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  1. #1
    Unique Vintage Steel cuda2k's Avatar
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    Straight vs Double Butted: the spoke debate

    Let me preface this question by saying that I've read Sheldon's bit on straight vs double butted spokes but wanted to get some more input from the community.

    Heres what I'm faced with: building my first set of wheels. Like many before me I'm sure, especially those trying to do this on a budget or for an older bike that doesn't need a lot of money poured into it I'm debating the merits of stepping up to double butted spokes and the extra cost. Especially when I'm going to be buying 72 spokes (2x 36spoke wheels). Hubs are old school Shimano High Flange hubs that are 126mm spaced for a 7speed freewheel. Rims are Wobler 58's in 27". Bike is my (personally) repainted 84 Centurion that I dubbed the Barracuda Mk.I equipped with Shimano 105 Golden Arrow.

    The wheels on it now are another set of 36spoke 27"ers that I bought in late 05, but are now being moved over to my Schwinn prior to that bike's sale. I wasn't happy with the combination of the width of the MR19 rim (23.5mm) and the dual pivot brakes so decided that I would build my own set of more vintage wheels around a narrower rim and a High Flange hub (which I personally like the look of). These current wheels run straight pull 14g spokes which I have had no real problems with besides breaking one spoke in the rear after hitting one really nasty pot hole at the bottom of a hill.

    I don't race this bike by any means, I primarly gets use on medium length chairity rides in the spring and fall when I'm more interested in seeing the country side than putting the hammer down.

    So, should I spend the approx 50% more on DB spokes this time around if I intend to have this weelset around for the foreseeable future, or for this application and budget, does the cost out weigh the benifit?
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  2. #2
    me have long head tube TallRider's Avatar
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    Your question appears to be a cost/benefit question - is it worth spending the extra for butted spokes?

    Butted spokes' first advantage is they produce more durable wheels. They're also slightly lighter and slightly less air-resistant, but those are not their major advantages.
    The reason that butted spokes produce more durable wheels is that - because of the thinner center sections - they stretch more under a given tension, and thus are less likely to go slack under heavy pedaling or rim deflection from hitting a bump. As such, the elbows and ends are less likely than straight-gauge spokes to get repetitively stressed.

    The non-drive-side rear spokes are the ones where this advantage matters most, as those spokes are looser (in a dished wheel) and more susceptible to going slack and compromising the wheel's status as a "pre-stressed structure".
    Butted spokes may still be worth something in the rear drive-side and in the front wheel, but that's less likely to come into play. Front wheels are simply under lots less stress, in terms of weight-bearing and dish and torque to turn the wheel.

    You're not a heavy rider, and 36 spoke wheels are pretty strong. You may as well build the front wheel with 15g straight-gauge spokes unless you're going to be heavy-touring on it. It's more worth spending money on butted spokes for the rear wheel, especially the rear non-drive-side.

    Here's a thread that I recently convened on this topic. Upshot is that butted spokes are helpful everywhere, but they're most especially helpful on the rear non-drive-side.

  3. #3
    cyclist/gearhead/cycli... moxfyre's Avatar
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    I don't really have a strong feeling one way or another. Here's my experience.

    I've mostly built wheels with straight 14ga spokes:
    * The first wheel I built, I didn't know any better... it turned out very sturdy anyway
    * I'm poor, and 20-packs of straight-gauge spokes are usually only $7 at Nashbar
    * I've only had problems with spokes breaking on one wheel, and that was because of a bad build rather than fatigue
    * At this point I have enough 14ga spokes lying around that it seems silly not to use them

    If I were to build a really nice set of wheels, I'd go for 14/15/14 or 15/17/15 depending on the application. But what I've built so far are just a bunch of fixie and commuting wheels, often with secondhand rims. They've all turned out pretty good.
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  4. #4
    The Red Lantern Rev.Chuck's Avatar
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    I like the way 14/15s build up and the ride is more compliant.
    I am not a big fan of straight 15 spokes Until black spokes became popular, straight 15s were what I saw broken most often. The smaller dia of the spoke seems to have less contact with the hub, creating a high stress point.
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  5. #5
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Let me preface this by saying that I only build with DT Swiss. There are other spokes out there and I'm sure that they are pretty good but DT is well known and readily available.

    Having said that, DT Alpines (2.3/1.8/2.0 mm) really aren't much more expensive than DT Champions (2.0 mm) per box at A.E. bike for example. Both of these spoke types are much less than Competitions or Revolutions but, personally, I think the DT Alpines might be the best spoke available. They aren't any heavier than a 2.0/1.8/2.0 Competition and they are much stonger where it counts...at the head. The fact that the spoke head fills the hole at the hub (usually you have 0.3 - 0.5 mm of play) means that if you do end up with a loose spoke, the spoke can't move around much and doesn't break as easily. I riding a mountain bike wheel made from the Alpines that's over 5 years old and it hasn't given me any problems. Before I would expect to pop a couple of spokes a year.

    Alpines aren't that well know (I'm working to change that ) and are a little harder to find but once you use them, you just don't see a reason for going back.
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  6. #6
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    A consideration for your first set (since I have recently been there/done that) is that 14ga straight spokes are the easiest to build with, due to them not winding up as much as 15ga or butted spokes.
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    biked well well biked's Avatar
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    I can only provide anecdotal evidence, but here's my .02. I built up a mountain bike wheelset a few years ago. I had the advantage of having a good friend who owned a bike shop, he allowed me to do the build in his shop with the best tools, his guidance, etc. This particular build was with Mavic X517's, DT 14/15/14 spokes, and Shimano XT hubs. They've been excellent wheels, I've done my best to thrash them into the ground off-road, and they're still going strong, having never broken a spoke. The only other wheelset I've built myself I sold with the bike they were on a few years ago, so I can't say for sure how they've held up. If and when I build another set of wheels myself, I'll go with double-butted spokes, for peace of mind if nothing else. If you can afford it (that's your call, of course), go with what you know is best.........But of course I've ridden a lot of miles on all sorts of wheels, and I've never broken many spokes regardless. Does that help?

  8. #8
    Taking "s" outta "Fast" AfterThisNap's Avatar
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    Spokes are free for me, but I choose wheelsmith DB mostly because they're puuurty.

    My race wheels get DT revolutions.
    Carries suspicious allegiance to Brooklyn Machine Works.

  9. #9
    Senior Member onbike 1939's Avatar
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    The last pair of wheels I had built I used this guy. He builds wheels for the British Racing Team and has a very high reputation. Here is how he does it.

    http://www.hewittcycles.co.uk/_bikef...ice/advice.htm

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by yairi
    A consideration for your first set (since I have recently been there/done that) is that 14ga straight spokes are the easiest to build with, due to them not winding up as much as 15ga or butted spokes.
    This is a real consideration for a first-time builder. One of my favorite LBS's mechanics uses straight 14 ga (2 mm) almost exclusively because of the ease of building, tensioning and truing. He'll use db spokes if you insist but charges extra for the aggravation.

    As Tim noted, 36 hole wheels built using modern components are really strong and the OP doesn't plan on using this bike for racing or have high-performance requirements and, obviously, isn't a weight weenie so straight 14 ga spokes should be completely satisfactory all around. Straight 15 ga for the front wheel would be plenty strong and durable too but at the cost of a more difficult build.

  11. #11
    Making a kilometer blurry waterrockets's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rev.Chuck
    I like the way 14/15s build up and the ride is more compliant.
    I am not a big fan of straight 15 spokes Until black spokes became popular, straight 15s were what I saw broken most often. The smaller dia of the spoke seems to have less contact with the hub, creating a high stress point.
    +1 I prefer 2.0/1.8/2.0 spokes. It's just a little easier for me to get the tension dead-on all the way around the wheel. I also have a lot of comfort knowing that it will take a larger hit to slacken a spoke than straight gauge.

  12. #12
    Unique Vintage Steel cuda2k's Avatar
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    Ok, one last question: suppose that 3/4 of the spokes I need are one length (298mm), and the last 1/4th of them (drive side rear) calculate out to 297mm. And I wanted to buy a box of 100, better to buy the longer or shorter length?
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  13. #13
    cyclist/gearhead/cycli... moxfyre's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cuda2k
    Ok, one last question: suppose that 3/4 of the spokes I need are one length (298mm), and the last 1/4th of them (drive side rear) calculate out to 297mm. And I wanted to buy a box of 100, better to buy the longer or shorter length?
    1mm either way probably doesn't matter you, but go with the shorter length to be safe.

    In general slightly too short will work fine (you'll just not engage quite as many of the spoke threads). While slightly too long may make the spokes poke up through the rim tape and puncture the inner tube.
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  14. #14
    Senior Member DannoXYZ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cuda2k
    Ok, one last question: suppose that 3/4 of the spokes I need are one length (298mm), and the last 1/4th of them (drive side rear) calculate out to 297mm. And I wanted to buy a box of 100, better to buy the longer or shorter length?
    If you calculated out with 297mm as the shortest, just get a box of 100 of those. If you were off by +/- 1mm, it won't be too bad. However, if you came out -2mm too short, it's still OK, but +2mm too long will probably bottom out the nipple.

    Personally, I like the Alpines the best for durability. The thicker 2.3mm end by the head gives the best fatigue-resistance and the butting allows more stretch for keeping the wheel true under more punishing conditions than straight-gauge. Although I've built up all my race wheels with 1.8/1.6/1.8mm spokes for the lightest wheels possible. They usually get trashed every 2-3 years from abuse and/or crashes before the spokes fatigue and break anyway.

  15. #15
    Sir Fallalot wroomwroomoops's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cuda2k
    Let me preface this question by saying that I've read Sheldon's bit on straight vs double butted spokes but wanted to get some more input from the community.

    Heres what I'm faced with: building my first set of wheels. Like many before me I'm sure, especially those trying to do this on a budget or for an older bike that doesn't need a lot of money poured into it I'm debating the merits of stepping up to double butted spokes and the extra cost. Especially when I'm going to be buying 72 spokes (2x 36spoke wheels). Hubs are old school Shimano High Flange hubs that are 126mm spaced for a 7speed freewheel. Rims are Wobler 58's in 27". Bike is my (personally) repainted 84 Centurion that I dubbed the Barracuda Mk.I equipped with Shimano 105 Golden Arrow.

    The wheels on it now are another set of 36spoke 27"ers that I bought in late 05, but are now being moved over to my Schwinn prior to that bike's sale. I wasn't happy with the combination of the width of the MR19 rim (23.5mm) and the dual pivot brakes so decided that I would build my own set of more vintage wheels around a narrower rim and a High Flange hub (which I personally like the look of). These current wheels run straight pull 14g spokes which I have had no real problems with besides breaking one spoke in the rear after hitting one really nasty pot hole at the bottom of a hill.

    I don't race this bike by any means, I primarly gets use on medium length chairity rides in the spring and fall when I'm more interested in seeing the country side than putting the hammer down.

    So, should I spend the approx 50% more on DB spokes this time around if I intend to have this weelset around for the foreseeable future, or for this application and budget, does the cost out weigh the benifit?

    Well, since tim, cycc and danno have already given you all the info you need, I will only ask YOU a somewhat OT question - note that your own post is mostly OT anyway So: how hard/easy it is for you to find 27" tires/tubes? And from where? What kind of choice of models are we talking about here (are there any puncture resistant, studded, particularly large + smooth...)?

  16. #16
    Unique Vintage Steel cuda2k's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wroomwroomoops
    Well, since tim, cycc and danno have already given you all the info you need, I will only ask YOU a somewhat OT question - note that your own post is mostly OT anyway So: how hard/easy it is for you to find 27" tires/tubes? And from where? What kind of choice of models are we talking about here (are there any puncture resistant, studded, particularly large + smooth...)?
    Off topic? well, maybe a bit too much background info if anything. To keep this on topic, I'll send you a PM in a moment answering your questions.
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  17. #17
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    Your wheels will be fine either way.
    Are straight 14 gauge (2mm) good enough? Yes, certainly, if good quality.
    Are double butted better? Yes, lighter and result in a slightly more durable wheel.
    It's up to you but if you are on a budget go 2mm.
    This is not going to be your last set of wheels. In the future when you're on a bigger budget build a set of light weight "racing" wheels.

    Al

  18. #18
    In beaurocratic limbo urbanknight's Avatar
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    I've built many wheels with double butted and they really last. The slightly shaved weight and drag are nice, too. My only bad experience is with the Revolution spokes because I didn't realize the deflection would give lower tension readings. As for 14/15/14, I have never had a problem with them in either DT or Wheelsmith brands, even on my downhill bike!

  19. #19
    Bikaholic blamp28's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyccommute
    Let me preface this by saying that I only build with DT Swiss. There are other spokes out there and I'm sure that they are pretty good but DT is well known and readily available.

    Having said that, DT Alpines (2.3/1.8/2.0 mm) really aren't much more expensive than DT Champions (2.0 mm) per box at A.E. bike for example. Both of these spoke types are much less than Competitions or Revolutions but, personally, I think the DT Alpines might be the best spoke available. They aren't any heavier than a 2.0/1.8/2.0 Competition and they are much stonger where it counts...at the head. The fact that the spoke head fills the hole at the hub (usually you have 0.3 - 0.5 mm of play) means that if you do end up with a loose spoke, the spoke can't move around much and doesn't break as easily. I riding a mountain bike wheel made from the Alpines that's over 5 years old and it hasn't given me any problems. Before I would expect to pop a couple of spokes a year.

    Alpines aren't that well know (I'm working to change that ) and are a little harder to find but once you use them, you just don't see a reason for going back.

    I like the idea of the Alpine IIIs for an upcoming MTB bike wheel build. I'm going to use XT hubs but I thought that the spoke holes were too small to accept the larger heads. Are you saying that there is enough room in most hubs for this 2.3mm head?

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by yairi
    A consideration for your first set (since I have recently been there/done that) is that 14ga straight spokes are the easiest to build with, due to them not winding up as much as 15ga or butted spokes.
    15ga or butted spokes don't wind up much at all, in fact the only spoke you "might" have a problem with is the DT Revolution.

    Use the DT Competition dble butted spokes if you want the lightest 36 spoke wheel set up with high reliabiliy. And for even higher reliability use brass instead of alloy nipples otherwise if you want to save weight use the alloy.

  21. #21
    The Red Lantern Rev.Chuck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blamp28
    I like the idea of the Alpine IIIs for an upcoming MTB bike wheel build. I'm going to use XT hubs but I thought that the spoke holes were too small to accept the larger heads. Are you saying that there is enough room in most hubs for this 2.3mm head?

    Depends. Some hubs have a hole/flange thickness that allow the spoke to fit. Some hubs have to be drilled and chamfered.
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    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rev.Chuck
    Depends. Some hubs have a hole/flange thickness that allow the spoke to fit. Some hubs have to be drilled and chamfered.
    I'm using them in two XT rear hubs currently. One hub is a 1998 and the the other is a more recent vintage...probably 1 to 2 years old. I haven't had any with either one during lacing. I've also built up a set of Phil Wood hubs without problems.
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  23. #23
    Klaatu barada nikto cascade168's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by waterrockets
    +1 I prefer 2.0/1.8/2.0 spokes. It's just a little easier for me to get the tension dead-on all the way around the wheel. I also have a lot of comfort knowing that it will take a larger hit to slacken a spoke than straight gauge.

    Sorry, but I have to have a little laugh at this. When someone says 14/15ga DB spokes, they are exactly the same as 2.0/1.8/2.0mm DB spokes (eg. DT Competition). 14ga=2.0mm. 15ga=1.8mm.

    I have to believe that you just misunderstood what R.Chuck was trying to convey.

    For reference, see:

    http://www.sheldonbrown.com/gloss_g.html#gauge

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  24. #24
    Klaatu barada nikto cascade168's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rev.Chuck
    I like the way 14/15s build up and the ride is more compliant.
    You got it, bro ;-) With VERY few exceptions, 14/15 DB spokes will give the very best wheel builds for almost all applications.
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  25. #25
    Taking "s" outta "Fast" AfterThisNap's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HillRider
    One of my favorite LBS's mechanics uses straight 14 ga (2 mm) almost exclusively because of the ease of building, tensioning and truing. He'll use db spokes if you insist but charges extra for the aggravation.
    He sounds like a crotchety ol'-timer.
    The only aggravation I can see for him is not being able to charge you spokes for spokes he doesn't have in stock. If he can feel a huge difference between tensioning up a straight gauge spoke vs. a DB one, I suggest he quit the bike biz and go into safecracking.
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