The wheels and tyres are probably the most important parts of your bike after the brakes. Keeping them in good condition is important for the good upkeep of your bike and for your safety.
Rims are the circular, metal frames on which your tyres are mounted. They provide strong, lightweight support for your tyres, anchor-points for the outer spoke ends, and a smooth braking surface for your brake pads.
Spokes are the thin metal supports that form each wheel's structural skeleton. They provide the strength and structure to your wheels and keep them "true" (lined up and balanced).
Tyre Problems and Solutions
Worn tread patterns and tyre damage
Worn or damaged tyres can cause you to lose traction, braking efficiency and overall control of your bike. Worn or damaged tyres are also more prone to punctures and blowouts. Replace them as soon as possible, before serious problems develop.
Debris in your treads
Foreign debris lodged in your tyres tread can work its way through the tyre and puncture the tube underneath. Many flat tyres are caused this way. Check your treads quickly before every ride and clean out any foreign objects that you find. Keep in mind that removing an object from your tyre may unplug an existing puncture. Tyres are in contact with dirt, mud and grime all the time. Frequent cleanings therefore aren't necessary. However, you should clear your treads of debris regularly. You should also wipe down your tyre sidewalls from time to time so you can spot tyre damage more easily. Learn how to fix a puncture so you're ready for "surprises".
Incorrect tyre pressure
Incorrectly inflated tyres are less efficient and less safe than correctly inflated ones. They wear down more quickly and they're less effective at protecting your rims from damage. Incorrectly inflated tyres can also lead to tube pinches or the type of puncture we call snakebites, because of the double hole caused by the rim. Check your tyre pressure before each ride and correct it when necessary.
Tyres basic checks
Lift the front wheel off the ground and spin it. If it doesn't spin smoothly, determine if it is the tyre, or the wheel that is out of true. Turn the wheel slowly and use the brake pads to determine how bad any buckle may be. If it is the tyre that is not running straight take it off and refit it. Then 'squeeze' each pair of spokes with your finger and thumb to make sure they are correctly tensioned.
Inspect your tyres visually for worn treads, cuts, abrasions, sidewall bulges and foreign objects lodged in the treads. Pry out any thorns, glass, stones and pebbles that are stuck in the tyre tread, watch out for glass. If there is any serious damage, such as deep cuts, whilst super-glue does work, consider buying a new tyre.
Check your tyres to make sure they're properly inflated. Use a tyre gauge if you have one, but also learn to gauge by feel whether or not a tyre needs more or less air. Suggested air pressures are printed on your tyre sidewalls. Make sure your tyres are properly seated on your rims, that they aren't pinching the air-filled inner tube underneath, and that your valve stems are pointing straight out of your rims.
Check to make sure that the wall is covered evenly and there is an unbroken coat of rubber all the way around the rim. It may be necessary to deflate the tyre if the fabric is showing, or there are cuts and splits in order to determine how bad the damage is.
Rim and Spoke Problems and Solutions
The best way to avoid rim problems is to avoid potential damage altogether. Watch out for potholes, rocks and trees, and keep your tyres inflated to the correct pressure at all times.
Wheel out of "true"
Bent or damaged wheels can be serious cycling hazards. They should be repaired or re-built by an experienced mechanic before you ride your bike again.
Bent, dented, gouged, or cracked rims can lead to braking problems, tyre damage, and unsafe riding. They should be repaired (by an experienced mechanic) or replaced immediately, before riding. If in doubt about the soundness of a rim, take it to an experienced mechanic for evaluation.
Any broken spokes should be repaired and/or re-installed by an experienced mechanic before you ride your bike again. Riding on a damaged wheel can cause more serious bike problems and it can be a safety hazard.
Rims and Spokes Basic checks
You should check the rim sidewalls and spokes for damage and the trueness of the wheels You should make a quick, visual inspection of your rim sidewalls and spokes before every ride.
Visually inspect your rims to make sure that the rim sidewalls are clean and free of dents or cracks and that your spokes are not broken or damaged. Check your wheels to make sure they are "true" every month or so, and after any crashes or accidents.
To check the "trueness" of a wheel, lift your bike so the wheel is off the ground, then spin it. Watch closely where the rim passes by one of your brake pads. If either side of the rim wobbles or appears to "jump" with respect to your reference point, the spokes may not be tensioned correctly and the wheel may be "out of true".
Dirty wheel rims can cause your brakes to slip and/or bind up, so clean them whenever grime and/or brake pad residue builds up on them. Many cyclists typically clean their rims every month or so, though you may have to do it more often depending on the conditions that you ride in.
To clean dirty rims, wipe them with a dry, clean rag, or use a clean rag and alcohol. Don't use oily soaps or cleaners, since they can leave residues that affect your braking power. If brake pad residue or other grime is difficult to remove, use a fine steel wool to clean the surface. If you choose to use a solvent to loosen stubborn grime, be careful not to get any on your brake pads or tyres. Also be sure to choose a solvent that is safe to use and easy on the environment.
Wipe your spokes down every couple of months to keep them free of grime and to protect the spoke nipples (located at the rim end of the spoke) from corrosion. Corroded nipples should be carefully wiped clean. Ask your bike mechanic to check any corroded nipples the next time you have your wheels trued. Check your spokes for looseness as you clean them. Loose spokes can be tough to spot visually, so squeeze spokes together in sets of two, or pluck them individually and listen for ones that sound different from their neighbours. An experienced bike mechanic should tighten loose spokes.