Subject: Aligning a Fork
From: Jobst Brandt
Date: May 11, 2001
aka Bicycle pulls to one side
Riders occasionally complain that their bicycle pulls to one side when ridden no-hands. That is, the rider must lean off to one side to ride straight ahead. This symptom can be from a wheel that is in crooked, something that is easily checked by observing whether the tire is centered under the brake bolt, or by just reversing the wheel to see whether the wheel is improperly centered.
Assuming the bicycle still pulls to one side, the reason is usually that the fork is bent from a side impact. A bend from a frontal impact is easily seen because the blades have a rearward bend just below the fork crown where they should be straight both fore and aft and side to side. A frontal bend usually gives a side bend as well, because the blades are not identical and tend to skew to one side. This is harder to fix and requires fixturing.
If the fork is only bent to the side, the correction must be to the side to which the rider must lean when riding no-hands. This bend can be done carefully by bending one blade at a time.
Lay the bicycle on its side, front wheel removed. Place the rubber-soled foot inside the crown of the fork and pull the upper blade until the gap at the fork end increases by a couple of millimeters. This should be measured. With the foot in the same place, pull the other fork blade until the original spacing is restored. Ride the bicycle and assess the difference. Repeat if necessary. This must be done with a strong arm and a bit of skill but it is simple.
If you have a non-steel bicycle, buy a new fork.
[The more primitive the tools, the more skill is required to get a repair right. Brandt describes a "heroic" repair, or a "desperation" repair, requiring skillful muscle control to avoid bending the fork too far, potentially ruining it, and skillful, repeated measurement.
When a steel fork is bent backward, usually the steerer (inside the head tube) will be bent, not only the fork blades. I've successfully straightened forks by placing the crown between wooden blocks in a vise and first straightening the steerer by hauling on it with a close-fitting pipe fitted over it, measuring its straightness with a straightedge. Once I've finished that, I straightened the blades with blows of a rubber mallet, measuring alignment relative to the steerer. But a fork-straightening jig does a much quicker job -- see the article on frame repairs -- John Allen.]
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