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This is What Happens When You Cycle with a Broken Spoke!

Hopefully this will never happen to you, but picture this….

You’re on your daily cycle ride to work and notice a wobbly wheel. Upon further inspection, you realize one of your spokes have broken or become loose. Ahh! What now?!

It’s ok to cycle with a broken spoke….

Right…?

Well you’ll be glad to know that the answer is a YES! You CAN ride your bike home quite safely even if one of your bicycle spokes is broken or missing. This is true in most cases.  

Most wheels are pretty sturdy, and they will maintain their integrity even with a missing spoke. As long as your wheel is still straight and is not rubbing up against your brake pads at any point in a full turn of the wheel, you are fine to ride your bike with a broken or loose spoke.

But it is important to note a few things if you are ever in this situation.

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How Long Can You Get Away With NOT Fixing Your Bicycle Spoke?

This depends on how sturdy the wheel is without the spoke.

Assuming that you still have a perfectly aligned, straight wheel, and that the only thing missing is the one spoke, you can probably go quite a while without getting it fixed.

But this will also depend on how many spokes your wheel originally had. Wheel spokes can range from anywhere between 16 and 32 spokes per wheel.

The more spokes you have, the less load each spoke has to take on. So for example, if your wheels have 32 spokes, you can ride your bike probably for quite some time without causing further damage.

But if you have a wheel with only 16 spokes, then that one missing spoke will have a bigger impact on the wheel, because each spoke in a 16 spoke wheel is taking on much more stress with each turn of the wheel than a 32 spoke wheel.

The fewer spokes you have, the more urgent it would be to get the spoke fixed.

What Happens if you don’t replace your Bicycle Spoke?

The spoke is there to add stability and balance to your wheel when you ride. Having a spoke missing will compromise this. Cycling with one broken spoke will get you home, but you are far more likely to get a more broken spokes if you don’t get it fixed.

Remember, with one missing spoke, the wheel is now carrying a slightly uneven load with each turn. This places uneven tension on the surrounding spokes.

Eventually, the damage will occur in at least 2 places:

  1. The other spokes – As there will be more stress on the other spokes than is normal, you will find that the other spokes around the wheel will be much more likely to break or become loose. Particularly the ones next to and opposite the broken one.
  2. The wheel – This may have already occurred when the actual spoke broke, but riding with a missing spoke will likely lead to the wheel eventually becoming imbalanced. The wheel won’t be ‘true’ anymore. This means it is misaligned and won’t turn completely at a straight aligned angle with your brakes and the rest of your bike. It will rub against the brake pads unevenly, causing damage to both the wheel and brakes. Not to mention, giving you a more uncomfortable, ‘wobblier’ ride than you are used to.

It’s also very important to understand what’s causing problems in your bike spoke. This will not only help you ride comfortably, it’ll also keep you safe. Here’s an article I wrote about why bike spokes get loose and what to do about them.

As you can see, the potential damage of not getting your spoke fixed is not really worth it. You will end up spending on a new wheel at the very least, which is far more expensive than getting the spoke fixed.

When Should You NEVER Ride with a Broken Spoke?

If you notice that the wheel is not straight anymore, or is rubbing against the brakes periodically when you cycle, then it’s time to walk your bike home and get it fixed before taking it out for a ride again.

Not only will it cause too much damage to your bike, it is also unsafe to ride the bike when it is like this, as your steering will be off, and you’ll will have less control when riding.

How to Ride Home Safely when you have a Broken Spoke…

So what can you do when this does happen and you want to ride back home?

1) Check the spoke is not in danger of catching anywhere when you ride.

Depending on what happened, either remove the spoke, or twist and bend the spoke round the other spokes to make sure it is completely out of the way. You can use a bit of duct tape to secure it and make sure it doesn’t move around and get stuck somewhere when you cycle. Cable ties are another good choice.

2) Turn the wheel and check it is turning okay.

Run the wheel through freely and keep an eye to see if it is catching on the brake pads at all during the turns. Also, listen out for it, as sometimes you can hear it catching even if you can’t see it.

Make any adjustments that you can to make sure nothing is catching. You should be fine to ride home from this point on, but just to be safe, be extra careful that you don’t cycle over any potholes or very uneven surfaces. Remember, your wheel is no longer optimally supported, and any undue stress will break your other spokes much more easily if not you’re not careful.

Can I Fix it There and Then?

Yes, you definitely CAN fix the spoke there and then.

It’s always good to be prepared and have an essential kit with you every time you go out on a cycle ride.

You WILL need to take it in for a proper service when you get the chance though, as more than likely, your wheel alignment will need to be re-adjusted, and this needs to be done by a professional.

Unless of course you are quite the avid home expert in bike maintenance! It does require specialist equipment to get the wheel back to normal, as the adjustments can be very tiny, but have a big impact on the bike fitting and alignment.

Note: If you do fancy doing it yourself at home, check out my article “How to Repair a Broken Bike Spoke in 5 Easy Steps”.

But, as a temporary measure, and reassurance that you are reducing the possibility of further damage to your bike, there are a couple of options if you want to be prepared for this scenario.

You can either:

  1. Carry spare spokes
  2. Carry an emergency spoke replacement kit (my preferred option)

Here’s a quick guide into each of the options:

Carrying Spare Bicycle Spokes…

You can fix a new spoke back on as soon as it breaks and before you continue to ride if you want to. But again, don’t forget to take it in for a service afterwards to get your wheel properly aligned and avoid further damage.

What You’ll Need to Carry:

  1.  A couple of spokes – You will need ones that are specific for your wheels. A good idea is to attach them to the top bar right under your saddle with cable ties. It’s not so visible, and you will keep them nice and straight.
  2. Some cable ties or duct tape – Have some tape wrapped around your bicycle pump instead of carrying a whole roll.
  3. A spoke key – This is usually included with your bicycle multi-tool.

There are lot’s of YouTube videos showing you how to change your spoke when out and about. And once you’ve done it a couple of times, it becomes second nature.

Emergency Spoke Replacement Kit…

The other option is to carry an emergency spoke replacement kit, such as this one available at Amazon.

It comes with instructions and has everything you need to fix one spoke.

The kit contains:

  • Full instructions on how to use the kit
  • Spare spoke nipple -This is the little thing at the end of your spoke that attaches to the rim of your wheel.
  • Kevlar cord – A strong flexible cord with metal inners. This is what will be used as the spoke, and is adjustable to any size.
  • Spoke wrench

Many people don’t realize that the kit is actually re-usable. So once you get home, take it off and pack it away in your bike kit again before sending your bike off to get fixed.

I prefer having this kit instead carrying spokes, and here’s why:

  • It fits any bike wheel, so you don’t have to worry about getting the right sized spoke as your spare.
  • The whole kit comes in a tiny little packet, so it saves you carrying anything awkward shaped, and it keeps your essential bike kit to a minimum.
  • You are probably going to have to take the bike in to get checked over professionally anyway, so using a temporary measure makes much more sense to me.

Again, YouTube has a ton of good videos showing you how to use the kit if you get stuck, but instructions are included with the kit.