How to Eliminate Broken Spokes

I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’ve never broken a spoke. Never, not even while cycling coast to coast across America on light weight 16 spoke wheels over some of the worst roads I’ve ever seen. I can’t say for sure to what I owe my good fortune, but I believe it has a lot to do with  maintaining properly tensioned spokes.

While nothing will last for ever, properly tensioned spokes are critical for strong reliable wheels and reducing broken spokes.  I’ve found that just because a wheel is true, it doesn’t mean the spokes are properly tensioned.  To illustrate, my Cannondale Synapse Neo 1 came new from the bike shop with a  spoke so loose that I could barely get a tension reading on it with my spoke tension meter. 

Even a true wheel can have spokes that are overly tight while others can be extremely loose.  Consequently, it is important to check spoke tension even on a true round wheel.  In my home shop I use a Park Tool TM-1 Spoke Tension Meter to check spoke tension.  However, if you are on a tight budget you can find low cost spoke tension meters online at sites like

But how do you check spoke tension while touring? Unless you are tone deaf, plucking the spokes is a quick and easy method to determine if the spokes’ tensions are  significantly different. I simply pluck all the spokes on the same side of the wheel. Similarly tensioned spokes will be close in pitch. However, if a spoke has a much higher pitch, it is much tighter than the rest. If it has a much lower pitch it is much looser. Therefore, it is easy to hear an unevenly tensioned wheel and correct the problem before you break a spoke.

Ken Whittaker