One moment you’re enjoying your ride and then …PFF! Your spoke has snapped, and you’re farther from home than you’d prefer. The first thought is probably whether you can keep going with a broken spoke.
You can ride with a broken spoke, but not indefinitely. It needs to be replaced as soon as possible to ensure the wheel’s strength. Before you continue your ride, remove the broken spoke or bend it around the adjacent spoke to ensure that it does not get caught in the brakes, pedals or derailleur.
Any bike damage can be a mood dampener, but some issues are more severe and costly than others. Luckily, a broken spoke doesn’t represent a major problem and its repair is fairly simple and inexpensive.
Can I continue riding with a broken spoke?
Upon breaking a spoke, every cyclist’s first thought is whether they can complete their ride normally. The truth is, a broken spoke reduces the wheel’s strength and trueness, but you can still finish your ride without major problems.
However, it’s recommended to adjust your ride and head home as soon as possible since one broken spoke often leads to more if not fixed quickly enough.
When you realize that you have a broken spoke, it is necessary to fix the problem at least temporarily. A broken spoke can dangle away from the rim and can get tangled in other parts of the bike.
Unscrew the broken spoke and discard it. Alternatively, you can wrap it around the adjacent spoke or, if you have any duct tape, stick it to it. This will prevent the broken spoke from getting tangled in the derailleur, brakes, or pedals, which could lead to bike damage or even a crash.
PRO TIP: Always take pocket size duck tape with you on your ride. This will often come in handy, even in the event of a broken spoke.
Some cyclists also carry spare spokes on their rides, but I don’t recommend this, as they are rather awkward to store. Instead, take at least one of the following:
With a spoke wrench, you can tighten the spokes if they become loose. In case of a broken spoke you can use it to slightly loosen the neighboring spokes to ensure the rim remains true.
A spoke repair kit is a less common solution but very useful on longer rides. In case of a broken spoke, a thin rope is wrapped around the spoke and attached on both sides. This way the rope takes the load previously carried by the broken spoke.
How long can I ride with a broken spoke?
You should treat a broken spoke as bike damage. It’s not good to ride with any damage for too long. Although you can ride with a broken spoke, it’s recommended to head home as soon as possible.
How long you can ride with a broken spoke depends on two factors:
- The number of spokes. Bikes usually have 32 spokes, while modern ones may have only 16. The more spokes there are, the less load each carries. Consequently, one broken spoke is less of a problem.
- The terrain. On flat terrain (e.g., a road), you can ride longer with a broken spoke than on rough terrain (e.g., gravel). Any impact of the wheel against a harder object (a stone, a pothole…) compresses the wheel, which can twist if there is no spoke to resist the compression.
If both factors are in your favor, you can ride quite a long distance with a broken spoke. However, this is not advisable as it may lead to the breaking of the remaining spokes, making the bike unrideable.
With a larger number of spokes and road cycling, you can ride up to 30 miles (50 km) with a broken spoke without major problems, but longer distances are not recommended due to the risk of damage to other parts of the bike.
On the other hand, when riding offroad or using a wheel with 16 spokes, it is advisable to finish the ride as quickly as possible. A bike with a broken spoke may last a few miles, but with every additional turn of the pedals, you risk more damage. I would not ride a distance longer than 10 miles (15 km).
What causes a spoke to break?
Every time a bicycle gets damaged, we ask ourselves why it happened and whether it could have been prevented. It’s hard to prevent a spoke from breaking, but there are steps you can take to increase the chances of it not happening.
Spokes can break due to various factors, the most common of which are:
- Rider weight. Heavier riders press on the wheel with greater force, causing the spokes to also carry more force. If the force is too great, the spoke gives in and snaps. Heavier riders, therefore, need to know the weight limit of their wheels or choose stronger rims.
- Damaged wheel. The wheel can be damaged by improper use, riding over uneven terrain, or riding with an under-inflated tire. A damaged wheel is untrue, resulting in uneven distribution of force on the spokes. As a result, the more stressed spokes are more prone to break.
- Wear and tear. Just like everything else in the world, spokes also have a lifespan. The closer they are to its end, the faster they break. So replace them regularly.
- Impact. A fairly common cause of a spoke breaking is an unexpected impact on it. A stone, branch or something else can fly into the spoke and break it. Unfortunately, there is no protection against this.
Can I fix the spoke myself?
The good news is that spoke repair is fairly simple and affordable. In just a few minutes and for a few dollars, your bike will be ready for new adventures.
To repair a spoke, you need the following:
Detailed instructions for replacing a spoke can be found here.
Use the spoke wrench to unscrew the broken spoke and lace the new spoke in. Insert the upper part of the spoke into the nipple (the little metal thingy in the wheel). Tighten the nipple with a spoke wrench until the spoke is taut.
By tightening the spoke, you will also true the wheel. If you tighten it too much or too little, the wheel will not be true. I want to warn you that it takes some trial and error as well as patience to get the tightness right. If you don’t have time or patience, you better take your bike to a bike service.
If you want a mechanic to replace your spoke, it will cost you around $50, but the price may vary from bike service to bike service. The good part about getting it repaired at a service is that the mechanic usually checks the trueness of both wheels and adjusts it if necessary.
A broken spoke is not a big problem and allows you to continue riding but within normal distances. Riding too long with a broken spoke can lead to the breakage of the remaining spokes and consequently the destruction of the wheel.
You can replace a spoke on the spot if you have a spare spoke with you. A useful solution is also a spoke repair kit, which you can take with you on the ride. If you don’t have either, you can use a spoke wrench to loosen the neighboring spokes and thus ensure that the wheel stays true.
A broken spoke needs to be unscrewed or attached to neighboring spokes. This ensures that it does not get caught in the derailleur, brakes or pedals and damage any of these parts as you continue to ride.
Replacing a spoke is quite simple and with the right tools, you can do it yourself. However, this kind of work requires some patience and a small financial investment.
If you don’t want to tackle the project yourself, your local bike service can do it for a price of around $50.