Have you noticed that your bike has become more wobbly than usual lately?
Even if you wheels are properly tightened and you check your tires daily to make sure they’re topped up to the proper tire pressure, you can ruin your rim if you hit a pothole or go over something hard enough on the road.
And, when your bike starts to feel wobbly and unsteady, you can’t help but wonder which of your wheels needs to be trued, or if the rim is bent so badly, you may need to replace it. Whichever it is, you need to inspect and service the wheel before your next ride. So it’s important to know what to look for.
In the rest of this article, we are going to help you figure out how to tell if bike rims are bent and what to do about it.
What Causes Bike Rims to Bend?
If you recently rode over a deep pothole or a big bump in the road—and your bike has felt kind of out of round ever since—you most probably bent the rim.
Sometimes, you can even bent the rim by loading and unloading the bike on your car if you’re not careful. If things get wobbly and you don’t recall hitting anything in particular, a bent rim could nevertheless be the culprit.
Whatever the case, it’s important to take a moment to get off your bike and inspect the rim as soon as you can safely do so. Riding around on a damaged rim could ultimately end up causing more damage and result in expensive bike repairs.
How to Tell If a Bike Rim Is Bent
When in doubt, look for the obvious:
You know you have a bent rim when you look down the bike and you see a dent where you hit it. Or you find the wheel rolls unevenly when you lift the bike with one hand and turn the wheel with the other.
Sometimes the rim wobbles so much from side to side that it keeps bumping against the brake pads as it turns. This wobble is obviously something you want to correct, as it prevents you from going fast, with inertia, and slowly but surely wears out the brake pads.
How Do I Fix Bent Bike Rims?
To repair a bent bike rim, you first need to remove the wheel from the bike.
This will allow you to get into all of the spaces between the spokes and around the rim to inspect and fix the problematic areas.
You can true a wheel with the tire on and off. Whether you choose one or the other comes down to choice. Some say removing the tire gives them a better view of the rim against the truing stand. Others choose to true their wheels with the rim on as it helps them factor in the added pressure from the inflated tire.
If you have a truing stand, this is a great time to use it.
If you don’t, now is a great time to buy one and learn how to use it… or take the wheel to the local bike shop where they can true it for you.
A bike truing stand helps you get your wheel airborne safely so you have use of both of your hands to do your repair. If you don’t, you could just have someone help you hold the wheel up for you or even leave the wheel on the bike and balance the bike upside down to create a makeshift stand.
Now that you’ve got the wheel and/or the tire off, it’s time to assess the damage and actually fix your rim. Below are some helpful tips to help you try to fix your bent bike rim yourself.
Adjust the Spokes
You will need a spoke wrench (or spoke key) to true your own wheel, which can easily be purchased at a bike shop or at Amazon. This tool is crucial to being able to repair any bends in your wheel and true your wheel properly.
Use the spoke key to measure your spokes and check that they are straight as they go into the wheel.
Any spokes that feel out of alignment can be tightened, which, when done right, should pull the wheel back into good shape. The spokes create tension around the rim and if the bend in your rim is mild, this might be enough to get you back up and running.
True the Wheel
If you’ve checked to make sure your spokes are straight and tightened—but the wheel continues to look and feel out of round—you can play around with the tension on the spokes to true it.
You’ve already started this process just by checking and tightening spokes… but now, you want to focus on the spokes directly across from the bend or dent in your rim.
How do those spokes feel?
You need to create some counter-pressure to pull the wheel back to its proper shape. If the spokes feel slack in the area of the dent you can tighten them to true up the wheel.
In some cases, it may make sense to mount the rim, with or without the tire, to the bike and give it a few spins slowly. This can help you identify if you’ve trued it properly or if the rim keeps wobbling and hitting against the brake pads.
Dealing With Major Bends
If your bike rim is so misshapen that it’s almost taco’d, you might need to do a little bit more than true your wheel to get it back on the road.
Depending on the extent of the damage, you may need to replace the rim entirely. But it’s always a good idea to try to repair it yourself (or take it to a professional at a bike shop) before going that route.
No one wants to replace a bike rim, but there are times when your rims are so bent that you just have to do it. Bike rims range in price depending on the style of bike you have, so they can be anywhere from $25 to over $300.
Can’t I Just Ride My Bike With Wobbly Wheels?
Sure, you can ride your bike with bent rims and wobbly wheels.
But the problem will only get worse. Chances are the rims will deform even more or even crack from excessive spoke tension. The break pads will wear out in no time if the rim keeps hitting them at every rotation.
Yes, riding with a bent rim won’t damage the integrity of the rest of your bike, it just might not be a particularly smooth (or comfortable) ride. It’s not particularly safe to do so, too, especially if you’re riding long distances or off-road.
When you ride your bike with a bent rim, you will start to notice that the wobbliness will get worse and you may even start to hear a constant noise coming from your rim while you ride.
Try to fix it as soon as possible. After all, a rim can become unbalanced and damaged to the point that the spokes break and the wheel collapses.
You *don’t* want your rim to fail you when you need it the most.
It’s easy to tell if your bike rim is bent. It can happen on a ride if you hit a bump just right or if you tweak it while loading it onto your bike rack.
If you notice a wobbly feeling, hear a constant subtle drone coming from your rim, or just notice that the rim itself doesn’t look like a perfectly round shape, you might have bent it.
Most bent rims can be fixed just by truing the wheel right at home but in rare cases, you may need to replace it.