Spokes and rims often come badly rusted or broken altogether when you purchase an old project motorcycle that’s been sitting for a while – especially outside or somewhere the ground would get damp.
Luckily, replacement spokes and even rim swaps are easily attainable for many of these old Japanese motorcycle. And lacing a rim yourself is not too difficult, so long as you have the right tools and the right amount of patience.
To test your motorcycle’s spoke for tightness, you can tap them with a wrench. Loose spokes have a dull sound, while tight spokes will give off a high note.
Here’s what you’ll need to lace and true a spoked motorcycle wheel yourself:
- Replacement spokes that are the proper size for your hub & rim.
- New spoke nipples.
- Spoke wrench of the proper size.
- Truing stand (can be jerry rigged with the swingarm and some clever marking/measurement instruments).
This page will go over how to lace and true a 40-spoke motorcycle wheel with a single cross pattern. Be sure to count how many spokes your motorcycle wheel has and take pictures and notes of the spoke pattern.
How to lace a spoked motorcycle wheel:
- Take a picture of both sides of the wheel you are re-lacing or have an already laced wheel at hand to refer to.
- Sort your spokes into two groups according to their throw (long vs. short – in terms of the amount of bend of the spoke head. There should be 20 of each type.
- Lay the hub on its side and insert a short-throw spoke into one of the holes with the spoke’s flange resting on the outside of the hub.
- Continue inserting short throw spokes into every other hole in the hub for a total of ten.
- Flip the hub over and insert the remaining 10 short throw spokes into every other hole, beginning with a hole that’s directly opposite a spoke on the other side.
- Place the hub in the center of your rim making sure that the brake shoe hole is on the correct side relative to the rim’s valve stem hole.
- Beginning with the spokes on the side of the hub facing up, insert a spoke into one of the holes in the rim. If the rim holes are off-set, be sure to insert the spoke on the proper side. Refer to your pictures of reference wheel to be sure.
- Count 4 holes over and insert the next spoke.
- Keep the spokes in place by loosely screwing in the spoke nipples by the same amount.
- Continue until all 10 spokes on that side have been inserted.
- Without flipping the wheel, begin on the lower spokes. They’ll be inserted facing the opposite way of the uppers.
- Insert a lower spoke, loosely tighten, count 4 holes over, and continue until the lower 10 spokes have been inserted.
- The spokes will form an “X” when you look at them from above.
- Move on to the long-throw spokes by inserting one into the hub so that the flange head of the spoke lay on the inside of the hub flange.
- Insert the long-throw spokes so that they face the same direction as the short-throw spokes on the opposite side of the hub.
- Continue inserting and loosely tightening the long-throw spokes until 10 have been inserted into each side of the hub.
- Move on to truing the wheel.
How to true a spoked motorcycle wheel:
- Set up your truing stand or swingarm so that the wheel can spin freely and so that you can measure wobble up and down and from side to side.
- You can do this with a dial indicator or more crudely with markers and string.
- Mount your hub to the truing stand and begin tightening the spoke nipple by hand so they are roughly at the same amount of tightness.
- Start with the spoke near the valve hole for reference.
- Begin with the inner spokes and move on to the outers.
- Measure the rim and hub to determine the center for the wheel.
- Take the difference of the rim width and the hub width to get the center measurement, divide that in half to get the measurement for each side.
- Set up a means of measurement from the truing stand on each side to the hub flanges to gauge your progress.
- Measure the distance from the reference point to the hub and subtract your halved center point measurement.
- That’ll be the distance between the truing stand and a centered rim flange.
- Find a point on your rim that matches that measurement. Mark it with a pencil or tape.
- Set your dial indicator or other means of measurement on the marked point.
- Tighten each spoke by the same amount until each part of the rim is within about .1 millimeter of the proper measurement.
- Make sure each spoke nipple is properly tightened and each spoke head is seated properly in the hub.
- You can check spoke tightness by tapping it with your spoke wrench, it should give of a ring rather than sounding flat.
- Grind down any spokes that stick up into the inside of the rim.
Outer spokes primarily account for side to side movement of the rim. Inner spokes primarily control up and down movement. You’ll want to monitor both as you true the rim.
You can find spoke and rim combinations at places like Buchanan Spokes, which also offers lacing and truing services.
If you find the wheel is not rounding or you’re not able to true it as you tighten the spokes, it’s much better to start over rather than continuing to tighten them. Otherwise, you risk bending the rim permanently. Go slow and make tiny adjustments as you go around the rim. Once it’s true you’re ready for some rim tape, new tubes, and tires.