes on the right side of the wheel slightly and …
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… tighten the spokes on the left side until the wheel is pulled over and in line, If the spokes get tight before the wheel is completely over, the spokes on the right must be loosened again. Don’t over-tighten the spokes on the left side, or you might get some up-and-down movement. If it takes that much to move the wheel over, there’s probably another problem in the wheel. Before going completely nuts trying to move the wheel over, check the opposite side of the troubled area; it might hold the answer.
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When working on an area, make sure that you keep your area wider than the rims movement. This will make the rim have smoother rotation when spinning fast. If you work on too small an area, the section you pulled on will have dips on both sides, making more work to get it correct.
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If this section of the wheel has some forward motion when spun, the spokes at the top of the wheel are too tight. They’ve pulled the rim in so far that it’s mis-shapened.
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All of the spokes on the opposite side of the rim, both the left and the right side, have to be tightened but not before...
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… you loosen all of the spokes in the area where the rim is pulled toward the center of the wheel. If these aren’t loose enough, the spokes on the other side will get tight before the rim is pulled into the proper position. Make sure you loosen them enough to make the wheel alignment easier. After moving the rim far enough to get it centered, retighten the spokes that were in the low area. Check for side to side.

Sure, the spokes get tight again, but the order in which they are tightened is important, Instead of tightening one spoke, then going to the next one, here’s a better system.

Start at any point, say the rim lock, and turn each spoke just ¼ turn; then do the other side of the rim the same amount. Start the whole process over until the spokes are all the same degree of tightness. Working on each spoke with the same tightness helps keep the spokes all the same and keeps the wheel straighter. If you start to tighten the spokes at one side of the rim, by the time you get to the other side, all of those spokes are already tight.

The reason for this, is because the spokes on one side of the rim tighten or loosen the spokes directly opposite of them when they are moved. Remember, you’re working with a circle and any tightening on one side will affect the other.

The same thing is true when working with spokes that come out of opposite sides of the hub. If the spokes on the right side of the rim are tightened, the spokes on the left tighten automatically, simply because you’ve moved the rim. When the spokes are tightened, they don’t move; the rim does.

Another example of this is if you tighten the spokes on the left outside of the wheel, the spokes on the opposite side inner, begin to loosen. To a point, then begins to tighten. Every time a single spoke is turned, it affects another spoke.

One of the biggest secrets is to turn the spokes in small amounts each time they are tightened, not a bunch of turns on some and a few on others.

When you first put a wheel together, run each spoke down until each spoke is the same distance into the nipple. This can be determined by the number of threads sticking out from the top of the nipple.

For aligning the wheel into the center of the hub, this is a good procedure. Start on one side of the wheel and make all of those spokes the same. Do the same for the other side of the wheel until the wheel is centered and all of the spokes are the same tightness.

For these steps, a screwdriver should be used. Most nipples have a slot in the end, a screwdriver is much faster, and you can’t over-tighten them.

When assembling a wheel from scratch, be sure you don’t start to over-tighten the spokes, because it’ll make the entire job much harder than it should be. Set all of the spokes in place before you start to wrench on them.

Once you have the wheel assembled, place it in a truing stand, or place the axle for that wheel in a vise, and put the wheel on it. As long as the wheel can be spun freely, you can true it. It can even be done in the swingarm.

Locate the wheel in a position where it won’t move around on the spindle you’ve chosen to use. Place another stationary object on the bench, or any other thing that’s close to the outside portion of the rim. Use this object for a guide on wheel run-out. Run-out is the amount of side-to-side movement the rim has at its further most outside point.

As the wheel is spun on the spindle or axle, check against the stationary object for varying distances. If the wheel moves away from the guide, the rim is evidently bent or out of true away from the guide. If the rim moves closer to the guide, or even touches it, the rim has to be moved away from it to get maximum true.

When the rim moves away from the guide, the spokes closest to the guide have to be tightened and the ones opposing those spokes have to be loosened. This way, the rim will move back to center. If the rim has to be moved the other way, reverse the process; loosen the ones closest to the guide and tighten the ones away from it.

Each side affects the other side of the rim. Keep this in mind when you’re tightening the spokes. When they get tighter, the ones opposite them get tighter also, unless you’ve loosened them in advance. It’s best to loosen before you start to tighten. This way, the feeling you get when you tighten the spokes is just how tight they are, not how hard it’s pulling against its opposing spoke.

In some cases, the wheel might be out to the left and when you loosen the spokes opposite of where you want to tighten, the rim will move right into place. This is because those spokes were too tight and they pulled the rim off center. By loosening them slightly and snugging down on the others, you can line the wheel up very easily.

More often than not, this same thing causes most of the up-and-down movement in a wheel. If one side of the wheel, both left and right side spokes are too tight, they will bring the rim closer to that side of the hub.

When the wheel is spun, it looks like an egg. This is usually done when a wheel is first being assembled and not when truing.

Sometimes, however, it could happen if you bear down on some of the spokes and not on the others. If your wheel gets a lot of up-and-down movement, it’s easiest to loosen all of the spokes until they are all equal in the nipples. Then, start the entire process over.

A single spoke can throw a wheel out and it can take a long time to locate it. Since it doesn’t have to be in the area where the wheel seems to be out of true, it could be completely opposite of the area you’re working on, but still affect it completely.

At first look, the trouble area may be right where the in-and-out movement is, but when you start to examine the movement, you should always check on the opposite side of the wheel. If an opposite area shows a similar irregularity, then the problem might be here instead of the first location. Always spin a wheel a few times before you start to tighten the spokes. This will make the entire job easier.

What are you going to do if you spin the wheel and it’s got both up-and-down and side-to-side movement? First, get the up-and-down located. If the wheel has an excessive amount of up and down, then you should loosen the spokes and center the hub. This will often remove the side-to-side as well.

If the up-and-down movement can be removed by truing the wheel, start to loosen the spokes that are in the low part of the circle. They’ll be the spokes that are too tight, causing the rim to be closer to the center of the wheel.

Once those spokes are loosened, the wheel should start to center. If it doesn’t, widen the area in which you loosened the spokes. Add one to each side until the wheel takes shape. It’s hard to pinpoint a single spoke causing the problem, so you’ll have to loosen in steps.

The most important step in beginning the wheel, is to remove all up-and-down movement. Side-to-side can be tuned much easier then up-and-down. If your wheel has much up-and-down movement, over-tightening the spokes is the reason. Most guys will start at one point and give all of the spokes a big turn, but by the time they get to the other side of the wheel, those spokes are already as tight as the others, simply because the rim has been pulled so far. Result: up-and-down movement.

If you’ve got a wheel that’s got a few flat spots on it, and you don’t really think it’s bad enough to throw away, here’s a way to save it. Loosen all of the spokes surrounding the flattened area. Lay the wheel, with the tire removed, on the floor. Place a 2 by 4 on end in the center of the area. Hit it hard with a big hammer. Keep hitting it until it moves into line. If the spokes aren’t loose enough, the rim won’t straighten and the spokes might get wrecked.

After pounding the area out, re-true the area with the spokes. If more bending is needed, loosen the spokes and pound on it some more. This works great with steel rims and can even be done to the ribbed Akronts. DID style rims are about the easiest, since they’re made from aluminum. Most important thing in doing this, is to make sure the spokes are loose. Once the rim is in a circle, true it with the spokes until you get it straight.

This is a good practice to get into, because the more you do it the better you’ll get at straightening rims. It’ll save you lots of money, since rims go for around $50 and up.

By following these simple guides, you can keep your wheels in much better shape and fewer things can go wrong. Constant checking of the spokes, once the wheel is straight, will help you in maintaining the wheels. After each ride, you should at least feel the spokes just to see if any came loose. That story about spokes seating in, is only partly true.

Sure, the spokes tend to find a home in the rim, especially if it’s an aluminum rim, but if the rim gets the slightest bend in it, the spokes in the bend will be loose. Once a few come loose, it’s just that much easier for the rest to follow. The secret is to keep up with your wheels and avoid all of these problems.