Robot’s Useless Reviews – My Spoke Wrench

In the hands of a certain person, a spoke wrench is a valuable tool. That certain person is the sort who is methodical, meticulous, who gains a relationship with their tools and the moving parts those tools pertain to, who is better with spatial relationships and has more patience than I do.

Once upon a time I was a regular user of a spoke wrench. That time was the ’90s, and the wheels I owned were not the top-drawer variety built by the sort of person I described in that last paragraph. In fact, almost everything I owned then was “budget friendly,” which made it “maintenance intensive.” It was then that I invested some time in understanding how to true wheels.

It was an investment that yielded negligible dividends.

Was I able to take bad hops out of substandard alloy wheels? Mostly. Was I able to true a wheel enough to stop it from rubbing BOTH sides of a set of cantilever brakes? Yup. Did I ever return a wayward wheel to its fully round, rotationally plained, original state? You bet I didn’t!

There is all manner of good stuff on sale on the Shimano site right now, including S-PHYRE road shoes and mountain shoes in both clip and flat varieties. Check it out.

There are some jobs for which “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” are not sufficient directives.

In my (simple) mind, the complex inter-relationship of spokes to hub and rim only ever made sense on the theoretical level. In any tightening or loosening, the relationship changes on all sides of the wheel, left/right, up/down. A sage and careful mechanic will proceed by quarter turns of the spoke wrench, their troubles to resolve.

At first, the beginner will stick to quarter turns as well, but confused by the first few twists’ failure to make very much difference at all, they will resort to half turns, and then sadly, full turns, the rim now looking less like the taco it began as, and more like a lasagna. Have you ever ridden a pair of lasagna wheels across town in rush hour traffic, each of them playing cicada against your brake pads?

With practice, your lasagnas go back to just being tacos. With a bit more practice, you might get a not very obvious taco, sort of a tostada if you’re lucky. When I was in the habit, I was rolling deep on a sweet set of tostadas most of the time, but I wasn’t in the habit very long.

There are two problems, for me, with my spoke wrench. The first is that I am impatient, and so I fail to keep proper track of my tightenings and loosenings, which leads to the aforementioned lasagna-fication of your wheel, but also an attendant increase in impatience. And as I lose patience, I get less precise with placement of the wrench on the spoke nipple, and that begets a stripping of the nipple, the wrench, or both.

You don’t want stripped nipples. Once they’re stripped, you can’t tweak them anymore. And basically, a nipple that can’t be tweaked isn’t a nipple anymore. That’s true for a spoke, but most medical journals will confirm it as fact also.

I still own a spoke wrench. It’s one of those three-way deals, with the three most common nipple gauges offered. It’s the sort of spoke wrench you own when you know, in your heart, you have no business owning a spoke wrench. Mine lives in the tool box drawer with the other tools I no longer use, the Park Fourth Hand Tool, the Chain Whip. It’s a lonely place, I suppose, but I toss the end bits of bar tape in there, and any mismatched bar end plugs I come across, so at least it’s a party.

Join the conversation
  1. trabri says

    When disc brakes came out I could worry less about my tostadas!

  2. khal spencer says

    I keep a Park triangle or one of those nice, nifty color coded Park spoke wrenches in each bike and a couple at home in the tool box. Sometimes it is the difference between riding home and walking home.

    I was quickly rounding a right hand curve at an intersection with a bad pavement mismatch yesterday (Bishop’s Lodge and Camino Encantado, Santa Fe, NM) and heard POP WHACKA WHACKA WHACKA WHACKA. Sure enough, I had just snapped a drive side spoke at the nipple. The spoke was sticking out and whacking the seatstay as the now funny shaped rim whacked the brake on every rotation. Managed to get the spoke out of the way, release the quick release, and, with that black color Park spoke tool, adjust the surrounding spokes enough to make it minimally taco-shape and gently ride home without the wheel collapsing.

    Had a happy ending. Took off the tire, tube, and cassette to expose the wound and took it to, obviously, The Broken Spoke bike shop to buy a replacement spoke or two and fix it. Instead, one of the guys in the repair side of the house said, “I’m not busy, I’ll have it back to you in five or ten minutes.” Sounded good, so I took him up on it. Meanwhile, had a nice chat with a guy who brought in a 1970’s era Motobecane Grand Touring bike in near-showroom condition. Was the bike I would have bought had I had the money, but instead I settled for a Mirage, which ended up being my primary transportation in graduate school.

    Gent handed me back my newly repaired and trued wheel and refused to take a buck, so I put a pair of fives in the tip jar. He did say that it is getting harder to find traditional Open Pro rims and Campy ten speed hubs. That is a Colorado Cyclist built wheel, so not cheap trash. But it does have a lot of miles on it.

    So I have to take the alternative view of spoke wrenches. Like fire extinguishers, it is nice to have them when the unexpected need arises.

  3. alanm9 says

    Yeah I remember those days; you described me exactly. I have spoke wrenches but haven’t needed to use one in years. I’m still somewhat on a budget but alloy wheels seem to be so much better now.

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