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  1. #1
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    Spoke count for loaded touring - small person

    Everything I read about wheels and loaded touring pretty much says 36 spokes required, 32 absolute minimum. Thing is this is typically directed at average adults ~200 lbs with ~50lbs of gear.

    My bike has 24 in the rear, and 20 in the front. I am a small guy, 5'7" and 130lbs. Also pack light gear, don't expect to have more than 15-20 pounds on the rear rack and nothing up front. Will I be okay on 24 spokes? The tires are 700x23 if it matters and I'll just be riding highway pavement.

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    First thing, change to larger section tires if you have the fork and chainstay clearance to accomodate them. Any kind of load changes the bike's handling so it'll reduce your ability to help the bike absorb bumps and potholes.

    Other than that, it's a tough call. Your low weight speaks to your ability to get by with the lower spoke count, but in my experience, riding style is more of a factor than weight alone and only you know how your wheels tend to hold up in general.

    Besides strength and the risk of wheel failure, (broken spokes or out of true) also consider the consequences of failure during a trip in the hinterlands. Traditional 32 and 36h wheels are easily serviced on the road either by yourself, or in local shops, but low spoke wheels are difficult and sometimes impossible to field service, so you have to consider what impact a failure will have on your trip.

    In your shoes, the risk of getting stranded would be enough for me to strongly consider having a 32h pair of wheels (or at least the rear) built for the tour. But in the end, you'll have to digest all the advice you get, roll the dice, and make your own decision.

    Whatever you decide, have a great trip.
    Last edited by FBinNY; 08-10-10 at 09:57 AM.
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    ^ Solid advice, I'd say. But I do have a question, what exactly do you mean by this?

    Quote Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
    ...in my experience, riding style is more of a factor than weight alone and only you know how your wheels tend to hold up in general.

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    Senior Member BCRider's Avatar
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    I think FB is suggesting that some rider's "work" their bike harder or don't lift out of the saddle to let the bike "float" under them when in the rough stuff. Such rider's will find that their equipment seems to suffer more often than other riders of similar weight and bike.

    Dkane, for your stated load weight and personal weight I don't see how the wheels would be a problem other than with the weight on racks as opposed to a backpack it's "dead weight" on the rear wheel. For that reason alone you'll want to be attentive to the road conditions and avoid any bigger stuff. But I would definetly jump up to 25's just for the reduced risk of flats when striking debris typically found on the shoulder of the road. 28's would be that much better again.

    If you plan on making this a regular thing then I'd suggest you look into wheels with 32 spokes just for the repair issues that FB raised. Similarly, since you didn't tell us which bike this is, if this is a race frame with minimal clearance you may want to shop for a touring or cyclocross bike with touring brazeons that allows for 28's in conjunction with real fenders instead of the split types that are needed for racing frames.

    EDIT- Just saw that you're in Washington State. Since you share the same sort of weather with BC I would DEFINETLY suggest a frame that will accept proper fenders....
    Last edited by BCRider; 08-10-10 at 10:37 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by BCRider View Post
    Similarly, since you didn't tell us which bike this is, if this is a race frame with minimal clearance you may want to shop for a touring or cyclocross bike with touring brazeons that allows for 28's in conjunction with real fenders instead of the split types that are needed for racing frames.

    EDIT- Just saw that you're in Washington State. Since you share the same sort of weather with BC I would DEFINETLY suggest a frame that will accept proper fenders....
    I live in eastern WA, entirely different climate on this side of the cascades. Rain is not an issue over here. I would consider fenders regardless though, but I'm only planning and 1.5 week trip and don't expect rain and would just sit it out if it did.


    Will definitely look into 25 or 28 tires. Would new tubes be required for this or will 23 tubes work in 25 tires" Not to derail the original topic though steel looking for input on the spokes.

    Thanks

  6. #6
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    I'd hang the low spoke count wheels on a peg in the house and get a common set of replacement wheels for hauling stuff on the bike.
    36 rear 32 front will be reliable, go up in tire size too, 32 fit? go for it,
    Schwalbe Marathon are a durable choice.

    have a 28/20 spoke pair of wheels but they are small ones on my folding bike. 349-16"

    break a spoke and as each spoke carries a larger % of the tension load,
    so it goes a long way out of true.

    I toured for a long time on heavy duty wheels, myself, belt and braces, kind of guy.
    Last edited by fietsbob; 08-10-10 at 10:54 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by vautrain View Post
    ^ Solid advice, I'd say. But I do have a question, what exactly do you mean by this?
    There are a lot of variables. One is how some riders lift out of the saddle and use their knees to let the bike float over bumps and potholes. Some is more basic, some riders are observant and steer around stuff while others blindly rid through everything.

    But it's about more than road hazards, bike riding style is also a factor, hard climbing in higher gears, leaning the bike for power and hard sprinting takes it's toll on wheels. Riders with smooth cadence, and good spin are much gentler on all the machinery including the wheels. Years ago I rode regularly with two friends. One weighed 250#s and was built like a linebacker, the other was a 110# ballerina (NYC Ballet). Guess who was death on the equipment.

    BTW- one other consideration for the OP. Regardless of your plans to stay on good roads, it's always nice to have a bike that doesn't hold you back from going on a 50 mile detour up some dirt road on a whim. Also don't forget that they do road construction in the summer, and unlike your regular loops at home, you may not have any option but to ride through it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
    BTW- one other consideration for the OP. Regardless of your plans to stay on good roads, it's always nice to have a bike that doesn't hold you back from going on a 50 mile detour up some dirt road on a whim. Also don't forget that they do road construction in the summer, and unlike your regular loops at home, you may not have any option but to ride through it.
    Good point.

    Seems the general consensus is that an upgrade is in order. Considering I put no extra weight up front, would a good plan be to grab a new rear wheel only? How much cash should I expect to fork over for a solid wheel?

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    Your wheels are probably adequate for the light weight and load you put on them, particularly if the rims are fairly deep section and, thefore, rigid and you pay attention to what you ride over.

    However, FBinNY's comment about the consequences if one does fail should be taken seriously. Low spoke count wheels often use uncommon or proprietary spoke designs and attachnment methods and most bike shops would have to special order replacements. So, if you manage to break or damage a spoke on your travels, it could easily be a show stopper.

    A set of "normal" 32 or 36 spoke wheels on good quality rims and hubs won't be that expensive and would be cheap insurance that if something does go wrong, the damage is probably repairable almost anywhere. Dedicate your special wheels to recreational and training use and the new "conventional" wheels to touring.

  10. #10
    Senior Member BCRider's Avatar
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    The tubes from your 23's would certainly work in 25's. They'd work for 28's as well but would be stretched more. And stretched tubes tend to flat out faster when they get punctured. But other than that not a big deal.

    If this is a once a year 1.5 week sort of thing and you have a good history with your present wheels being trouble free I'd say go for it. Just read FB's last post just above this about what he mentioned for riding style. I'd say that if the bike and wheels have been trouble free for a significant mileage history with you then with just a bit of care about what you ride over and how you handle it and the wheels will do just fine..... just don't quote me on this IF you get stuck in East Podunk...

    But I'd have to agree that a set of regular wheels would be a nice touch if you can easily brush off the added expense. Also keep in mind that while there's lots of inexpensive, hell, they are downright cheap wheels out on ebay and online shops the machine tensioning is iffy and the wheels would be best properly gone over to stress relieve the spokes and tesion and true from there before trusting to a long ride away from home. So if you can't do this yourself add the cost of some lovin' from a good wheel guy onto the cost of the inexpensive wheelset.

    If you can when you load up the rack try to keep the heavier items closer to the front of the packs or rack. It'll tend to share the load with the front wheel that way. Not a big amount I know but if you can keep most of the weight as far in front of the rear axle as practical it'll help a little.

    EDIT-Just to add. If I had to decide between the low spoke count wheels that had a long and reliable history with me or a set of new wheels that I would have to use straight from the box I'd go with the low spoke count wheels. If I had the time to get the new 32 spokers (which would be fine for your stated situation but get 36's if you plan on going heavier loaded at some point) tuned but not ride them I'd be inclined to flip a coin. Ideally I'd want to get the new wheels tuned up and then ride them for a hundred miles with no noticable issues and still perfect tension at the end before I'd trust them fully.
    Last edited by BCRider; 08-10-10 at 11:20 AM.
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  11. #11
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BCRider View Post
    I think FB is suggesting that some rider's "work" their bike harder or don't lift out of the saddle to let the bike "float" under them when in the rough stuff. Such rider's will find that their equipment seems to suffer more often than other riders of similar weight and bike.

    Dkane, for your stated load weight and personal weight I don't see how the wheels would be a problem other than with the weight on racks as opposed to a backpack it's "dead weight" on the rear wheel. For that reason alone you'll want to be attentive to the road conditions and avoid any bigger stuff. But I would definetly jump up to 25's just for the reduced risk of flats when striking debris typically found on the shoulder of the road. 28's would be that much better again.

    If you plan on making this a regular thing then I'd suggest you look into wheels with 32 spokes just for the repair issues that FB raised. Similarly, since you didn't tell us which bike this is, if this is a race frame with minimal clearance you may want to shop for a touring or cyclocross bike with touring brazeons that allows for 28's in conjunction with real fenders instead of the split types that are needed for racing frames.

    EDIT- Just saw that you're in Washington State. Since you share the same sort of weather with BC I would DEFINETLY suggest a frame that will accept proper fenders....
    It's almost impossible to 'float' a bike like this


    over anything

    Dkane: 32 spokes minimum for even a low load like you want to carry. Often even those loads swell to more than you think, especially when you add in food and water and other gear you didn't think about.

    I'd also suggest you put the load on the front wheel instead of the back. The wheels are stronger and a front loaded wheel is dampened somewhat by the load. A rear load on a twitchy road bike exacerbates the tail wagging the dog effect you'll experience when using a sportier road bike.
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  12. #12
    Senior Member cyclist2000's Avatar
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    This may be a dumb thought, but I was thinking that if a spoke did break on a 20 spoke wheel may throw the wheel so far out of true that it may be hard to ride while on a broken spoke 36 spoke wheel it would only be out of true slightly, and still rideable (you may only need to open the brake release) until you get to a shop to repair it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dkane View Post
    Considering I put no extra weight up front, would a good plan be to grab a new rear wheel only? How much cash should I expect to fork over for a solid wheel?
    You could do that. I just got a set of 32H front and 36H rear wheels with double-butted spokes and Tiagra hubs on Sun CR-18 rims for around $225. I think it was a pretty good deal and I have confidence in the build. The build is really the most important part, you can have the beefiest rim with 400 spokes, but if the build isn't good, the wheel will fail.

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    Senior Member BCRider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
    It's almost impossible to 'float' a bike like this over anything
    ......
    GOOD POINT!

    What a great picture! Makes me want to pack up and hit the road as well.
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  15. #15
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    In a pinch a solid built 36'er in back that you can trust would be ideal for your present needs. The vast majority of the extra work will be done in the rear anyway.
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
    It's almost impossible to 'float' a bike like this


    over anything

    Dkane: 32 spokes minimum for even a low load like you want to carry. Often even those loads swell to more than you think, especially when you add in food and water and other gear you didn't think about.

    I'd also suggest you put the load on the front wheel instead of the back. The wheels are stronger and a front loaded wheel is dampened somewhat by the load. A rear load on a twitchy road bike exacerbates the tail wagging the dog effect you'll experience when using a sportier road bike.
    +1 All the cautions described by FB and HillRider should be considered, as well. Nothing takes the fun out of a tour like having it come to a sudden stop with unrepairable equipment. There are reasonably priced 32 and 36 spoke wheelsets that you should consider, because when the 'bug' bites you, you will want to do more tours, and you will be ready if you set your bike up now.

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    Quote Originally Posted by vautrain View Post
    You could do that. I just got a set of 32H front and 36H rear wheels with double-butted spokes and Tiagra hubs on Sun CR-18 rims for around $225. I think it was a pretty good deal and I have confidence in the build. The build is really the most important part, you can have the beefiest rim with 400 spokes, but if the build isn't good, the wheel will fail.
    +1, focus on the skill of the builder. Work with him to select the rim and double butted spokes most suited to your purpose. depending on how often you'll be using the wheel you can skimp a bit on the hub. Anithing from mid-range on up will serve you well, and you don't need to pay a premium to shave a few grams. just make sure it accepts the same cassette as your current wheel so you don't have to worry about compatibility.
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  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyclist2000 View Post
    This may be a dumb thought, but I was thinking that if a spoke did break on a 20 spoke wheel may throw the wheel so far out of true that it may be hard to ride while on a broken spoke 36 spoke wheel it would only be out of true slightly, and still rideable (you may only need to open the brake release) until you get to a shop to repair it.
    It's not a dumb thought at all, it's a very realistic one. One of the major problems with low spoke counts is indeed that a single broken spoke can make the wheel go so far out of true that even opening the brake quick release isn't sufficient.

    Some low spoke count wheels have rims deep enough and rigid enough that a single broken spoke won't wildly affect the true but they still have very little safety margin.

  19. #19
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BCRider View Post
    GOOD POINT!

    What a great picture! Makes me want to pack up and hit the road as well.
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    17yrold in 64yrold body
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    Quote Originally Posted by HillRider View Post
    It's not a dumb thought at all, it's a very realistic one. One of the major problems with low spoke counts is indeed that a single broken spoke can make the wheel go so far out of true that even opening the brake quick release isn't sufficient.

    Some low spoke count wheels have rims deep enough and rigid enough that a single broken spoke won't wildly affect the true but they still have very little safety margin.
    I found out how true this is when I hit something (never saw it) with my 24 spoke rear Ksyrium Elite, and suddenly, it was rubbing the chainstay! Only thing I could figure was that there were uneven tensions on spokes, and the 'hit' caused it to 'pop' into unevenness (sp). Was able to find a shop that trued it up, but it convinced me to get 36 spoke wheels for my touring bike (K E's on road bike).

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    I have 48h Velocity Dyad touring rims. Not the lightest setup but they're awesome under weight (I weigh 200# and carry 50+#s on the back wheel) and I've never had to true them really, even after some nasty spills

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