USE A SPOKE WRENCH
F So you’ve noticed that one of your bike spokes is looser than the others, and now you’re wondering—how do you even fix that? Well, you’re going to need a spoke wrench, and there really aren’t any alternatives. (Luckily, they’re very affordable.)
You use a bicycle spoke wrench to turn spoke nipples, in order to “true” a wheel—that is, put it back into alignment. It also comes in handy when installing a new spoke. Each spoke is secured to the wheel rim by a spoke nipple, which you can turn to either tighten or loosen the spoke’s tension. Ideally, you want every spoke tension equal and in a way that keeps the wheel true, both laterally and radially.
SIZE IT // Spoke wrenches are usually sized in millimeters (mm). Most spoke nipples are external and easily accessible, but some manufacturers do make internal nipples that can only be accessed by removing the tire and any rim tape. Many spoke nipples are square-shaped, though some manufacturers use star-shaped or hex-shaped ones instead.
Unless you know the exact size spoke wrench you need, or unless the spoke nipples are star- or hex-shaped, you can get a three-way spoke wrench that fits the three most common sizes—3.23mm, 3.30mm, and 3.45 mm—like the Park Tool SW-7.2 triple spoke wrench. Some multitools come with spoke wrenches built in—Bicycling’s resident mechanic Joël Nankman recommends the Topeak Alien 2.
HOW TO USE IT // Tightening an external spoke nipple, which is the most common type of spoke nipple, depends on your perspective.
“Traditional spokes have a conventional right-hand thread. But because of the way you typically look at a nipple when truing a wheel, it seems as though it is reversed,” Nankman says.
So, a spoke nipple is turned clockwise to tighten it and counterclockwise to loosen it. (Think “rightytighty, lefty-loosey.”) But when viewing this from above as you’re working on it, it looks like you’re turning the wrench in the opposite direction to tighten.
If your wheels have bladed spokes, which are identifiable by their flat instead of rounded shape, you’ll need an additional tool like Park Tool’s bladed spoke holder to hold them in place while you adjust their tension.
If you’re tightening one spoke, check the opposing spoke directly across from it. You might need to loosen it a half-turn so as to not over-tension the rim. And when in doubt, take your wheel to your local bike shop.—Jessica