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Causes of bike spokes breaking & how to prevent them from breaking

Broken spokes are very common in mountain biking or bikes in general and there can be tons of problems with it, its not just metal fatigue and wrong tension usually that is responsible for spokes breaking up on your bike, there are certainly a few problems that are worth keeping in mind and their solutions as well so you can save your time and money by knowing exactly what went wrong and hopefully have a better answer than “metal fatigue” or “wrong spoke tension”.

while they are certainly the cause in some cases, in a lot of cases that is simply not the case and you are usually working on the wrong problems and the issues keep repeating.

Even though I am not an expert I will try my best to address all the issues that cause the spokes to break and hopefully by the end of this article you would have better knowledge of why exactly your spokes keep breaking.

Spokes breaking at the nipple and its solution :

If you are finding yourself breaking spokes at the nipple there can be 4 reasons as to why they are breaking at the nipple

  1. spokes were high tensioned
  2. spokes are low material (aluminum)
  3. spokes have reached their life span
  4. spokes length.

if you tighten your spokes too much they might often break from the nipple.

The other reason is the material the spokes are made of e.g aluminum, some people go for aluminum because it is lighter in weight than steel but I would say don’t do it because they will often break and chances are they will end up breaking at the worst moment (accident) and the whole stress would shift on the rim breaking them as well.

There is also the maximum fatigue limit reach which essentially means spokes were too old to handle any stress and that causes them to break.

and the last one is if you are not careful about your line if you are constantly hitting potholes and jumps at full speed and you are not careful about line choice you will definitely end up breaking your spokes because the stress is too much.

If your spokes are shorter meaning they are nearly threaded into the nipples it can either cause the nipples to break or the spokes to break because the tension will never be enough and the spokes would be just bearly holding the wheel in position.

Fix for breaking spokes at nipple :

A quick fix would be to have the exact same tension across the whole wheel, to achieve the exact same tension whatever tool you are using count the number of turns on each of the spokes.

This way even if the spokes are not well tensioned you will run a lower risk of breaking them because the stress is being equally divided across the whole wheel.

And after 2 to 3 days keep checking if the spokes are loose again or not and repeat the process once again and it should be enough.

Remember: when tensioning the spokes go for one notch or turn up don’t do 2 to 3 turns up at a time that could result badly, “loose spokes are much better than too tensioned spokes if you are not a heavy rider!”

I usually check my spokes tension by hand which I don’t recommend you do but i thought might as well include it here.

I would usually give the spokes a good pinch you could say and usually I am able to find a loose spoke if any.

the nipples on this bike are aluminum and they are rusted if you have noticed (so not too much worried), it’s actually a kid’s bike but I just took a picture to throw something in to keep things interesting for you guys.

If you want to nail the tension there are tools for this specific purpose as well.

How often should you check the spoke tension :

Once you have realized what works for you it’s best that you check before every ride but again it depends on a person’s weight and riding style so you should check it once every month at least.

Spokes breaking at J-bend and its solution :

If you are finding yourself constantly breaking your spokes at the j-bend then you probably have either.

  1. too low tension
  2. you are overweight
  3. you have a very rough riding style
  4. Material choice for the spokes.

and if it’s consistent and not very common at all then here is what you should look into first.

  • your weight
  • riding style.

you may be using the right material (steel or titanium) but you are losing it on the weight and riding style if that’s the case then losing money on trying different materials of spokes and trying to chase after the perfect tension I would rather look into better options like stronger rim and sturdier spokes (enduro or trail rated rims).

If you are not a heavier rider and you are breaking 1 or 2 spokes every now and then, then the problem would be with the tension.

The thing that happens is if one spokes tension is loose than the other one’s nearby chances of the loose spoke snapping are greater because that spoke would come under more stress than the other one’s because weight or energy is not being equally distributed to the nearby spokes.

And if you don’t fall in both of those categories then look into the material side of the spokes if you are using aluminum then that could result in spokes breaking, and that is very common on trails people having aluminum spokes are always breaking their spokes because aluminum is just not sturdy enough.

Quick Tip: A quick way to check if you have aluminum or steel spokes use a magnet, there is a clear difference in the magnetism of aluminum and steel, steel is more magnetic than aluminum.

And if your spokes are breaking from the middle it was probably due to the shear stress either you rode rough sometime ago or it had weekend over time and there can be other problems as I have mentioned above.

Other reasons why spokes break :

Spokes can break on un-trued wheels as well it rarely happens but it definitely happens an untrued wheel can get you in trouble and if the wheel is un-trued it might be putting more force on one side of the wheel and that can cause the spokes to break.

and the other reason is if a wheel is very un-trued your spokes might be coming in touch with your derailleur and that’s something you should look out for.

I did a complete article on Risks of an un-trued wheel if you are interested you can check that out as well.

New tire breaking spokes :

Usually, spokes are not tensioned very well on a new wheel if you are facing problems with your new wheels you should check the tension on your new wheel.

New wheels are typically not tensioned very well and they need tensioning if you are someone new with not lots of experience then you should definitely tension your new wheels properly and it should solve the problem if not again I have discussed everything in this article I think it will be useful to you.

Should you ride with broken spokes :

you can ride if it is one or 2 spokes but there is a basic procedure you should always keep in mind and do before you start riding and that is to tie down the broken spoke with another spoke or completely remove it another thing would be to loosen the spokes around the spoke that broke.

in case the spoke breaks from the nipple you can easily tie it with any other spoke leaving it be would be dangerous and even if it breaks down from the j-bend it’s important to tie it down and slightly reduce the tension of the two spokes surrounding it.

Do not loosen them too much just give them a dial down so that the weight keeps shifting around.

And if you break more than 2 spokes at once its best that you don’t ride the bike tie the broken spokes to the ones that are working fine and call it a day to troubleshoot the problem you can follow the guide as I have written above and if you successfully know what happened to take measurements according to that.

and I think it’s always better to eliminate the root cause of the problem rather than spend money on it every day.

Should you lubricate your spokes :

Yes, definitely but keep in mind not to use oil or anything that will stay fresh for a long time because it will serve no purpose if you apply oil to the spokes threads and the nipples it will tighten easier but it will come off or loosen quicker as well so applying something like grease or petroleum based products that set quickly can be beneficial there are other dedicated products as well that can be more effective and useful then the grease.

Wheel smith spoke-prep would be a better choice for a spoke lubricant but if you are not having problems with spokes getting loose too often then I had said you don’t need it but if you are might as well try it.

it sets pretty quickly and it hardens making the spokes stay in place for a longer period of time definitely worth checking out if you are having problems otherwise don’t bother “if it works it works”.

Why spoke nipples keep breaking :

Brass-spoke nipples are really sturdy but aluminum spoke nipples are not that great and if they get corrosion they just become duller. If you are having trouble with nipples breaking now and then I had to say check if you didn’t cheap out on nipples somewhere if you did you already know the problem and the solution.