Sunday, March 27, 2016

Borken Spoke

After approximately 10 years and 30,000 miles, on a descent of Page Mill Road, I heard a "twang" sound and heard the sound of metal rattling. I quickly stopped my bike and saw that a spoke was loose on the front wheel. Upon fishing out the spoke, I realized that the spoke had broken where the threads were. I opened up the quick release on my caliper brakes, and rode the rest of the descent at a much slower pace than usual, being careful not to go full speed even on the flat sections.

After getting home, eating lunch, and taking a shower, I took out my spare spokes and found one that matched the correct length. I got out my truing stand, spoke wrenches, grease and tri-flow, greased everything, removed the tire and uncovered the rim tape enough to fish out the old nipple (pictured above) and installed a new nipple and spoke. My inspection of the old nipple indicates that the breakage probably occurred due to some microscopic defect in threads of the spoke, which I could not have possibly detected.

By ear (thank goodness for having perfect pitch), I tensioned up the spoke to match the others on the wheel, and then did some minor truing, upon which I discovered that my wheel was back to being as good as new!

Over the years, I've frequently encountered people who told me that I have too many spokes on my wheels, and that 32, 28, or even 16 spoke wheels are good enough. But when you have a spoke failure, having a lot of spokes on the wheel means that you can ride home safely, and when you repair the wheel everything comes together rapidly and easily. Hence I've never thought to myself: "I wished I had 4 fewer spokes on the wheels" when completing a mountain descent.

I'm forever grateful to Jobst Brandt and David "Pardo" Keppel for helping me out back when I was first building wheels. Nothing man-made can ever be perfect, but the traditional spoked bicycle wheel is still nothing short of amazing.

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