A perfectly tuned set of spokes is crucial to keeping your dirt bike’s wheels in top shape. Proper spoke tension gives your wheels the strength to handle hardcore trail riding, while also ensuring precise handling and maximum safety. But over time, the spokes connecting your rim to the hub can loosen up, requiring some tuning to get them back in harmony. Learning how to check and adjust your spoke tension is an essential maintenance skill for any dirt bike rider. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn a systematic process to tighten spokes on a dirt bike and keep your wheels circling smooth all season long.
Necessary Tools and Materials
Before getting started, you’ll need to gather a few specific tools and supplies:
- Spoke wrenches – A must-have for adjusting spoke nipples and tension. Use the style matched to your bike’s spoke nipples.
- Torque wrench – Allows precise tightening of each spoke to the factory specifications. Expect to spend around $100 for a good bike-specific model.
- Markers and tape – For checking wheel true by marking the allowable runout distance on each side.
- Bike stand or ratchet straps – Used to secure the bike so the wheel can spin freely during the process.
With your tools in hand, it’s time to set up your workspace. The key is getting the bike immobilized so the wheel you’re adjusting can spin freely. If you have a repair stand, mount the bike by its frame. Otherwise, secure the handlebars tightly using ratchet straps. Just be sure no part of the bike can sway side to side.
Next, mark the outer edges of the rim on each side using a straight edge and tape. Position the two markers exactly 2mm from the rim walls – this shows the maximum allowable runout. Consult your owner’s manual for the precise spec on your bike model.
Before getting hands-on, visually inspect the spokes on both sides of the wheel. Look for signs of looseness like rust around the nipples or gaps between spokes. Also identify key reference points like the valve stem and rim lock which will help track your progress.
Checking Spoke Tension
Now comes the time-tested process of checking spoke tension wheel-wide. Begin by plucking each spoke and listening to the resulting tone. On a tight spoke you’ll hear a high pitched “ring”, while loose ones give a flat, dull thud. It’s just like tuning a guitar.
Systematically work around the wheel checking every third spoke. This ensures you evenly sample tension across the whole wheel. Keep plucking and tuning your way around, marking any loose spokes you’ll need to tighten once you complete the circle.
Be sure to check both sides of the wheel, flipping it to access the spokes by the hub. Compare the tone at the same spot on both sides – they should match when tension is equal. Don’t be afraid to spend time during this process – checking spoke tone is the key to identifying the tightness trouble spots.
With your loose spokes marked for attention, it’s go time. Start on the problem area where you began the checking process. Position your spoke wrench on the nipple and tighten in quarter-turn increments, stopping to pluck the spoke after each twist. Small changes prevent over-tensioning, so take your time.
As you work around the wheel, continue to adjust every third spoke for even tension distribution. When you reach a tight one, skip it for now and move on. Once back to the loose starting spoke, flip to the other side and repeat the process. This “leapfrog” technique ensures you don’t pull the wheel out of true.
After completing one round per side, re-check all spokes and make further tweaks as needed. The goal is getting each one to sing the same high-pitched tune. Keep iterating until the tone holds steady across the full set.
Correcting Wheel True
With tension tuned, it’s time to assess wheel true. Give it a spin and watch your rim runout markers. Any spots where the marker contacts the rim show high and low points. To correct, loosen spokes on the protruding side and tighten the opposite ones. Work incrementally, adjusting a little then rechecking, until runout is under the 2mm spec.
Focus on smoothing just the problem areas first before trueing the entire rim line. And don’t forget to re-check tension across the spokes after adjusting true – the two go hand in hand. Take your time and dial in both for a perfectly piloted wheel.
Nothing lasts forever, and spokes are no exception. If any are bent or broken, they’ll need replacing. Remove the damaged spoke by unscrewing its nipple and pulling it out of the rim holes. Measure its length to size the new one accurately. Match the gauge or thickness as well.
Insert the fresh spoke through the hub and rim holes, then use the spoke wrench to gradually turn the threads into the nipple. Bring it to about half the final torque spec to allow it to settle in before final tensioning. Factor the new spokes in as you re-true the wheel and check overall tension.
This quick extra step prevents a snapped spoke from interfering with other components. Take thin safety wire and loop it around intersecting spokes in a figure eight pattern. Leave just enough slack for the wheel to turn, then twist the wire tightly to secure it. The wire contains the damage if a spoke breaks while riding.
Focus on the sides nearest the brake rotor and sprockets where a loose spoke could get sucked in and jam things up. A five minute job here gives cheap insurance against a mechanical meltdown on the trail.
Keep your newly tightened spokes singing sweet for the long run with proper maintenance. Regularly check tension and true before and after rides to spot issues early. Thoroughly inspect spoke tension and trueness after cleaning or wet rides which can accelerate loosening.
Replace any spokes with bent or worn threads to prevent failure, especially on the drive side. With periodic checks and minor adjustments, a quality wheel and spoke set should deliver miles of smiles.
Like a finely tuned guitar, tight spokes are the key to dirt bike wheel harmony. Follow this guide to systematically check, adjust, and maintain proper spoke tension and true. Your time investment will pay back with safer riding, superior handling, and extra miles of life for your wheels. So grab those spoke wrenches, play an upbeat tune, and get rolling with a perfectly piloted pair of rubber circles.
Mark Foster loves to push his limits when it comes to survival in the wilderness. He might go for a 30-days adventure without any food or equipment except for a survival kit and a knife. We should mention that his survival kit has 122 items in it, so he know what he is doing. Mark is working on his book to share with the world all his experience gained during those brave adventures.