How To: Check and Tension Your Motocross Spokes

How To: Check and Tension Your Motocross Spokes main image

Just like anything on a dirt bike, your wheels, and more importantly your spokes, need regular attention and maintenance before every ride. A wheel becoming buckled or not being true can be from lack of spoke adjustment or tensioning them incorrectly, which we cover in this guide.

Why should I check and tighten my dirt bike spokes?

A front and rear wheel is a web of equally tuned tensioning rods which keep a wheel straight, true and strong. With use, and over time, some of these tensioning rods will work their way loose, and impact to a rim can also cause some of your spokes to loosen slightly.

A dirt bike wheel being circular, any imbalances or dissymmetry will affect the balance and strength of the wheel. The old saying goes a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, similar to a motorcycle wheel if you have a couple of loose spokes, it will be a weak point of the wheel.

A weak point will only get worse over time causing more loose spokes, bent, buckled and wobbly rims, and after long term neglect, a wheel can completely collapse destroying your rim, spokes and often your hub too.

Not to mention if you happen to be jumping or riding a bike at high speed when your rim decides to let go could cause all kinds of accidents, so taking the time to keep your spokes tight will save you a lot of time, money and possibly crashes!

How often should I check and tension my motocross bike spokes?

Ideally, you should check your spokes after every ride - race teams will often go over a whole bike and check the spokes every time a rider comes of the track, but if you aren’t on a race team, checking them after every ride will be fine and should be included in your bike preparation routine.

If you have just purchased a new bike or new complete wheel set, you should check your spokes after every ride for a while. New rims, hubs spokes and nipples all take time to seat together and will loosen up a lot to begin with, and the last thing you want is problems with something new, so it pays to be diligent.

How do I check my motocross bike spokes?

A quick and easy way to check your off-road spokes is to physically feel them for tension - you'll notice spokes are laced to both sides of the hub, on each side the spokes are also laced in pairs which cross over each other.

To check spoke tension, you can grab two of the spokes which are in a pair and squeeze them together with your fingers. There should be a couple of millimetres of flex in each spoke, any more is a sure sign you have a loose spoke on your hands and re-tensioning of the entire wheel needs to take place. You need the correct tool for the job, and in this case, there are purpose-built spoke spanners/wrenches.

Be careful when tensioning spokes on older bikes:

When attempting to tension spokes on older bikes, you may find your spokes are seized and cannot be tensioned. One way to fix this is to spray penetrating lubricant into the nipple and leave it to soak for a day or so, this will help free up the spoke and nipple, hopefully allowing you to tension it once again. If you have a number of seized or stripped spokes, it may be time to replace all of your spokes and re-lace your entire wheel.

At scrutineering, it's common for the inspector to use a screwdriver like a tuning fork, they run the tool over all the spokes and listen to the sound each spoke makes as the screwdriver makes contact with it. A tensioned spoke will make a twang sound while a loose spoke will make a dull sound, this isn’t as accurate method as feeling them but it is much quicker.

How do I tighten my motocross bike spokes?

You need the right tool for the job, and all new bikes come with a spoke spanner in their spares kit - if you don’t have one, there are a number of Dirt Bike Specific Tools you can get a basic wrench with a different size at each end, one with interchangeable sized heads, and also the more expensive model with the addition of torque settings built into it to ensure all of your spokes are tightened evenly.

Spoke torque setting:

For most dirt bikes, the torque setting should be 45-50 inch-pounds, although be sure to consult your owners’ manual to get the exact torque setting for your particular bike.

Place your bike on a centre stand to make it easier to spin the wheels and tighten your spokes, and find a starting point on your rim - the easiest place is your tyre’s air pressure valve stem as there is only ever one per wheel, whereas some wheels have more than one rim lock.

Shop spoke spanners

Where to start when tensioning spokes:

Start by tightening the first spoke after the valve stem, remember that you should only tighten each spoke a small amount at a time to ensure you don’t pull the wheel out of true. Do not tighten each spoke more than a quarter to half a turn at a time.

Use a spoke wrench which is snug on the nipple, as a looser fitting wrench can damage spoke nipples very easily. Tighten every fourth spoke or follow the pattern of: Tighten one, skip two then tighten one until you have completed a lap of the wheel. Once the lap of the wheel is finished, move onto the second spoke after the valve stem and continue the same process. This will ensure the wheel will stay true and straight by tensioning the wheel in a balanced pattern.

If you encounter a spoke which is much looser than the others do not tighten more than half a turn but move on and complete the lap of the wheel, then start from the beginning again being the first spoke after the valve stem and continue the same pattern until all spokes are tight using no more than half a turn at a time.

Once you have tensioned every spoke to the torque setting or you can feel that each spoke is firm and there are no loose ones, then you have completed that wheel and you can move onto the next one. Once you have completed each wheel give it a spin and look to see how true the wheel is, this is also a good time to inspect your rims for dents, buckles and cracks.

If you follow this process after every ride it won’t take long and you will get more life out of your wheels.

Check out the range of handy dirt bike tools at MXstore:

  1. DRC Tools
  2. Motion Pro Tools
  3. RHK Tools
  4. Velosport Tools

If you have any further questions regarding spokes or bike maintenance don’t hesitate to contact the friendly team at MXstore


Comments (1)

Torque Wrench

Hi, Great post. I have a question. I got myself new rear and returned rims, and I've been tightening the spokes like you are doing in this article. What if 1 spoke is absolutely tight;? Shall I pass that one and keep till all is the same? I imply, is it good enough to pass spokes within the pattern if they may be sufficient tightened? 

Robert Genao on 20 March 2018
Hi Robert, thanks for taking the time to reach out to us regarding your spokes! One of our customer service legends will be in touch with you shortly :)
MXstore Response

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