Description of the Problem: During wheel building or when replacing a spoke, a nipple falls between the walls of a double-wall rim and starts rattling.
The problem is fairly common when lacing deep section rims.
Solutions To The Problem
The standard method of retrieving a lost nipple is as follows:
- Make sure that the spokes that are already connected to the rim are somewhat tight. Otherwise, they will jump out and get in the way of the nipple. Obviously, if you don’t have any spokes installed yet, this point doesn’t apply.
- Hold the rim vertically (perpendicular to the floor) with the valve hole facing down.
- Begin shaking the rim up and down (dribbling). Eventually, the nipple should come out of the valve hole.
Power Tools Method
Another cool way of retrieving a lost nipple is to use a vacuum cleaner. The procedure is as follows:
- Hold the rim vertically with the valve hole facing down. (This step takes the nipple the closest to the valve hole). If you don’t want to hold the rim, you can hang it from a bike stand or clamp it in a vise.
- Put the thinnest attachment on the vacuum cleaner. Turn on the vacuum cleaner and place the attachment on the valve hole. Increase the power output if necessary.
- You can retrieve the nipple from the disposable bag/container in the vacuum cleaner or simply use another one since they’re fairly disposable.
One can also use tape to “catch” the nipple. The process is as follows:
- Cut a narrow piece of tape and run it through the valve hole.
- Make sure that the sticky side isn’t squished.
- Spin the wheel on the bike or use a truing stand.
- Eventually, the sticky side of the tape should catch the nipple.
- Carefully, remove the tape and the nipple.
Obviously, this method is based on trial and error.
Piece Of Paper Channel
Another way to remove the nipple is to use a piece of paper to catch it and channel it out.
The process is as follows:
- Cut a small piece of paper and make an arch (half-pipe) out of it.
- Make two small cuts on both sides. This is done to create a second section which will act as wings opening inside the rim and catching the nipple.
- Insert the piece of paper through the valve hole until the “wings” are in the rim.
- Rotate the rim back and forth until the piece of paper catches the nipple.
- The nipple should come out through the second part (the channel) of the paper.
- Remove the piece of paper with tweezers to minimize the chances of tearing it.
The video below illustrates this method perfectly:
Note: You can also use a straw instead of paper.
Glue – Final Option
With a little patience, the above methods will work most of the time. That said, there’s another partial solution that deserves a mention.
Some people get tired of chasing a lost nipple and just pour some glue into the rim through a spoke eyelet.
After a couple of wheel spins, the nipple comes in contact with the glue and “freezes”.
Obviously, this method doesn’t remove the nipple out of the rim but eliminates the annoying rattling that lost nipples make.
Prevention Is Key
Ideally, one should never put themselves in such a situation when building a wheel. Hence why prevention is key.
One of the ways to ensure that you never lose a nipple is as follows:
- Take a spare spoke and thread a nipple turned upside down on it.
- Use the spoke to guide the nipple through а spoke eyelet on the rim and onto the spoke that’s going to be used for the wheel. Once the nipple is threaded onto the wheel spoke hold it in place with a spoke wrench while unscrewing the “helper” spoke.
Note: If you want to you can also make a long nipple driver out of the helper spoke. (learn how)
FAQ: Can I use a magnet to drag the nipple out of the valve hole?
Spoke nipples are made of aluminum and brass which aren’t magnetic materials and the magnet won’t attract them.
The reason for this material choice over stainless steel is to avoid galling of the threads – abrasive wear occurring when two metals are in contact with one another.
FAQ: What will happen if I don’t remove the lost nipple?
If the wheel is built well, a lost nipple has no negative technical influence.
Theoretically, the nipple hitting the insides of the rim and the valve stem should cause “cuts”, but since nipples are super light and made of soft material, it’s questionable whether this will happen.
The major downside of having a nipple in the rim is the extremely annoying and distracting noise that it creates during riding.