The first time I got a broken spoke while I was cycling caused me to go into a bit of a panic. I expected that it would either be expensive, or very complicated to fix. I now know that it’s actually super simple to do yourself.
Basic instructions for repairing a broken bicycle spoke:
- Remove the bicycle tire
- Remove the cassette to access the spokes
- Remove the damaged spoke and nipple
- Insert the new spoke
- True the wheel
Here’s a step by step break down of each of the steps in more detail:
What You’ll Need to Repair A Broken Bike Spoke
Before we start, here’s a list of things you’ll need:
- A new spoke – to replace the broken one. (If your spoke broke into the nipple or damaged it at all, you may also need a new nipple).
- A flathead screwdriver or nipple driver – here’s a nipple driver on Amazon (yes, I wondered what it was too!)
- A spoke wrench – This is used to tighten the spoke to match the tension of the others spokes. It is possible to use a pair of pliers instead, but this can easily damage the nipple so it’s not recommended. Here’s a decent one that’s available on Amazon.
TIP: Did you know that there are a total of 21 items you’ll need to fix almost any problem on your bike? You can check out the list in my article here.
Step #1: Take Off the Tire
The first step to replacing any spoke is to expose the heads of the nipples where all the spokes connect. To do this you’ll need to:
- remove the bicycle tire
- remove the inner tube
- remove any tape from inside the tire
This is an essential step to being able to remove the broken spoke.
QUICK TIP: The tire and all the bits you’ve taken off will be off for almost all of this process. You will need to put them back on when you are done, so be sure to keep track of them and know their order.
If you need a little extra help on removing the tire, tube and tape, check out this video:
Now that the tape has been removed, you’ll see the heads of the nipples where all the spokes connect. We’ll need easy access to this area when we loosen the old spoke, take it out, and tighten the new one. But before that, let’s get to step #2…
Step #2: Remove the Cassette to Get to the Bike Spokes
If the wheel with the broken spoke is a back wheel, you’ll need to remove the cassette or freewheel part of the bike. This is the area where the chain connects to the wheel and makes it spin. Most modern bikes have a cassette, but the basic removal system for remains the same whether you have a cassette or not.
- Loosen the chain on the bike so that it slides off of the back wheel.
- Loosen the nut or covering that keeps the cassette attached to the wheel.
- Carefully take out the remaining parts.
Removing the cassette gives access to the hub, or the center of the wheel. Having access to this area is essential for replacing spokes, as it is one of the major connection points.
NOTE: As front wheels do not have a chain connection, this step is not required when replacing spokes from the front.
Step #3: Remove the Damaged Spoke and Nipple
With the area exposed, you can now remove the damaged spokes:
- Find the site where the spoke connected to the outside.
- With your flathead screwdriver, loosen the nipple from the outside of the wheel.
This will free the spoke on one end, so you can easily thread it out the other way. If the spoke is entirely broken, you will have to remove it in two separate parts.
Step #4: Insert the New Bicycle Spoke
Inserting the new spoke is a simple task as well. Simply attach the new spoke from the middle of the wheel so that it stays firmly in place. Then, maneuver the spoke to the general area where the nipple is; this is where it will connect to the rest of the wheel. Flex it slightly so that it fits and insert it into the new nipple.
TIP: If you are unsure where to place the new spoke, look at the pattern on the rest of the wheel and match it. There will be a hole in the outer rim that you are looking for.
The spoke should slot in place comfortably but still be able to come out without tools. Once you are confident it is in place, it is time to tighten it.
This is first done from the outside, using the same tool that you used to loosen the broken spoke earlier. Once that is tight enough to hold in place, you must tighten the interior of the spoke.
On the inside rim of the wheel, take your spoke wrench and begin tightening the new spoke. At this stage, it is essential to match the tension of the other spokes; feeling the resistance when they are pushed or plucked is an excellent way to get an idea of what you are looking for. [Source]
Step #5: True the Wheel
With the new spoke in place and tightened, it is time to rebuild the wheel. Place everything back on in the order it was taken off (the video I mentioned above has this if you need a little extra support), and be careful to make sure you are not pinching or breaking anything new.
With the wheel rebuilt, it is now time to true the wheel. This is what allows it to ride straight and is the most sensitive part of the process. Essentially, truing the wheel is tightening and loosening the spokes to reach an equal tension across the whole thing.
Let the wheel turn freely and check to see if it remains in place or seems to move around from side to side as it turns. The adjustment should mean the wheel remains completely straight and in place as it turns. If still moves from side to side, continue adjusting.
That’s essentially the steps to replacing a bicycle spoke, but if you don’t fancy getting your hands dirty, you might be wondering how much it would cost to get someone else to do it. [Source]
It would also make sense to find out what causes your bike spoke problems. I wrote an article on the main reasons why bike spokes get loose and what to do about them. Check it out here.
How Much Does It Cost to Replace Spokes on A Bike?
Luckily, replacing spokes on a bike is a cheap process. If you choose to complete the repair yourself, the cost is only the price of one spoke. Many bike repair shops also offer the job for a reasonable price and finish it quickly if you are not confident in your repair abilities.
When replacing bike spokes, costs can be split into two major areas:
- The cost of a new spoke
- Labor and shop costs
New spokes are often a few dollars, with even high-end choices being less than $5. Labor costs will vary depending on various factors but will generally be in the $30 to $40 range (more on this below). Of course, the price of labor is free if you follow the steps on replacing a spoke yourself.
There are benefits to either choice – shops will have professional tools and all the necessary parts to fix the bike properly, but doing it yourself can be a valuable experience to teach you more about your bike and save some money.
The Cost of The Spokes
The cost of the spokes will almost certainly have to be paid regardless of which method you choose. Even if you decide to go with a shop for your repair needs, they will likely directly charge you for the spoke. If not, it is likely absorbed into the labor costs.
Luckily, most spokes are very cheap. Depending on your wheel’s manufacturer and quality, prices generally range from $1 to $5. If your spoke is damaged quite a lot, you may also need to replace the nipple, the connection point to the rest of the wheel. Nipples are also very cheap and will add barely any price. For a quick look at the variety of spokes and expected costs, click here to get an idea (link to Wheelbuilder.com).
Bear in Mind…
When replacing a spoke in a wheel, it is crucial to use the exact same dimensions as the existing spokes. Otherwise, the repair could fail, or the wheel could be off-balance, making the effort of replacing it useless.
If you are unsure of the size of your spoke, a bike shop should be able to help – simply bring in the unbroken spoke for reference. Alternatively, you can take a look at the spoke manufacturer’s website.
Labor Costs Can Vary Depending on The Damage
If you choose to go to a bike repair shop to replace your broken spoke, most of the cost will be in labor. Luckily, this task does not take much time – while it is certainly cheaper to do it yourself, the price of labor should not be ridiculous.
The cost of getting a broken bike spoke replaced will vary depending on your location, shop, and damage to the spoke. Location and shop are the factors which will have the widest variety. Having a spoke damaged enough to require any significant amount of additional labor likely means that it has damaged some other part of the wheel as well, which is rare.
Expect to pay between $30 to $50 in labor costs for a broken spoke replacement. Taking a look at your bike shop’s website or giving them a call should provide you with a more accurate quote.
One of the benefits of choosing a repair shop is that they will also be able to true your wheel properly. After replacing a spoke, the balance of a wheel needs to be adjusted to stay straight, and pressure is correctly applied across the whole frame.
While it is possible to do at home, many beginners may shy away from the process. Most bike shops include a wheel truing service free as part of a spoke replacement.
Replacing a broken spoke is a fairly simple process that can be done in under an hour. Almost no special tools are required, and spokes are quite cheap.
Going to a repair shop is an excellent option for those without the want or confidence to fix the issue themselves, as labor for the job is often not much.