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Spoke tension curse (story time).

I seem to carry some kind of curse that causes my spokes to repeatedly lose tension, and nobody I talk to seems to know why. About a week before Pedal Pgh last year, I noticed my rear wheel was out of true after one of my commutes. Upon closer examination, I saw that the rim was actually split in multiple places, which altered the spoke tension. Needless to say, I ended up missing Pedal Pgh... I do most of my own maintenance and don't really have trouble fixing/adjusting brakes and tuning my cables, but when it comes to lacing and truing wheels... that is a voodoo art that I think is best left to the professionals... I took my bike to the folks at Thick and they determined that it was just a crappy stock rim and recommended doing a rebuild with something better. We got a shiny new Velocity Synergy for it and they did the rebuild, but unfortunately the spokes fell out of tension after only a few days of commuting. I took it back in for adjustments about 3-4 times after that; same problem each time, the spokes would loosen and the wheel would fall out of true after a handful of commutes. The people at Thick were extremely nice and very patient with me, going so far as throwing out all of the old spokes and rebuilding again with new ones. However, even with brand new spokes, it still went slack after a week. Near the end of the season, they did one last fix that seemed to take. I only got about 2.5 weeks of riding on it before winter rapidly descended on us, but it still made it longer than the previous fixes. I rode on it a little bit in March and April, and have resumed my normal commutes this month. I thought everything was fine up until I got home this evening and noticed my wheel had yet again fallen out of true... I'm at a total loss. Everyone I've spoken to about this can't figure out why the hell it keeps happening. Now, I'm a bigger guy (218lbs), but when I express concerns about my weight being a factor, everyone assures me that it's absolutely not an issue. I have a trunk rack with paniers, but the only thing I carry to work is my patch kit, a change of cloths, and my lunch. On my longer recreational rides I bring even less, trading my trunk and paniers for a small saddle pouch to hold my patch kit and cellphone. The only remaining x-factor that I can think of is my riding style, but I'm at a point now where I feel like I'm riding paranoid and babying it over every crack and rough surface. I worry about bringing it back to Thick yet again because of how bad this all looks... I don't want them to think I'm dropping my bike off of loading docks or something and trying to get free repairs. They really have gone the extra mile already for me. I know that just about everyone here commutes in some capacity, so I'm seeking advice and possibly some assurance that I'm not actually cursed. I've been riding to work for about 5 years now, and this is the first time I've actually considered hanging it up. Wheels are one of the few things I can't fix on my own and getting it re-tensioned every few weeks just seems asinine. In case you're curious, I ride a 2012 Salsa Casseroll. -Andy
2014-05-12 22:19:11
I'm sure others will pitch in with rim-specific information, but, short term solution - find a decent lightly used old rigid frame mtn bike to use as a commuter. I commute on a 199x's Trek 830 "Mountain Track" that I got on Craigslist for $50 and fitted up with fenders, rack, lights, and Michelin 26" x 35mm City tires (out of curiosity once I looked up the geometry and it is identical to some >$1,000 Surlys) I weigh as much (if not more) than you and carry a probably 10lb loaded briefcase pannier. Been commuting on it for 3 yrs, with almost no maintenance, wheels are whatever generic things Trek put on it back when Nirvana was playing, straight as can be. Often in traffic there is not the option to avoid potholes, gravel, cracks, whatever. It's a sledgehammer. I just love it so much. This would relieve your immediate frustration until you figure out what is going on with your real bike. Whatever you do don't stop riding!
2014-05-13 05:34:18
I would definitely consider weight to be a factor. To quote Peter White:
Let's be very clear about something. Rims for racing bikes, such as the Mavic Open Pro and Velocity Aerohead, are made for people who use bicycles in races. That's why they're called racing bikes; because people actually race with them! To be a competitive road racer, you will not want to weigh much more than about 160 lbs. Even at that weight, you'll find yourself at a significant disadvantage in many road races, at least those with any hills. Since the manufacturers of racing rims are aware of this fact, they don't bother making these rims strong enough for 230 lb cyclists, regardless of whether those 230 lb cyclists have the curious notion that it would be a good idea to ride a bike with "racing rims" and 23mm tires.
(BTW I don't know if his advice applies to the Velocity Synergy; but I think it makes sense to consider it.)
2014-05-13 07:19:40
According to the salsa site they are 32 spoke wheels not "racing" wheels. I don’t have a clue what could be happening, but when Thick did the rebuild and later replaced the spokes did they reuse the old nipples? That's the only variable left in the equation. Maybe they became polished and don’t have enough friction to seat against the rim? I’m just pulling that out of my ass, it might be you’re not feeding your cat enough and he went out and bought a spoke wrench – never trust a cat. I think I would just buy a completely new wheel rather than keep rebuilding this one. And if you do figure out what’s going on with this demon you’ll have a spare.
2014-05-13 08:10:43
Hmm, well, I put maybe 40 pounds less weight on my wheels, and I went to 36 spokes on my rear wheel, where most of the weight goes. And it is a Mavic A719, a very strong rim.
2014-05-13 08:16:37
@jw, I'm not disagreeing - I'm 60 lbs less and run 36 in back, but I think Thick would have suggested a beefier wheel if they thought it was strictly a weight issue. Of course you could always buy a wheel meant for tandoms too, that should be good to well over 300 lbs.
2014-05-13 08:42:06
Salsa says they spec their bikes to a 300 lb rider limit and 55 lbs of luggage for 355 lbs total, so you should be okay? The Delgado rims don't get great reviews though. The Velocity Synergy rims are billed as touring rims, weigh in at 490g which isn't a lightweight race weenie part by any stretch of the imagination. Rivendell says they use them on 80% of their builds, which is pretty high praise. That said, I'm no wheelbuilder, I'm just speculating.
2014-05-13 09:26:04
Check your private message box.
2014-05-13 09:29:20
which side is loosening? i assume it is the non-drive side?
2014-05-13 09:32:20
What size tire are you using? What pressure? Where do you store the bike; any wild temperature fluctuations? (e.g. cold garage, out in the sun all day). Do you turn big and green when angered? I'm sitting right around 200# and I've broken a spoke on a 32h wheel. The two bikes I currently ride are both 36h and both have held up for thousands of miles with very infrequent truing. Do you know what tension Thick was bringing the spokes to? You probably want them tensioned on the higher end for your weight. I'd try a new wheel, maybe built with this rim or the Mavic that Jon mentioned.
2014-05-13 10:20:02
Yeah, I guess logically I didn't seriously feel that I was too heavy for the Synergy rim, it's just an irrational, self-concious fear I have. Also, I haven't seen any splitting or stress on the rim itself since it was build. Nothing at all like what happened with the factory Delgado. @HiddenVariable For this most recent incident, I'm not sure. In the past it's been a bit of a mixed bag as far as I could tell. But again, I tend to not know what I'm doing with wheels. @Drewbacca 700c x 32. I try to keep them at about 80-85psi. When I'm not riding, my bike is always indoors. Stays in my gameroom area at home, and next to my cubical at work. As far as I know, I haven't been exposed to any gamma radiation as of late. ;-) I'm not sure what tension they were bringing the spokes to. I didn't think to ask.
2014-05-13 10:48:22
@timecatalyst: what about your hub? Have you been using the same hub through all of these trials? It's possible that the problem lies in the spoke holes in whatever hub your using. This is pure speculation, but if the hub is older, it might have its own set of defects similar to the rim in your OP. The spokes might be tensioned appropriately on the truing stand and then settle into the worn spoke holes on your hub. I would suggest cleaning your hub and then inspecting it for cracks, worn holes, and other maladies.
2014-05-13 11:27:32
"I’ve been riding to work for about 5 years now, and this is the first time I’ve actually considered hanging it up. Wheels are one of the few things I can’t fix on my own and getting it re-tensioned every few weeks just seems asinine." Have you considered buying a new wheelset? Maybe a special order from Peter White? I don't know what's going on either, but I'm pretty confident the issue is solvable. I mean they make wheelsets to carry *two* people and *loaded* panniers.
2014-05-13 11:54:15
I had problems with spokes and such. Then Bob from Iron City recommended a 40 spoke wheel. His assisstant was very skeptical - but I've never had a problem since.
2014-05-13 12:17:20
I think that a revisit to Thick is in order. Bring up what JaySherman suggests regarding the hub, if applicable. Have a discussion about spoke tension (it varies by manufacturer). Don't think of yourself as being a thorn in their side, working with a shop is a relationship... wrinkles don't iron themselves out. If you feel guilty to bother them, buy a few odds and ends while you are there and continue to support them as much as possible... everyone wins. Pressure sounds on the high end for a 32mm but not outside of a normal spectrum. I keep my 28s at about 90. I also considered suggesting a 40 spoke wheel, but you may have a hard time finding a 40 spoke hub that fits the 130mm O.L.D. on your Salsa. 36 spoke is a nice compromise, which may or may not be necessary in the end. Good luck!
2014-05-13 12:21:40
Thanks for all the feedback. Seems I have some parts to re-examine and options to re-evaluate.
2014-05-13 21:23:56
There really are a lot of things to consider that you still haven't tried. Placing washers on the hub end to create better engagement/surface-area might help (I think Peter White talks about that a bit on his website, in fact). Using a different type of spoke such as a butted instead of straight-gage could possibly help as well. The wheel-builders at Thick will probably have a better idea than I do, but those are some other things that you might discuss with them.
2014-05-14 00:49:22
I cant really offer any specific help, but can offer hope. I weigh somewhere around 350 and When i first started riding, I broke spoke after spoke and was always out of true. I did have a rear wheel built for both my commuter and road bike and it has been solid for me ever since. so a solution is out there...
2014-05-14 14:09:11