Can you ride a mountain bike with a broken spoke?

Riding a mountain bike with a broken spoke is possible, but it’s not something I would recommend for a prolonged period. From my experience, one broken spoke can compromise the structural integrity of the wheel, making it weaker and more prone to further damage.

When I’ve had a broken spoke in the past, the wheel often becomes slightly out of true (not perfectly round), which can affect the bike’s handling and braking, especially if the wheel starts to rub against the brake pads. For a short distance or to get back to a trailhead, you can usually ride cautiously with a broken spoke. However, it’s crucial to get it repaired as soon as possible.

Continuing to ride with a damaged wheel can lead to more spokes breaking under the uneven tension, potentially causing a wheel failure, which can be dangerous. Regularly checking spokes and maintaining proper tension helps prevent such issues.

How many spokes do you need?

Firstly, your bike wheel spokes are the foundation of riding. In mountain bikes, you can have between 24 to 28 spokes on a front wheel and 28 to 32 spokes on the rear. So to answer how many spokes you need depends on the wheelset you have. For instance, you are enjoying an epic ride, and the next thing is BAM.

You look down to see some spokes broken, and if you have a 32 spoke wheelset, you will be able to get home. But if you have a mountain bike with a 16 spoke wheel, the risk of cycling home is higher. The problem is you lose up to 6% of your stability. While with a 32-spoke, the loss of strength is only 3%.

Still riding with a broken spoke causes stress on the other spokes and can cause more damage in the long run.

Is it safe?

If you only have one broken spoke, you can ride home by taking the following safety tips to ensure a safe ride.

Okay, you want to take a chance to head home with the broken spokes. What should you do?

  1. First, check if the spoke is not catching anything on the bike. Then, we recommend removing that mountain bike spoke. If you have some duct tape, you can secure it to prevent it from moving around. So make sure to carry some or even cable ties with you in your kit.
  2. Next, turn the wheel to make sure it turns okay and does not catch the brake pads when turning. Also, listen to hear if it is catching if you do not notice anything.
  3. Great, everything on your mountain bike is okay, so traveling home should be fine. But do not go cycling over potholes or uneven surfaces as it might not support you due to the stress of the other spokes breaking.

Okay, as you can see, you can safely ride home with one broken spoke. The same applies to multiple broken spokes, but it will be a shaky ride. So best is to pick up your bike and start carrying, or you can do the following:

How to repair

When mountain bike, it helps to be prepared with a repair kit. Carrying extra spokes with the right tools can help. But you will need to do a proper service as the chance is that the wheel alignment needs readjusting and done by a local bike shop. So invest in carrying spare spokes or invest in an emergency spoke replacement kit.

wheel spokes

How long will you be able to ride?

If you broke, one spoke, you should be fine to ride but not on rough trails or long roads. The best is to replace it as soon as possible. But if you risk breaking more than one spoke, get them replaced fast. While for multiple spokes, you can cycle when in the middle of your trail on the way back. Cycling longer will knock the wheel out of alignment, and you may need to spend more on replacement mountain bike tires and wheels. Further, before riding your bike, make sure to do some mountain bike spoke maintenance:

  • Always replace a broken spoke.
  • Before leaving for a trail check if there is damage on the spokes
  • Have your bike checked out biannually, and make sure you have a repair kit with you.

The difference in front and rear wheel

There is no difference, and the only difference is the count of spokes found in the front and rear wheel. The rear wheel has more spokes as it needs more force applied with your drive force and weight load. What you may find is that the rear wheel will wobble more under your weight than the front one.

What causes this problem?

Okay, if the scenario of heading to the mountains with your bike and the rungs keeps breaking. There needs to be a valid reason for this to keep happening.

Yes, you can head to your local bike shop and have it repaired. But, unfortunately, while it is a cheap fix to replace it with a new spoke with the labor costs, the same thing happens the next time.

It just keeps happening, and you wonder what is causing a broken spoke on your mountain bike wheels. The fact is you keep taking it back to the same bike shop, and no one explains what could be the cause.

So to answer your question, there are different reasons for this to happen.

Quality Control Reasons

It might be the spoke quality you use if you have fractures on the same wheel. Sometimes the spokes wear out with time.

Thus if your mountain bikes have been through many revolutions, it causes metal wear while the other wheels also have experienced similar levels of metal wear and are ready to break. In contrast, these butted spokes might not crack at the same time even if you have fixed one broken.

You may find that other spokes break after a few rides. All that is needed is some weight added with force and wheel revolutions to break. This can happen on the front wheel to the back one without hitting drops or doing casing jumps. No matter what type of spoke you have from:

  • J-bend
  • Straight Pull
  • Double-butted spokes
  • Straight gauge spokes

You can find that the metal quality used, from the thickness to the spoke nipple, plays a part. You may find that mass-produced MBT brands that are machine-built have cheap spokes to keep the costs down. You see this in your entry-level to mid-range MBTs.

Machine Built Wheels

Another reason for spoke breakage can also be that the wheel is not hand-built but machine-built. For example, the mountain bike wheels might have an uneven spoke tension. Therefore, the wheel needs to apply a higher force to specific spokes instead of distributing the power. Yet, even a double-butted spoke that is well built can reach a similar point of metal wear after a lot of use.

Other Reasons

The fact is you can break one of the multiple spokes, or the spoke nipples for other reasons as well. As you know, mountain biking involves thrashing your cycle over rough terrain. That is what makes mountain bikers enjoy the sports.

So you have branches and rocks flying into the wheels and off down your trail. So hitting regular drops or landing too hard-charging through a rock garden or even doing a landing places stress on the wheels.

So if you need to have that broken spoke repaired or have one built with a wheel builder, discuss what will work best for you with them. Talk about the type of spoke breakages you have, taking your weight and frequency of riding into consideration.

Final Thoughts

A broken spoke does not always happen often, but if you take care of it when it happens, it should keep it maintained. But if you keep having problems with broken spokes, we recommend visiting a professional. The result could be the cause of the rim quality, or it might be out of alignment.

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