Breaking Spokes

Brian in VA

Jul 10, 2011
Good morning!

I'm experiencing something I've never seen before and I'm looking for some insights. I have a Fuji Gran Fondo 2.1C that I purchased last summer. It has Oval wheels and is stock in every way.

Back in October, a spoke broke on the rear wheel during my commute to work. Performance Bike replaced it and said I shouldn't have any further trouble. Yesterday during a ride with my wife, another spoke broke on the same wheel. I dropped it off at Performance to get the spoke fixed and they seemed to act as if this is something happens all the time and I should plan on replacing these, like the chain as it wears. Both of these happened on perfectly smooth roads, apropos of nothing.

The bike has about 1500 miles on it so far and the roads around here are smooth, for the most part, and while I hit my share of rough spots I'm pretty focused on riding smoother sections. I'm around 190 pounds, about 10 pounds over my mid-season weight.

I've never broken a spoke before. Is this something that happens nowadays as a result of efforts to make bikes lighter or do I have a bad wheel or what? Any light anyone can shed would be appreciated.


Brian in VA
Spokes break. It happens more frequently in poorly built or weak wheelsets.

You should check that you have even tension in your wheels. You can simply squeeze pairs of spokes to see if there are loose ones. A better method is to pluck the spokes and check for an even tone. Loose spokes will have a lower tone. On a rear wheel, the drive sides spokes have a significantly higher tension, only compare against neighboring spokes on the same side of the wheel.

Twenty four spokes on the rear wheel is a bit on the low side for a heavier rider. I however do ride on a 20 spoke rear wheel that holds up pretty well, but if any spoke pops it would be unrideable. The conventional wisdom is that a higher spoke count is both stronger and safer.

Did the spoke break at the nail head, bend or near the nipple?
Thanks for the response! I'll check the tension when I get the bike back.

The spoke broke right next to the hub but I can't say if it was the head or bend.

While it wasn't unrideable, it was not very comfortable.

Thanks again!
Well built wheels shouldn't be snapping spokes in 1500 miles. I put about 5000 miles on Bontrager Race wheels, with a 24/20 spoke count, before the bike got wrecked in an accident. However, the wheels are still good---all spokes tight, and the wheels true. And I ride on a lot of really bad roads.
Once a wheel starts breaking spokes, you should expect more without a rebuild. You should buy some spares and learn how to do a field repair.

Riding on a broken wheel will only weaken it further.
Thanks for all the replies. Maydog, you mentioned that once they start breaking I should expect more without a rebuild. So, does this mean there was an issue in how it was builtup the first time? What is the root cause?

What does a rebuild entail? I'm a pretty fair DIYer in most everything and would be up to it if it would stop this from happening.

Thanks again!

Brian in VA
I've never rebuilt a wheel, since we have expert builders here who don't charge very much for labor. If you try DIY, suggest you get a good tension gauge and instructions. If you loosen all the spokes and find any wobble or out-of-round in the rim, I'd stop there.

Rather than just replacing spokes, you might take the wheels to a good wheelbuilder and see what he says about re-tensioning or rebuilding them. If you want to ride trouble-free wheels, you might be better off having an all-new wheelset built rather than spending money trying to true and even the tension on your OEM set. If the rims are out-of-true, or too thin, the wheels will never be durable. It's easy to make cheap lightweight rims, but hard to make strong true ones that are cheap.

Spokes really shouldn't break in normal road riding if you're careful to avoid potholes and get out of the saddle over RR tracks. I rode a set of Velomax (now Easton) Circuits for 30K miles before the rear rim cracked, and never had a broken spoke or need to true the wheels. I weighed about 180-190lbs over the years I rode them. They have 28 spokes rear, which is as low as I'd want to go.

If you decide on new wheels, I'd go for at least 28 spokes front and rear, 32 spokes are better. There really is no significant advantage in speed or weight to fewer spokes, and you sacrifice durability.
Re-spoke the wheel. It's fairly obvious the spokes used by Oval are scrap metal. No way a wheel with 1500 miles and a 190-pound rider should be popping spokes unless you're producing the power of a track sprinter (or riding Ohio roads!). If that's their fatigue life, you'll soon be popping more.

I suggest using Swiss DT brand Aero Speed, or perhaps Aero Comp (lighter) stainless, bladed spokes if you decide to rebuild your wheels.
I had the same bike and bought it at around the same time you bought yours (mine was a 55 btw). I also had a spoke break on me, while coming off a hill, just coasting.

I was also having quit a few other issues with the bike to where; I finally returned it a few weeks ago (for a full refund), no questions asked. I am not saying there is a problem with that specific bike, but I yet to have any issues with my new Trek...
It's something that happens on occasion, hopefully a rare one. If they are built well, shouldn't be too much of an issue. I'd look into something more durable, though.