This article is from the Bicycles FAQ, by Mike Iglesias with numerous contributions by others.
From: Jobst Brandt <email@example.com>
>I just bent my wheel and am probably going to need a new one
>built. Can I reuse my old, 3 months, spokes in the new wheel.
>The guy at the shop gave me some mumbo jumbo about tensioning or
There is no reason why you should not reuse the spokes of your
relatively new wheel. The reason a bike shop would not choose to do
this is that they do not know the history of your spokes and do not
want to risk their work on unknown materials. If you are satisfied
that the spokes are good quality you should definitely use them for
you new wheel. The spokes should, however, not be removed from the
hub because they have all taken a set peculiar to their location, be
that inside or outside spokes. The elbows of outside spokes, for
instance, have an acute angle while the inside spokes are obtuse.
There are a few restrictions to this method, such as that new rim
must have the same effective diameter as the old, or the spokes will
be the wrong length. The rim should also be the same "handedness"
so that the rim holes are offset in the correct direction. This is
not a fatal problem because you can advance the rim one hole so that
there is a match. The only problem is that the stem will not fall
between parallel spokes as it should for pumping convenience.
Take a cotton swab and dab a little oil in each spoke socket of the
new rim before you begin. Hold the rims side by side so that the
stem holes are aligned and note whether the rim holes are staggered
in the same way. If not line the rim up so they are. Then unscrew
one spoke at a time, put a wipe of oil on the threads and engage it
in the new rim. When they are all in the new rim you proceed as you
would truing any wheel. Details of this are in a good book on
The reason you can reuse spokes is that their failure mode is
fatigue. There is no other way of causing a fatigue failure than to
ride many thousand miles (if your wheel is properly built). A crash
does not induce fatigue nor does it even raise tension in spokes
unless you get a pedal between them. Unless a spoke has a kink that
cannot be straightened by hand, they can all be reused.