how to true a bicycle wheel on the road or trail without tools so you can keep riding

I carry a mini tool on virtually every ride, so it was with some surprise that I ended up stuck on the side of a road when a wheel went out of true enough that the tire started rubbing the frame. Turns out, my mini tool didn’t have spoke wrench slots built into it. Surely, I thought, this was a fluke and all the other myriad pocketable multi tools I have included them, right? No. In fact, of the fifteen or so mini tools I have laying around, very few actually do.

This can happen for a number of reasons – you hit something, someone hits you, or spokes just gradually detension. Whatever the cause, it can quickly ruin a ride and leave you calling the support vehicle (aka: significant other).

So, the easiest fix is to make sure your tool has spoke wrenches. Failing that, here’s an easy way to get back on the road…

how to true a bicycle wheel on the road or trail without tools so you can keep riding

Using the pics here as an example, my wheel would have been out of true to the left, with the tire rubbing the left side of the frame. That means the right side spokes were too loose. To make them able to be tightened by mere fingers, you need to release the tension on them so the nipples will spin easily. That’s as simply as pulling the wheel as far to the right as possible, which is very easy by grabbing the wheel and chainstay and squeezing them together. The fork legs work just as well for front wheels.

You’ll want to squeeze at the point where the wheel is most out of true first, tighten the nipples as much as you can by hand, then give it a spin. If it’s still too close for comfort, pull the area just in front and behind the section you just fixed and tighten a few more spokes. Test again by spinning the wheel. Assuming the wheel isn’t destroyed, that should be enough to let the wheel spin freely and get you back home.

The bike shown here has disc brakes, which means there are no brake calipers to clear. With rim brakes, you may need to open up the calipers so the rim clears the brake pads. If the wheel’s too wobbly, you may even need to undo the cable and open them all the way up, relying on the other brake to stop you. Not ideal, sure, but better than walking home, right?


  1. Mario on

    Doubt it would be very true after such an operation. Sure it might suffice but this is no way to true a wheel. Inprovisation at best.

  2. nash on

    Or just don’t ride sh1te wheels, If your a big guy (14 stone plus) racing wheels don’t belong on your bike, ride 36s.

    If your a massive Jabba the Hood with pee wee herman bike skills and cant hop a curb, I believe some BMX company released 96s you may use.

  3. Dan on

    Interesting tech. Skeptical on how well this would work. I imagine you would have a horribly under-tensioned wheel from the start to be able to twist a nipple by hand and absolutely no corrosion on the threads. Rule of thumb, check your wheels.

  4. goodadvicebadwheelbuild on

    If your wheels are assembled without spoke prep or some kind of thread treatment take that nonsense back to where ever you bought it.
    You shouldn’t be able to turn your spokes by hand.
    If you can, someone needs a simple lesson in wheel building.

  5. AlanM on

    Bike Rumor commenters never cease to amaze me. Someone offers some free advice on how to maybe save your butt on a ride, and you still find a way to be critical and come off like snobs. Well done!

  6. Ripnshread on

    As someone who has litterally built 100’s of wheels…this should not be possible. As some commenters have said, the spoke/nipple interface should have some type of spoke prep or thread locker. The fact that these looks like pre-build wheels seems like Reynolds had a major oversight in QC. Locktite 242 was my brand of choice. A drip on the outside interface of each spoke/nipple and spin the wheel to get it down to the threads.

    That being said, the above procedure could work with a dry interface. Its probably why the rim lost tension in the first place.

  7. satisFACTORYrider on

    i don’t think the comments are critical or snobbish. if you can turn true your wheel solely by hand after having a similar issue then more power to ya. it doesn’t really present a solution but rather points out serious lack of prep.

  8. Topmounter on

    Better tip:

    If your multi-tool doesn’t have a spoke wrench, then pick up a Park Triple Spoke Wrench ($10) and shove it in your sack. You’ll forget it is there until you need it.

  9. david on

    Its a get you home fix guys, not a wheel building masterclass….. duhhhh.

    Genius quite frankly and worth a shot if your wheel is that bad, saves walking miles if you can limp it home at the very least. If your wheel is wrecked, its worth a shot, if it doesn’t work, at least you tried.

  10. Dork on

    Wheelbuilders flinching left and right..

    Your wheel tension is too low! The weight of your repair kit is also too low.

    Ride hard, and ride well. Bring tools so that you can continue to do these things, and so that you can help people by the wayside trying to repair themselves without tools, for lack of forethought.

  11. ATBScott on

    While I’m always in favor of ways to make it home under my own power instead of having to call for a ride or walk and shred cleats, here’s another chime in for “carry a multi-tool that has a spoke wrench, or better yet, a spoke wrench!” Even if you don’t know how to use it, there is a chance that someone may be with you or pass by that DOES know how to use it. If you have the tool, better chance that it will be put to use. If you know how to use the spoke wrench, you might just save somebody’s ride. You could be rewarded with beer!

    Still, for low-end or less-than-ideally-built wheels this is another way that you might limp home with a wheel that can still be saved by your LBS. For all the “racers” out there that ride stripped-down while training, beef up your seat bag with some tools. It’s a training aid. You don’t need it for a race (if your wheel did that in a race, your race is over) so you might be a watt or two ahead of your training effort.

  12. robert on

    if you have s chain breaker, and no spoke wrench, you can use the chain breaker to tighten on to the nipple and twist… you may have to go quarter turn at a time, but it gets you home… had to do that once.

  13. adam on

    Better Advice: Take the wheel and smash the bent part of the rim on the pavement so it goes back to shape. Then, when you get home throw the bent wheels out and buy better wheels.

    No wheel should ever lose tension to such a degree that you can hand tighten a spoke… unless its taco’d or otherwise rendered completely broken. I have NEVER seen a spoke lose tension JRA.

  14. Psi Squared on

    While it is no doubt joyous and satisfying to jump on the wagon with everyone else and criticize this hint, I’ll just say this could come in handy for those without spoke tools on their rides when a spoke breaks.

    I think you have to be either under general anesthesia or just be one of those people that gets off on giving criticism to realize that this tip doesn’t apply to folks who have chain tools on their rides.

  15. MotoPete on

    Many riders overlook the simple soulution based of scientific principles. Air is a major force pressing evenly around the circumference of the rim, thus reducing tension on the spokes all around. Just spin the wheel so the tire contacts the ground in the affected area. Then lean the bike over in the same direction as the error in rim, while at the same time pressing down on the bike to decrease the volume of air in the tire at the contact patch. To finish just let a little air out while holding bike in this position. Just do not get crazy and let all the air out. This is where a riding partner can really help with an extra hand and/or pump. Simple science allows the spoke tension to effectively increase, at the site of decreased tire pressure and volume. Typically this technique will require you to repeat this procedure multiple times on wheels with larger errors, as only small changes in tension happen with every executon of this method.

  16. thesteve4761 on

    So, just a guess here, but did one of those awesome new Reynolds wheels at Presscamp not do so hot out on the road?

  17. Dork on

    If I had room, I would bring a tensiometer with me on my rides, just to check wheels for other riders. The vast majority of wheels out there are under-tensioned, just because so few are ever brought up to the rim’s ideal amount of tension before they’re installed, and also because fewer and fewer instances where a wheel is trued are followed up by a tension check and/or retensioning.
    When you’ve got a rim at it’s ideal tension, say 1-1.1kg/f (~100-110nM/f) for the average medium duty aluminum rim, that’s been properly stress-relieved (squozen spokes, etc), with a sensible spoke count, you will never see it go out of true or lose tension, short of a catastrophic impact or crash. If you were to try and bend the rim to the side and mimic the wheel being loaded, you would definitely not be able to move the nipple by hand, because the tension is still at a sufficient level in that spot to support the wheel structure under load. Balanced tension allows every spoke in the wheel to support the rest by loading and unloading an extremely slight amount of tension relative to the total tension, and this slight amount doesn’t even come close to allowing things like spoke bends to cold-work themselves, or for nipples to loosen. This is why properly built wheels can last for years and years without much upkeep. If your wheel is going out of true, check tension. If you’re breaking spokes, check tension! It’s totally preventative maintenance, and a proper investment in your wheels.

  18. Ripnshread on

    @MotoPete: If that was a troll…best ever…I read it like 3 times to make sure I wasn’t the one who was high. If not…NO…just no.

    @Dork: 100% Exactly on the money. The only thing that is truly “custom” in my mind about a wheelset is the tension. All the other parts are off the self. But getting a good tension that will both support your weight and riding style while staying true and round is the only way to customize a wheel. Everyone should know what they like their spoke tension at for a given wheel. And they should check it like they check their tires for air.

  19. Ripnshread on

    Oh and Tyler, the fact that you could do this in the frame just by squeezing with your hand? I’m feeling like April fools here…try that with any other wheelset you have put some miles on and has been worry free. Then come back to us and tell us how often this technique could be practically used.

  20. mudrock on

    Tried it with my wheelset (Stans ZTR Crests build by my LBS) and couldn’t flex them enough to de-tension the spoke. I think Tyler’s wheels weren’t built very well, plus the lack of spoke prep.

  21. dean on

    i am fed up with robot replies and lack of any service from bkool , i have had a few videos uploaded and they are still waiting approval over 10 days later when they cliam it only takes 48 hours ,

    the accuracy of the bkool is far from satisfactory the one video that did go live , the uphills are slower (not a bad thing ) but the downhills get over 50mph without needing to pedal when on the road i am lucky to hit 30ish mph !!!
    all in all not impressed with the customer service or the accuracy

    wont be renewing my prem membership …. i will be looking at a wahoo kicker


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