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How can I check and reduce rim wear?


Paul Gibson

Paul of Ellis Briggs

The rims of your bike’s wheels are one of the more likely things you’ll have to replace.

To save difficulties during a tour, it’s always a good idea to make sure your rims are in good shape before you set out.

In this week’s Ask-A-Mechanic, Paul Gibson of British framebuilders Ellis Briggs dishes out information on how to tell if your rims might need replacing soon and how to make them last longer.

The Question: “How can I check for wear to my rims once I’m on the road? I don’t want to get stranded somewhere because of a cracked rim. Is there a general rule of thumb for how long a rim will last? Also, are there any ways to make my rims last longer?”

rimwearThe Answer: “A lot of rims now have a groove in the braking surface so you can visually check when they are getting worn.

Once the groove starts to disappear, it’s time to change your rim. In the workshop though, we run our finger along the braking surface and if its surface is concave, that’s when we advise the customer that it’s time to change the rim.

How to make your rims last longer?

There’s no general rule of thumb as to how long a rim will last as it really depends on the rider, but nothing wears down your rims quicker than riding in grit, sand or mud. So if you want your rims to last longer you need to keep them clean.

For example if you do ride a muddy section of trail try to find a stream and wash the mud of your rims and brakes.

Or of course you could fit disc brakes.”

Thanks to Paul of British framebuilders Ellis Briggs for answering the question. Get in touch to submit a question of your own to Ask A Mechanic.

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7 Responses to “How can I check and reduce rim wear?”

  1. Good post,

    Yes this is one big problem you could have in a big tour. After some reflection and research we did go with disk for that reason. Some other good reason to go with is disk break is that it break in all condition, it wont wear your rim or heat the rim to extreme in big descent, you will have the same spoke size in the front wheel and in the back.
    If you choose disk break make sure they are mechanical like Avid BB7 and not hydraulic. Disk pad are small and easy to change so just bring a few set with you.
    With disk break you will have some issue with bike selection and rack for panniers.

    Tailwind to all

  2. I like the last remark: or of course you could fit disc brakes. It seems the answer.

  3. Felix says:

    1. Always use a double-walled aluminum rim, and 2. Follow the ETRTO table to find the fitting tires. 3. Use 36 spokes instead of 32 to distribute load more evenly.
    1. A double wall rim is essentially a closed tube with a D-profile and is much stronger than the single-walled rim. (Even better if it has not one but 3 chambers on the cross sectional view, and with double eyelets.) They deform less and therefore put less stress on the spokes. I had a lot of spoke breaks on my 4000 km tour – they started to break after 600 km. Of course I used single wall rims and normal zinc spokes because it was my first tour and I didn’t have any experiences. Then I used double wall rims with 2 mm DT spokes on my tandem and had no problem in the Dolomites! Also make sure to true the wheel with a real professional to get proper tensions on the spokes – very important.
    2. ETRTO table tells you which tire fits on which rim. http://www.sheldonbrown.com/tire_sizing.html or http://tandem-fahren.de/Technik/Reifentips/index.html (in German). Be prepared that everybody will think you are crazy and want to use too wide rims but stick to these numbers and you will have longer lasting and safer wheels! I’m building a rear wheel with rigida big bull rims (25 mm inner width) and 47-559 (or 26×1.75″) Schwalbe Land Cruiser tires. Everybody says I’m crazy. But if we do follow the ETRTO rules on the cars and motorcycles, why not on bicycles? Don’t let yourself be fooled by the current trend of balooned tires with narrow rims – they are not good for touring and will overstress your rims and tires as well!
    Felix (biketoasia.org)

  4. friedel says:

    Thanks everyone for the nice additions and helpful information to the post. I think we could cover choosing a rim in a bigger piece, as there’s a lot to think about! For this, I just asked Paul to give an idea of how to check if your rims are worn on the road, but obviously there’s plenty you can think about before you leave and when picking out your rims in the first place!

    We had very few problems in general but had to replace our rims 3 times and 3 times we had an issue with them breaking, each time for different reasons. I’ve put in a photo above which shows what happened when the rim wore too thin and the rim broke apart.

  5. Becky says:

    Although we had disk breaks, some fellow cyclists we travelled with – who were also having rim issues – discovered that the replacement break pads they purchased in the middle east were too hard and that added to the wear. Once they sanded them down a little (to remove the hardest outter surface) they found they had less issues with rim wear.

  6. Burton says:

    Absolutely agree with the opening statement: “To save difficulties during a tour, it’s always a good idea to make sure your rims are in good shape before you set out.”

    Aside from that – it makes more sense to calculate your trip length and confirm that you can get replacement parts for what you have on the bike (rims for V-brakes or disks and pads for disk brakes) than arguing about how long they’re going to last. Its ridiculous to consider lugging extra rims with you and impossible to get disk brake parts everywhere, so the ideal preparation might be more geared to making sure you can easily get replacement parts rather than losing sleep over exactly how many kilometers everything is going to last. In many cases its also a lot simpler to simply replace the whole front wheel with whatever’s readily available rather than just look at replacing just a rim anyway. If you’re travelling on 26 inch wheels that includes the option of 26 inch 36 spoke 13 gage high profile double-wall rimed front wheels off of – electric bicycles!! Most of those are designed to be used with Schwalbe Marathon tires anyway.

    I do also have a small issue with Paul Gibson’s workshop – I personally have some Araya VX-300, 32-hole Japanese rims which were built with a welded seam and a concave profile to better grip the brakes. They’d fail his test for ‘concave’ new right out of the box!

  7. REQUIRED says:

    There are hard wearing rims for heavy duty use with tungsteen carbide incorporated into alluminium braking surfaces that last much(!) longer than a regular rims and have also better performance in wet conditions, e.g Rigida Andra CSS (carbide super sonic).They require dedicated brake pads but both rims and pads are long lasting and relatively inexpensive when compared to several whelsets replaced while on RTW. Thorn guys recommend theese for their Nomads.

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