Mountain Biking Q&A: Can I Ride My Mountain With A Broken Spoke?


Getting a broken spoke can feel like breaking down, but for a bike rather than a car. In this circumstance there are a significant number of cyclists who can be unsure if they can either carry on cycling home or if they have to fix it there and then. In this article I am going to cover everything you need to know, and do when you get a broken spoke on your mountain bike. Read below to find out more…

Table Of Contents


  • Can I Ride My Mountain With A Broken Spoke?
  • What Will Happen If I Ride My Mountain With A Broken Spoke?
  • How Do I Cycle My Mountain With A Broken Spoke In The Safest Way?
  • How Long Can I Ride My Mountain Bike With A Broken Spoke?
  • What Do Mountain Bike Spokes Actually Do?
  • How Can I Maintain My Mountain Spokes To Prevent Them From Breaking?
  • How Can I Test The Tension In My Bicycle Wheel Spokes?
  • What Do I Do If My Mountain Bike Spokes Keep Breaking?

Can I Ride My Mountain With A Broken Spoke?


Yes, you can still ride your mountain bike if you have a broken spoke, however I would only recommend doing so when cycling very short distances and when cycling on flat, even terrain. Avoid cycling with a broken spoke on, off road terrain as the treacherous nature of the terrain could cause permanent damage to your wheel which can result in the entire wheel needing replaced

When you have a broken spoke on your mountain bike I would always recommend getting it fixed as soon as you can. It’s ok to cycle back home when it happens in that very moment however, I would not recommend prolonging the the length of time you cycle with a broken spoke as there is a greater chance of the wheel warping under the support lost from the broken spoke 

Remember that the more spokes your mountain bike wheel has, the greater stability it will have when you get a broken spoke. If your mountain bike wheel has 32 spokes and you get one broken spoke, you only lose 3% of your wheel’s stability.  If your mountain bike wheel has 16 spokes and you get one broken spoke, you lose 6% of your wheel’s stability. 

The long and short of this topic is the greater number of spokes your mountain bike wheel has the greater stability it has, giving you more assurance and confidence when cycling with a one or two broken spokes. In all cases however, I would always recommend getting it fixed as soon as you can to prevent any other problems.

What Will Happen If I Ride My Mountain With A Broken Spoke?


If you’re in a sticky situation where you have to cycle your mountain bike home or back to your final destination with a broken spoke or spokes, then a number of things are likely to happen. 

In most cases cycling with a broken spoke is absolutely fine, in that you should be able to get back home and prevent damaging the wheel in any significant and worrying way. However that outcome comes with a number of “Don’t Do’s” to prevent any further and significant damage to the wheel and other spokes. I would avoid at all costs rough terrain and avoid cycling long distances, if you do face these two obstacles then perhaps cycling part of the way, and walking the bike the rest of the way would be the best solution in this situation

The worst thing that could happen if you decide to cycle with a broken spoke is that the wheel will start to wobble, the weight bends in where the broken spoke starts to bend and wobble the wheel as you cycle it. This wobbling risks damaging the other spoke on the wheel with the unevenness and eventually the broken spokes won’t support the wheel, it may become too wobbly to even cycle

If you do encounter any wobbling then stop cycling immediately, the wobbling can risk knocking your wheel out of alignment resulting in you having to potentially replace the entire wheel. However this is the worst case scenario as mentioned above. In most cases however, so long you avoid rough terrain and avoid cycling long distances then the mountain bike will be absolutely fine and will simply need the spoke replaced once you get home

  

How Do I Cycle My Mountain With A Broken Spoke In The Safest Way?


To minimise and avoid further damage to your mountain bike wheel when cycling with a broken spoke, your best following these tips. Always take the smoothest route home, avoid rough terrain at all costs which includes road potholes, drains covers, sticks, stones and branches and any off road terrain like muddy gravel patches

You always want to take the smoothest route as it puts less strain on the wheel with the broken spoke, the more strain you put on the wheel the greater chance it will have of bending or warping inwards, which is where the broken spoke starts to bend and wobble the wheel as you cycle it. If this happens then you might have to replace the entire wheel in most cases. 

The rule of thumb is to avoid any obstacles that will put the wheel with the broken spoke under any significant strain which includes all of the following, road potholes, drains covers, sticks, stones and branches and any off road terrain like muddy gravel patches

How Long Can I Ride My Mountain Bike With A Broken Spoke?


The length of time and distance that you can cycle with a broken spoke will greatly depend on the extent of the damage. However in most cases you should be ok to ride your bike on an average of a day or two maximum, I would always recommend getting the spoke fixed as soon as possible to avoid any further damage

In most cases you should be ok to ride your bike on an average of a day or two maximum, which is conditioned to you taking the safest and less riskiest cycling routes. If you are cycling your bike with a broken spoke then the length of time and distance you can cycle with a broken spoke will greatly depend on the extent of the damage the wheel will receive if you continue to take the risky terrain 

For the safest results alway avoid the following hazards when cycling with a broken spoke, road potholes, drains covers, sticks, stones and branches and any off-road terrain like muddy gravel patches. Taking any of these routes and cycling for more than two days can result in you breaking more spokes and causing significant damage that can result in you replacing the entire wheel, versus just a spoke.  

In the situation where you have broken more than one spoke, say two or three spokes, you should only ride the bike in an absolute emergency. An emergency can be classed as, when you’re in the middle of a trail on your way back or any other situation when you feel you have to cycle back at all costs. 

Having two or three broken spokes is a very different situation to just one spoke, when you have two or three broken spokes then the wheel loses a significant amount of support. When you have two broken spokes on a 32 spoke wheel, you lose 6% of your wheel’s stability. When you have two broken spokes on a 16 spoke wheel, you lose 12% of your wheel’s stability.

This really matters when you’re talking about a 16 spoke wheel as there is a significant amount of support being lost when you have more than one spoke broken, as always I would recommend only ride the bike in an absolute emergency and getting it fixed as soon as possible to avoid any further damage

What Do Mountain Bike Spokes Actually Do?


The primary function of a bike spoke is to connect the bike’s wheel rim to the hub of the wheel, this is done by either having 16 or 32 spokes on each wheel. The spoke itself is a thin piece of metal that connects the bike’s rim to the hub at specific points of a 360 degree circle to give the greatest amount of strength to the wheel while giving the most amount of weight reduction

The spokes add strength to the rim of the wheel by being spaced out evenly in a 360 degree circle, they are spaced out mathematically to give the greatest amount of strength to support any weight that the wheel is put under when cycling. Each individual spoke is very light because the spoke itself is a very thin piece of metal that barely adds any weight to the overall bike’s weight however provides the necessary support to keep the tyre in check when cycling over a variety of terrain (roads, off road, bridges)

It is helpful to think of wheel spokes as a skeleton for the inner rim/wheel, your own body skeleton supports the weight of all your bodily parts which include your organs, fat, muscle and tendons. In the same way here the spokes of the bicycle wheel is the skeleton that supports all of the weight that the wheel is put under when you are cycling

When one spoke is broken, then the weight that one spoke supported is no longer there which can result in the wheel warping or indenting in at that broken spoke point. The weight that is put onto the wheel when you are cycling is no longer supported at that point which can then mean the wheel bends in when put under pressure. If your wheel warps and bends inwards, then you will have to replace the wheel rather than just replacing a bicycle spoke 

In essence the spoke of the wheel keeps the tension between the rim and the hub at particular points on the bicycle wheel, that tension then supports the weight that the bicycle wheel is put under. If spokes fall out of line, they aren’t “true” anymore, meaning they aren’t at the right tension level to keep the hub and rim perfectly aligned

How Can I Maintain My Mountain Spokes To Prevent Them From Breaking?


There is a large part of this that you can not control, you can not really control if your bicycles wheel spokes breaks however there are some things that you can do to be better prepared if your bicycles wheel spokes breaks the next time you encounter this

I would suggest testing and checking your bicycle spokes on a regular basis, you can do this by one strange but effective method. If you think of a spoke like a string on a musical instrument, by plucking each bicycle spoke you can get a sense of the tension each spoke has. 

A good rule of thumb is when you pluck each bicycle spoke, the higher the pitch the tighter the tension, the lower the pitch the lower the tension. This method is merely an indicator to give you a greater sense of the tension of each bicycle spoken before setting off for an off road trail or long bicycle journey, use it to your own discretion. There are better and more accurate ways to test the tension in each spoke using a bicycle spoke tensiometer, there is more detail on this below

Another tip to better maintain your bicycle spokes would be to check your bike in for a MOT and service at least once a year. Another approach would be to do this before you set off for an off road trail or long bicycle journey. Most bicycle repair/maintenance shops will have the professionally knowledge and equipment to test the tension and condition of the bicycle spokes giving you the confidence and piece of mind

Another tip to better maintain your bicycle spokes would be to get them replaced on a regular basis, you can either replace the spokes or buy a brand new wheel to better ensure you don’t encounter a broken spoke. this process can be costly however this is only really necessary when you regularly ride long distances and on very hard terrain

The harder the terrain the greater stress the wheel is put under, if you happen to be cycling those types of tracks on a regular basis then the spoke will eventually give way which could leave you stranded in the middle of the long way back home. This is why I recommend replacing the spokes or the wheel on a regular basis. if you ride even semi regularly, it may be a good idea to get in the habit of replacing any that look old and worn out

A good rule of thumb is always check the condition of your bike’s spokes before setting off on a trail, if all looks and sounds ok then you’ll probably be ok. You can be extra prepared by taking along some DIY solutions if your spokes happen to break in the middle of a long trail. You’ll want to make sure you have some kind of durable tape that can attach a broken spoke to each of the broken ends. A durable tape tape could be a DIY type of tape or a electrician type of tape, the one I would recommend would be Duct Tape but any other durable tape will suffice

Having a roll of durable tape in your bike storage bag can be a journey salvager, you can simple ripp of a bit of tape, seal the spoke on temporary and then start pedaling on the rest of your cycling trek, if you don’t have any durable tape then it can mean you have to walk back if you happen to be on a off road trail, durable tape is an absolute must have for any sudden emergencies you may encounter

How Can I Test The Tension In My Bicycle Wheel Spokes?


There are a couple of really great ways to test the tension in your bicycle spoke, one requires a tool that you’ll have to buy, the other requires no tools however both work very effectively. The first method is to use a tensiometer, a bicycle spoke tensiometer measures and determines the tension in each spoke in your bicycle wheel

A bicycle spoke tensiometer is designed to measure the tension and tension ratio of the wheel spoke. It allows you to replace the wheel spokes based on the measurement of the wheel spokes tension and tension ratio. a bicycle spoke tensiometer is a convenient and portable tool for wheel manufacturing or correction,for diagnosing wheel problems or for new bicycle assembly

The second method is absolutely free and only requires you to pluck and listen to the tension in each spoke on your bicycle wheel. How does one know what to listen for when plucking the spoke of your bicycle wheel?

Well the rule of thumb to follow is when you pluck each bicycle spoke, the higher the pitch the tighter the tension, the lower the pitch the lower the tension. This method is merely an indicator to give you a greater sense of the tension of each bicycle spoken, use it to your own discretion

What Do I Do If My Mountain Bike Spokes Keep Breaking?


In normal situations your bicycles spokes will not often break, in most cases your bicycle spokes breaking will happen few and far between. However if you are experiencing your bicycle spokes breaking on a regular basis then there may be a bigger issues that is causing the to break so much more often

The number one reason would be that you have an older wheel that perhaps needs replacing, perhaps you experienced no braking spokes for many years and then all of sudden you are experiencing your bicycle spokes breaking on a regular basis. In this situations I would suggest replacing the wheel if the wheel is fairly old and battered through the years of use

However before replacing the entire wheel with a new one I would recommend testing the tensions in each of the spokes to double check. Using the techniques mentioned above, using a tensiometer you’ll want to test all of the tension in each spoke which will often determine if they will break or not. The less tension in the spokes, the more likely it will break at some point and vise versa

Getting the lower tensioned spokes replaced at a local bike shop will be less expensive than buying a brand new wheel in most cases. So you have a couple of options when it comes to this, always test the tension in the spokes using a tensiometer, then you can determine to get some of the spoke replaces or to replace the entire wheel, this should fix any of your spokes continually breaking on you
I hope you enjoyed this article on “Can I Ride My  Mountain Bike With A Broken Spoke? ”, All of the information has been thoroughly researched and I have plenty of real world experience on this issue to add as well. Thanks for reading and enjoy!

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