Picture this: you’ve been working all morning on your computer answering emails and sitting through colleagues drone on via Zoom. Finally, you get to lunch, and it’s time to hop on your bike and treat yourself to an energizing midday ride.
But, just as you’re pulling your bike out of the garage, you notice something. One of the spokes is broken! You have no idea how that could’ve happened, but here you are with the clock ticking and a spoke detached from the wheel.
Do you ignore it and go for the ride anyway? Or do you find something else to do in that hour that will make you feel just as good without putting your bike or you in harm’s way?
Let’s break down how to determine if a spoke is broken or loose if it’s safe to ride with compromised spokes, and how to go about fixing them.
How Do You Know if a Spoke is Broken or Loose?
Your spokes are the backbone of your wheel. If you look at your bike tires, you’ll quickly notice that the spokes are essential to a well-functioning bike.
If you think your spokes might be loose, listen carefully while pedaling. The wheel will rattle because it’s not secured to the spoke nipples.
Your wheels should never be shaky. Your spokes might also be loose if your wheels are emitting a humming noise. In either case, you should have a look at all your spokes and see which ones need tightening.
The most obvious way to know if a spoke is broken is if it’s come off the wheel. However, bikes have a lot of spokes, so this won’t always be as obvious as you might hope.
It’s recommended that you inspect your tires and wheels consistently so that you catch any irregularities quickly.
There are a few reasons why you might have broken or loosened a spoke. High-impact riding can be tough on your wheels and if they can loosen or break if they aren’t designed for that kind of riding.
Riding over potholes or through ditches is a great way to damage your spokes.
A mountain bike is designed to be ridden through bumpy and unpredictable terrain, which is why the spokes on one are fitted so tightly.
However, you can ride perfectly and still have a loose spoke every now and then, so don’t blame yourself if this happens sometimes. We will get more into why you might break a spoke later on.
Is It Safe to Ride a Mountain Bike With Loose Spokes?
The short answer is yes. You can get away with riding a mountain bike with loose spokes, although it’s best to keep the riding to a minimum.
But before you get all excited about going for your ride, you need to inspect the bike wheels very carefully. You found one loose spoke, but how many more are loose?
The more loose spokes you have, the less safe it is to ride the bike. After all, loose spokes mean less-secure wheels, which will cause more and more problems with every loose spoke.
You also need to determine how loose the spokes are. If they are close to coming off, it’s better to tighten them on the spot or remove them. You do not want a spoke to break while riding because it might disrupt or stop the wheel and cause it to seize up.
Can You Ride a Mountain Bike With a Broken Spoke?
Similar to having a loose spoke, you can ride a bike with a broken spoke or two. Remember, your spokes are very important, so please don’t try to ride a bike with more than two broken spokes on a wheel. You could end up hurting yourself or damaging your wheels.
If you find more than three broken spokes, you should not ride the bike. In fact, it’s suggested that you replace the entire wheel instead of attempting to replace the individual spokes.
1/ There might be issues with your rim
A dented or damaged rim will mean that some spokes need to be tighter to retain the same amount of tension needed for the wheels to work properly.
Without the right balance of tension in the wheel, it will have to do more rotations to go the same amount of distance. This will eventually start to break spokes.
2/ You might be putting a lot of weight on your bike
Don’t worry, we aren’t saying this always has to do with how much you weigh. Some riders like to carry a lot of stuff with them during long mountain bike expeditions or go down a lot of steep hills that put pressure on the bike.
This weight can damage the rim or loosen or break spokes. It’s always important to inspect your spokes after a long and intense bike ride to take note of any damage inflicted during the journey.
3/ The bike might be defective
Just because a bike is brand new doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Unfortunately, accidents do happen, and some new bikes are defective. If you notice something loose or broken early on while riding, you should return the bike. That’s why you should always save your receipts!
4/ Friction can snap spokes
This usually happens with a bike that’s been very loved over several years. Spokes bend and flex—especially over time—and will end up touching one another. This friction between the two spokes can wear them down and cause them to snap or break.
5/ You might have cheap wheels
Not all wheels are made equally. If wheels have been constructed inexpensively, they won’t be able to bear the wear and tear that high-quality mountain bike tires can. This may cause them to break.
How Long Can I Ride a Mountain Bike With a Broken or Loose Spoke?
Different riders have different ideas of how long you can get away with riding a mountain bike with a broken spoke.
It’s important to notice that riding with a broken spoke will damage your wheel at least a little bit. So, you need to decide how much damage is worth not fixing or changing the spoke.
You can ride a bike with a broken spoke for several months, but that’s not recommended, especially if you’re able to fix it and just choose not to.
If you have a couple of broken spokes and are getting ready to start a long, hilly trail, you should get the spokes fixed before starting your journey. A quick trip to the store or to work with a broken spoke won’t hurt your bike, but a longer trip might.
How Do You Fix a Broken Spoke on a Mountain Bike?
Fixing a broken bike spoke is easy and quick, so learning how to do it yourself is well worth it.
To replace a spoke, you will need a new spoke and nipple, a chain whip, and a magnetic screwdriver.
Start by unwinding the broken spoke with the spoke key. You should bend the spoke 90 degrees before you start to screw it out.
You don’t always have to replace the spoke nipple, although we think it’s a good idea to go ahead and change it if you’ve already gone to the trouble of replacing the spoke. To do so, remove the tire and rim strip before reaching for your magnetic screwdriver to pop the nipple out with.
Now you can remove the spoke from the old spoke from the hub flange. Simply pull the old one out and put the new one in.
Be sure to thread the new spoke-in to match the other ones already installed.
Once the spoke is in, tighten the nipple with the magnetic screwdriver until it’s as tight as the other spokes. You want the tension to match the rest of the wheel.
After that, you can put the tire and rim back.
If you’re replacing a spoke on a back wheel, be sure to remove the cassette and brake rotor before trying to take any spokes out. The chain whip will help keep everything in place once you remove the cassette.
And there you have it! A brand-new spoke to keep you riding stable and strong!
You could always go to a mechanic for this, but what’s the fun in that? It’s cheap and easy to do yourself and will make you feel like the awesome biker you know you are.
Yes, you can ride a mountain bike with a broken spoke, although you should exercise caution when doing so.
Be sure to review the ways you can break or loosen a spoke to try and avoid incurring unnecessary damage on your wheels.
The next time a spoke breaks, try replacing it yourself—we know you can do it!
Have you ever broken a spoke? Did you keep on riding? How far were you able to get without any problems? We’d love to hear all about your experience in the comments!