What To Do About Clicking/Popping Bicycle Spokes?


Have you ever hopped on your bike for a nice relaxing ride only to be met with an annoying clicking or popping sound coming from the spokes? This sound can be extremely frustrating and can also signal a deeper problem. Read along to find out what causes this and what you can do to fix it!

The clicking or popping sound that comes from the spokes on a bike is often due to improperly tensioned spokes, broken spokes, or a wheel that needs some lubrication on the spoke nipples or cross beams. All of these issues can cause a wheel to become “untrue” which can lead to further damage and frustration.

What Causes The Popping Sound?

Simply put the popping sound, often described as “bell-like” or “jingling” is the result of an issue in the spokes in the wheel. This could be due to several factors including improperly tensioned spokes, broken spokes, or even spokes that are lacking lubrication and are crying out for some! It is always best to take care of the issue as soon as possible as all of these can quickly turn into a very expensive and frustrating fix. Here is how to tell what the issue is:

Improperly Tensioned Spokes

If you have a bike stand, put your bike in the stand. If not, flip it upside down on the ground and give the offending wheel a spin. As it spins, inspect the wheel and look for anything glaringly out of place. If you notice a pronounced wobble either side to side or top to bottom this is a good indicator the wheel is out of true and the spokes are improperly tensioned.

Also be sure to grab the spokes, often two at a time, and give them a good squeeze. Spokes that are way too loose or way too tight should stand out during this. If you are not sure it is always a good idea to bring the bike to a professional mechanic for a second opinion.

Broken Spokes

This one is very easy to spot by performing the same inspection as above. Moreover, broken spokes will often make much more noise and can even sound like a baseball card stuck in the wheel.

If you identify a broken spoke it is best to stop riding immediately and get the bike in for service. One broken spoke can lead to more and in a worst-case scenario a whole new wheel is needed!

Lack of Lube

This is a sneaky one and is the least likely of scenarios to cause the popping issue. However, it is not unheard of. Truth be told this usually happens in conjunction with the most common offender of Improperly Tensioned Spokes.

You could find this one the same way as the others by inspecting the wheel and giving the spokes a good squeeze. You will either be able to hear it or feel it when doing this. Lack of lube can oftentimes be the simplest of fixes. The one caveat is this is usually the least likely offender. But keep your fingers crossed!

What Needs To Be Done?

As with any of the issues that could cause a clicking or pop from the spokes it is always best to seek the help of a local bike shop and a professional mechanic. Working on wheels and spokes is very fun and rewarding but also takes many hours of experience and specialized tools to complete the process. That all said, let’s take a look at what needs to be done to address these issues.

Improperly Tensioned Spokes

To repair improperly tensioned spokes we are going to need a truing stand and a spoke tension meter (like this one on Amazon). Each spoke needs to be tested to ensure that they are the correct tension.

Some old-school mechanics and people with many years of experience working on bikes can feel the spokes and the tension without using a meter but it is not recommended for a novice. When it comes to properly tension spokes it is a good idea to take it to a professional or grab a friend who has done it before. There are also a plethora of helpful videos online that deep dive into the best practices for this job.

Broken Spokes

When spokes are broken or bent, simply put, they need to be replaced. This type of service can vary depending on the type of spoke such as J bend or straight pull and can also vary due to wheel type, spoke pattern, and braking system.

Replacing a broken spoke can at times be fairly straightforward but at other times can be a massively complicated job. As with most wheel work we recommend going to your local bike shop or grabbing an experienced friend. You could give it a go yourself after watching some videos but always be ready to call in the experts if needed.

Lack of Lube

This one is easy! If your only issue is a lack of lube either tri flow or chain lube is all you need. Putting it in some key areas can help to get rid of that clicking or popping sound and get you on your way!

How Do You Get Rid Of Spokes Clicking?

Some professional bike mechanics will call wheel building or maintenance a “lost art.” This is true in many regards as nowadays there is an emphasis on replacing parts instead of fixing them. Wheel maintenance can be a very zen-like experience, there is something oddly comforting about its rhythmic nature.

I’m a big advocate of learning bike maintenance basics for your bike without the need for a local bike shop with every single problem. With the help of online videos and other resources, you can learn to fix anything on your bike with enough patience.

If you have an inclination to do your wheel maintenance, you can invest in a toolkit that’s going to serve you for life. Here’s the list of things you need to do your own bike wheel maintenance:

Improperly Tensioned Spokes

Place your wheel into the truing stand and get started testing each spoke for the correct tension. To find that figure either consult your owner’s manual, the manufacturer’s website, or check with other owners on internet forums.

If you find a spoke that is too loose then be sure to tighten it, too tight? Be sure to loosen. Don’t forget that tightening and loosening spoke nipples is the opposite of “Righty-Tighty Lefty-Loosey.”

To tighten spokes you will turn the nipple counterclockwise and loosen you will turn them clockwise. At the same time be sure to spin the wheel and ensure that it stays true within the stand.

Periodically it is a good idea to take the wheel out and place the hub down on the floor. Grab the outer edges of the wheel and push down.

While doing this you should hear the spokes pop and ting as they seat into place. Flip the wheel over and do the same. This will ensure the spokes are pre-stressed before putting on weight or stress while in the bike frame.

Complete this process several times for the best-finished product.

Broken Spokes

In a lot of ways broken spokes are the same process as improperly tensioned ones. The biggest difference is replacing the broken spoke. Be sure to inspect the wheel and the pattern of the spokes themselves.

You may have to remove the cassette or brake rotor to replace the broken spoke as well. Additionally, the tire, tube, and rim tape will have to be removed whereas while truing or tensioning you can get away with keeping them on.

Once you determine how the spoke is replaced go ahead and put the new spoke in. Then treat the entire job as if you are properly tensioning and truing the wheel.

More often than not when a spoke breaks it throws the entire system out of alignment. So it is best to treat it as if that is the case. For the best-finished product be sure to complete the process a few times and get the wobble within just a few millimeters. 

Lack of Lube

Easy peasy lemon squeezy. If you are lucky enough to have this be the issue then you are in for the easiest bike service ever. This is almost as easy as lubing your chain.

Spin the wheel in the truing stand and put a tiny drop of lube onto the top of each spoke nipple. Then spin the wheel again and put a tiny drop at each location the spokes cross over each other. Wipe off the excess and boom. Done! It is that simple!

Conclusion

As you can see from above the clicking or popping sound coming from the spokes can be a super simple issue to something that turns into a nightmare and requires a whole new wheel build.

Generally, the worse the sound the worse the issue but this might not always be true. If you suspect that you suffer from any of the above we hope this article can help you find the help you need.

While we encourage you to get your hands dirty and learn the skills to work on your bike if you are in doubt of your ability then be sure to find a shop you can trust. Some shops even offer clinics to teach these skills or have techs on hand that would love to show you. It never hurts to ask!

As always! Happy Pedaling!

Bike Commuter Hero

When it comes to Cycling to Work, SAM IS THE MAN because he doesn't just talk the talk, but he also walks the walk - or rides the ride, to be more precise... Come, pedal with me and be a HERO!

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