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Home » Cycling » The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: When a Wheel Fails – What it Can Look and Feel Like

The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: When a Wheel Fails – What it Can Look and Feel Like

My rain bike, a 1999 Trek 5200 T, is a fantastic bike.  The only thing wrong with it (besides needing a new paint job really bad) is that it’s not my Venge.  Other than that, it’s been a reliable steed and it protects my Venge from wet weather.  After two or three rather long slogs in some nasty conditions I brought it into the office to clean it up and prep it for my next gnarly day.  Not much, wipe down the frame, clean and lube the cable guides under the bottom bracket, clean the brakes and the wheels, clean the cassette…  You know, simple maintenance stuff.  Nothing to difficult.

After substantially completing the cleanup on the bike, I moved to the wheels to true any minor wobbles.  The front wheel took about three minutes and I moved to the back.  Straight as an arrow.  I pinched the brake track on the rim to stop it spinning as I was going to finishing cleaning the chain to reinstall it.  I felt a bump, just a small one on one side of the wheel.  Over the last two rides it had picked up a weird thud on heavy braking at speed so I guessed my fingers had just gone over the culprit.  I spun the wheel again and pinched the center mount brakes tight so they were just barely touching the rim and waited for the thud…  Nothing.  I squeezed a little harder and “thud”…  I let the wheel go around again and found the source area and marked it with a magic marker:

Not much to see right?  This is what it looked like from the top (and why I never noticed anything)…  Let’s look at that from a different angle:

Look at the crack in that wheel!  Also, notice no damage to the leading edge of the rim…  In other words, I didn’t run over something to cause this.  I cleaned the chain but didn’t even bother putting it back on because I knew I’d be changing wheels once I got home.  

Fortunately I had the original wheels from the Venge on my Cannondale which hasn’t seen the pavement in probably seven or eight months.  The rain bike is more important so I took to removing the 7 sp. cassette from the DT Swiss wheels and installing the 5200’s 9 sp. cassette on it…  It was only then that I noticed this on the other side of the wheel, about eight inches from the crack I’d marked:

So this morning, rather than use the old tires that were on the Cannondale (the original tires from 1991 they’re still in excellent shape but lack decent flat protection), I loaded the bike into the truck and brought the old wheels to the office and took ten minutes to change everything out before I started work at 7 (yes, four tires removed and reinstall two plus cleaned the cobwebs and dust off of the old wheels, in ten minutes)…

Also, those Rolf Vector Comps are, from what I understand, the best wheels Rolf has ever made because that was the last year before they got into the weight game…  Those wheels have exceptionally thick side walls.  They’re said to be “bomb proof”.  Keep in mind, those wheels are sixteen years-old and I’ve got more than 10,000 miles on them myself in just three of those years.  The brake track had actually started to dish a little bit because of the intense braking those things had seen over the years.  While it may be odd for a wheel to fail like that, or maybe rare, those wheels have been through a lot of tough miles.  I’m not surprised at all.  Point is, watch your wheels.  If you feel a weird pulsation in your brakes that you can’t pinpoint to a loose spoke or a truing issue, check your brake surface for cracks like those shown in the pictures – and not just standing above the wheels as I did after two rides…  Obviously, the view from down below is a lot worse.  It’s scary to think what could have happened if I’d had that bike in Georgia on those wheels, cruising down a mountain road at 50 mph and they failed the rest of the way…

Finally, the good news in all of this is that the bearings in the rear wheel were on their last leg.  The dealio that holds the cassette was worn out so the cassette was loose and had the tiniest niggle to it and those Rolf wheels are substantially heavier than the DT Swiss wheels that I replaced on the Venge because they were too heavy…  In other words, bonus!  No cash outlay and I’d be willing to bet I dropped at least a half-pound by switching the wheels.  Excellent!  The Trek, at home, lubed up and good to go with a new, faster set of wheels (Btw, that bike is soon to be black):

[ED:   I use the word “thud” in the post…  It wasn’t a thud, it was something smaller, barely perceptible…  I couldn’t hear it over the wind as much as I could feel it, once every revolution of the rear wheel when I was braking.  I’d assumed I took a small rock off of the brake surface which caused a minor raised imperfection where it hit.  I figured I was just going to have to file it down.  Imagine my surprise when I saw that.  I was amazed that I couldn’t feel that while I was riding, let alone hear it when I applied the brakes!  It’s a lot worse than it felt or sounded.]


  1. Kecia says:

    Oh my!! I’m glad you noticed it before it became dangerous for you on the road!!

  2. my1sttrirace says:

    I’ve had the same think happen a couple of times. All of the grime and braking force makes the wall a little thinner, and it cracks. Most of the time, like you said, they crack on edge. Looks like you are ready for some wet weather.

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