Tone Deaf

A few days ago, I posted about a ride I took that tired me out much quicker than it should have. I thought it was because I had had too little sleep the night before. Wrong-o.

The next morning, as I rolled the bike out of the garage to put it in my car for a trip to the bike shop, I noticed the rear wheel was binding a bit. At one point in its rotation, a definite drag could be felt. I examined the brake, and saw that the right side of the rear brake rubbed the wheel at that spot. Ah ha! With that drag on the wheel, it was no wonder I was tired trying to keep up.

Later, I rolled the bike into the bike shop. “I need a new chain,” I told one of the mechanics. “And this brake is binding a little.”

“Let me see that,” said the owner of the shop, as he came out from behind the service counter. He took the bike and put it up on a stand.

“Yep, you’ve got a broken spoke,” he said.

“What?” I exclaimed. I went back to the service area.

“Yeah, here, and here — and here’s a third one,” he said. “That caused the brake problem.”

I told him about the ride.

“Well, one spoke breaks, and that puts extra tension on the others, and they can fail, too,” he said.

I told him I’d pick the bike up later in the week.

“Want me to give the drive train a good cleaning, too?” he asked. “This bike has been…uh…well used.”

Thanks. I told him to go ahead, and stewed in my car the rest of the way home. Thinking back to the ride, I remembered one spot in particular. We had slowed to look at some birds along the road, when I heard an odd sound — like a ping — come from the rear wheel. I thought it was odd, and it was a sound I’d never heard before. But I didn’t think anything of it, and we resumed our ride.

Trouble was, at that point we were still about 15 miles from home. And we still had some rollers to ride, as well as two good-sized hills.

Despite my tiredness, I managed to keep up most of the way home, until the last mile when Maggie pulled well ahead of me. I must really be tired, I thought.

Stupid me. That ping I heard was the first spoke letting go. I didn’t do anything about it, because I wasn’t curious enough to check on where such an odd sound could come from in the bike. I wonder how many spokes had broken by the time we took our rest stop with eight miles to go. I wonder how long it would have taken for the whole wheel to collapse.

Oh, and I have to give my bike a good cleaning, too.


  1. says

    Boy, do I know that sound. I popped a bunch of spokes on my old bike before I sprang for a replacement wheel–they were just too old (and I was too fat).

    In your defense though, that PING! sound can also come from a stone or a stick against a spoke, so…

      • says

        I replaced my 1970’s steel frame road bike with a carbon-frame Fuji SL1 last September and it has radial spokes on the rear wheel, non chain side. I’ve broken and replaced 11 of the 12 radial spokes. I’m handy and did the spoke replacement myself. In the quest for ultimate lightness the bike companies have certainly crossed the line on reliability. My 1970’s bike had 0 broken spokes in 30+ years of cycling.

  2. says

    I haven’t broken too many spokes so I probably wouldn’t know the sound too. Many years ago I broke a spoke about 30 miles from home. I widened the rear break release and wobbled home. I thought I would never get home. I have never broke three at one time. Hope the cleaning and new spokes solve the problem.

  3. says

    I’ve broken several spokes over the years, but usually it is related to getting something stuck in the wheel, like a tree branch, or from fumbling with my u-lock. The bike is still plenty rideable with a broken spoke or two, but I’m surprised those loose half-spokes didn’t spin out of control and make themselves quite evident.

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