Spokes - Replacing
Replacing dirt bike spokes isn’t too difficult, and it’s definitely possible for you to replace them on your own.
Broken spokes generally fall under two categories: one or two broken spokes, or a lot of broken spokes. Four or more broken spokes should be dealt with QUICKLY, especially if they’re close together.
A slightly different category would be frequent spoke failure – not uncommon with an older bike. Chances are the spokes are so worn that they’ll continue to break a couple at a time, until you’ve replaced all of them – and at that point the new ones will have uneven wear due to the breakage and start breaking as well. If you have an older dirt bike with frequent spoke damage, consider replacing all of them at once.
If you break a spoke and can’t replace it right away, wire or tape it to another spoke so that it doesn’t damage anything else. Even better, if you have your tools with you, cut the broken spoke out but leave enough to unthread it from the nipple later. Keeping the short piece of spoke in the nipple until you’re ready to change it will prevent dirt from getting into the threads.
If you’re racing, you can wire spokes together where they cross to keep them from getting tangled up in things if one breaks.
If you only have one or two broken spokes, you can probably replace them without too much effort. (NOTE: Spokes usually come in different lengths, or different angles on the head, on the same wheel – make sure you’re getting the proper replacements) You’ll almost always have to pull the wheel off your dirt bike, and maybe the sprocket. Also, because the way spokes are positioned on the tire (the way they’re “laced”) you may have to remove up to 3 to get the broken one out.
If the nipples don’t turn easily, try penetrating oil for a few days. If that fails, you can try applying heat, CAREFULLY with one of those small pinpoint torches.
Now let’s assume you have to, or want to, replace ALL the spokes. (Also referred to as relacing or re-lacing the wheel)
First, price out a replacement wheel -- you may find a good deal on a new or used wheel that you can slap right onto your dirt bike and start riding. That’ll give you a lot of time to work on the broken wheel without losing any riding time. When you’re considering the cost, think about how long you intend to keep the dirt bike you’re repairing.
Second, price out how much it’ll cost to have your local dirt bike shop relace the wheel for you. They’ll do it faster, but that speed comes with a price.
If you still decide to relace your own wheel… way to go! Just about everything is doable on your own if you’re patient.
Here are a couple of problems you might run into as you get started.
The nipples might be rusted tight – especially if the bike is older or used for a lot of wet riding. Also, the spokes can stretch over time (which is why you have to check and tighten them regularly) and the stretch can lock the spoke and nipple threads together. However, if you’re replacing all the spokes, you’ll be replacing the nipples as well, so you can just cut the spokes out.
Everyone has a slightly different way to replace spokes. I’ll outline one way here and it should apply to just about every dirt bike wheel out there.
Remove the tire and inner tube. You’ll find instructions here.
If you can, take a picture or two of the wheel BEFORE you start removing spokes. It’ll help you out if you get confused when it’s time to put them back in.
With the tire off, you should be able to use a screwdriver (sometimes a hex key/wrench) to loosen the nipples from inside the rim. If not, use your spoke wrench in the usual way. I usually loosen all the nipples first without taking them all the way off.
Start taking out all the outside spokes. These are the ones with the head inside the hub, but the spoke itself is on the outside of the hub. Confusing? Just read that sentence over a couple of times until you get it. Take at least one of those spokes and label it as “outside” with some masking tape or something. Why? Because inside and outside spokes usually have different angles on the head and you’ll want to match an old one to the new ones.
Next take out the inside spokes EXCEPT for two on either side of the wheel. Leave two spokes on opposite sides of the hub, and on the other side, leave two spokes on opposite sides of the hub but perpendicular to the other two. When you look down at the wheel, you’ll see spokes at the 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock position. The point is to hold the hub loosely in place, and give you a starting point for the new spokes.
Take one of the new inside spokes (compare it with the outside one you labeled), and replace one of the four remaining spokes. Tighten the nipple just enough to keep everything together. Repeat for the remaining three spokes.
Install all of the inside spokes. Depending on the wheel and the order you put them in, you may have to disconnect a neighboring spoke to get another one in. As before, tighten the nipples just enough to keep the spokes in place.
Install all of the outside spokes. Tighten the nipples just enough to keep the spokes in place.
Now you want to give yourself an even starting point for truing the wheel – which means having all the nipples tightened the same amount, but not too tight. Most of the time, I can tighten the nipples right up until the thread on the spoke disappears. Start with one spoke, then tighten every third spoke until every spoke on the wheel is tightened to the same point. If using the spoke threads as a reference doesn’t work for the wheel you’re doing, unthread each nipple (one at a time) and rethread them the same amount each – for example, two turns.
You’re ready to true the wheel. Get the instructions here.