I have seen this done on bikes to reduce weight, mainly on front wheels but also on rears with apparently no ill effect. I have a Dahon folding bike with 20" wheels and am thinking of doing it to the front wheel, it currently has 28 spokes. I am hoping that with the small wheel size, relatively tight spacing and given that most of the weight is on the rear wheel it will be ok.
Anyone have any experience doing this? I am comfortable respoking wheels so it is more a structural question.
While your practical application might not work, recumbent riders who use small wheels on the front often reduce down to 20 or 16 spokes because of the inherent strength of smaller-diameter wheels. It looks a bit spooky when you consider these guys can do 50 or 60mph downhill on what aren't really totally smooth roads.
Low spoke numbers on a wheel is sell, just like frames with big diameter tubes. Just a small number of competing riders get to a level that need wheels that cost a hundreds of dollars and have two and a half spokes on a wheel. A wheel with 28 spokes is light and the number of spokes are small enought.
I bent my 36h deep V when it tipped of my Yakima, only strapped in to the tray by the rear wheel. The whole bike fell over, and was held up by the rim as a cantilever. I can't believe it only barely bent it.
So, rather than mess with bending it back, given it's a 36h rim, I just loosened too of the bend-side spokes and tightened the spoke between them on the other side. The two loose spokes are just there for looks and are zero tension.
I've been riding around on a 34h wheel for months now and it hasn't budged out of true. Other than that one area, tension is remarkably even all the way around. I guess it helps that I started with what would qualify as a tandem wheel on my race bike