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Old 04-20-05, 09:03 AM   #1
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Reduced spoke count wheels

I'm tentatively looking for a new bike for commuting and very light touring. The bike will have a light rear rack for small loads in panniers. It will mostly be ridden on paved roads, but the pavement is not always anywhere near smooth. The three models I have been eyeballing all have fewer spokes (e.g. 28) than the hybrids I currently ride (32). I have my doubts about durability etc as I have had occasional bad spells with 32-spoke wheels, sometimes snapping several spokes in a short period of time.

The LBS guys all say spoke count does not matter much, they are pretty much the same, they have had zero complaints from customers etc. However, they also say other things that I (based on experience) disagree with. So please give me your 0,02€:

All other things being equal, is a lower spoke count wheel weaker than a 32-spoke wheel? Is the difference even remotely significant in real life?
If I break a spoke, will a lower spoke count wheel be more difficult for me to true?

I have not built wheels from scratch, but I can replace a broken spoke and true a wheel.

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Old 04-20-05, 09:07 AM   #2
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a 28h is fine. commonly lower spoke count wheels have stiffer heavier rims. i have a 16 spoke wheel on my cross bike and while it's doing fine i wish it was a higher spoke count lower weight rim.
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Old 04-20-05, 09:07 AM   #3
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I would choose higher spoke count wheels for loaded touring.

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Old 04-20-05, 11:05 AM   #4
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If low spoke count wheels weren't pretty reliable, you'd be reading tons of posts ragging on them.

Low spoke count wheels are a little bit tricker to keep true.

What do you do if you break a spoke on the road? With a 32 spoke wheel you can usually bend the broken spoke out of the way, open the quick release on your brake and proceed on your way. You probably won't be able to get your brake pads far enough apart to handle the amount of wobble caused by one broken spoke on a low spoke count wheel.
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Old 04-20-05, 01:39 PM   #5
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I dislike low spoke count wheels. First of all breaking a spoke causes more serious problems as Retro grouch mentioned.
There is no advantage worth mentioning if you ask me. Some say its weight savings, well to make up for so few spokes you require heavier rims and we know weight farther from hub is noticed more so your at a loss there again. They require beefier spokes too. I would just go with 32.
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Old 04-20-05, 02:21 PM   #6
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If you add up the weights of low spoke count wheels vs. say a 32 spoke, the difference is actually less than 100 grams, or about 4 oz. For commuting and light touring, I'd go with the 32 or 28 spoke wheel.
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Old 04-21-05, 06:51 AM   #7
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For your purposes (small loads on the bike), I'd go with 32 spokes. This distributes loads over more spokes.
If you are breaking spokes, your overall spoke tension on the wheel is probably low or the wheel is fairly old and needs to be relaced.
The lower the spoke count, the further the wheel will come out of true when a spoke breaks because each spoke is holding more of the wheels overall tension.
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Old 04-21-05, 07:25 AM   #8
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32 spooke wheels can be strong and light. My custom built Velocity Aeroheads from Mike Garcia weigh 1477 grams without the skewers. They're strong, light and don't need to be trued every other ride.
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Old 04-21-05, 10:19 AM   #9
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I use 32- and 36-spoke wheels exclusively. The ONLY benefit of reduced-spoke wheels is a minor reduction in wind turbulence/drag, but the disadvantages are very significant for all of us non-racers. One cannot fight with basic physics/engineering: the easiest way to design a wheel with a higher strength/weight ratio is to increase the spoke count.
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Old 04-21-05, 11:28 AM   #10
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Personally, I would not use low spoke count wheels on any bike I use for transportation. There are a few reasons for this:

With low spoke count wheels, the tension in each individual spoke has to be proportionally higher to achieve any reliability. If (when) you do break a spoke, it will go much farther out of true, sometimes to the point where you have to walk home. That will not happen with 32 spoke wheels.

If (when) you break a spoke, or even when your wheel goes out of true, repair or truing is more difficult, if not impossible because the spoke required spoke tension is too high. Many of these wheels are built using a jig which deflects the rim in order allow each spoke to be tightened without stripping the spoke nipple. Again, not practical.

Finally, asside from looking cool, these wheels offer no advantage. In order to be strong, they must use a heavier rim, which tends to offset any gain realized by fewer spokes. I'd stick with a nice, handbuilt pair of 32 or 36 hole wheels.
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