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  1. #1
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    Wheels.....Number of spokes

    Here is a question, don't know the answer but I am curious to see what others say.

    The background: I ride two bikes, a 1996 Simonetti with Campagnolo and a 1999 Rivendell Ramboullet with assorted Riv components. Wheels on both are 700's with 32 f and 36 r spokes. The Simo has Campy wheels and hubs.

    So , what is with the minimal number of spokes used on bike wheels today? If one breaks, it takes the rim out of alignment. I ride the cross state rides and have stopped to help many people with broken spokes, you used to just wrap the broken spoke around an adjacent spoke and carry on, seldom have to try to align a wheel by the side of the road. Now, to help someone with these minimal spoke wheels, it seems that I always end up straightening the rim after the person rides a little farther, and its tough to keep these straight for very long.

    I asked my local bike shop owner and he just dismissed my old steel bikes and 32/36 wheels as the way of the past and told me wheels were better made now and you didn't need 32/36 spokes.

    i look at high end bikes now, Colnagos, De Rosas etc and they all have minimal spokes. I looked at new Campy wheels....the same , few spokes.

    So these are expensive wheels, I wouldn't think this was just a way to make cheap stuff.

    So how about the opinions of people who deal with the new wheels?

  2. #2
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    The set you have is just fine..

    micromanaging for time trials with wind tunnels to test in
    engineering departments at universities to use, and
    plenty of backing capital for the Pro race circuit,
    created a fashion statement and a marketing opportunity.

    Yes, less spokes mean each remaining spoke suffers
    a big load imbalance loss when 1 breaks
    but those guys have a spare bike on the team support car right behind them.

    Occasionally fix a wheel of summer tourists headed down the coast
    on some rather inappropriate wheels, but at least they are going,
    and enjoying the trip.


    For loaded touring , i'm a belt and braces sort , the wheels were built
    with tandem spec stuff.
    so I had no problems , on the road. with my wheels , but for 1 spoke, in 20 years.
    Last edited by fietsbob; 08-17-11 at 01:53 PM.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by BruceDay View Post
    Here is a question, don't know the answer but I am curious to see what others say.

    The background: I ride two bikes, a 1996 Simonetti with Campagnolo and a 1999 Rivendell Ramboullet with assorted Riv components. Wheels on both are 700's with 32 f and 36 r spokes. The Simo has Campy wheels and hubs.

    So, what is with the minimal number of spokes used on bike wheels today?
    1) They cost less to make which increases profits

    2) They look more modern so they're easier to sell for more money which increases profits

    3) They have less measured drag although a 4 spoke difference is within the range of measurement error

    I asked my local bike shop owner and he just dismissed my old steel bikes and 32/36 wheels as the way of the past and told me wheels were better made now and you didn't need 32/36 spokes.
    He'll make more money if he can sell you some new wheels and is wrong on wheels being "better made."

    Expensive wheels used to come from hand labor by some one (hopefully; I started building my own after a shop failed to live up to its reputation) competent who'd give them uniform high tension and stress relieve so you could get at least 200,000 miles out of a set of nice stainless steel spokes (with a bunch of rim replacements and some new hub bearings along the way).

    Expensive wheels today are often made by machines, with less tension, less uniformity, and no stress relieving making for faster production and higher profits although that means people who actually ride their bikes (especially Clydestales) dealing with broken spokes.

    The best wheels are still hand-made, although just $1000 a pair isn't enough to guarantee it (although $90-$180 in labor to someone reputable depending on local labor costs will).

    So how about the opinions of people who deal with the new wheels?
    If you're not close to getting podium finishes when racing build yourself some deep section wheels (rim depth makes a big difference in aerodynamics and the added stiffness will make bending the rims on unseen road obstacles less likely) with 32 spokes so that if you get a minor bend in a rim which loosens one spoke you can keep riding, perhaps opening your brake release.

    If you are, the 5W saved at 30 MPH by having 16 spokes on your deep section carbon wheels instead of 28 is a worthwhile trade-off.
    Last edited by Drew Eckhardt; 08-17-11 at 03:41 PM.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Chombi's Avatar
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    Most C&V riders seem to be comfortable running 32/32 spoke C&V wheels these days. I still remember when I got my first 32 spoke wheelset back in the 80's, it felt like I was pushing the envelope already. Despite my initial concerns, I never had problems with my 32 hole rims keeping true all these years. I'm now running 28/28 spoke Wolber Profil 20's these days. I was a bit nervous at first, but they seem to be holding up OK without any need yet for any retruing after almost a year of riding them. I think that choosing deeper section/stiffer rims help to make a more stable and stronger overall wheel despite the low spoke count I have on them. I feel more confident on my 28 hole Wolber Profile 20 wheels than my Mavic GEL280 32 spoke wheels as the Wolbers are much stiffer, more stable feeling in general.

    Chombi

  5. #5
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    I note when it matters, like Paris-Roubaix, and the antique cobbled farm roads,
    even the pros get out the 3 cross 32 spoke wheels, box section rims.

    unless the sponsor, a manufacturer of something else, has something to prove.
    Last edited by fietsbob; 08-17-11 at 03:05 PM.

  6. #6
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    #2 is the minimum for a reliable wheel if you are below 190. My tourer has 36 front and rear and the only problems was low tension on the back with a 185 pound rider and a 40 pound load. The spokes unwound. Latter I dropped the chain and because I didn't have a spoke protector on it the out board spokes were nicked and one broke latter. I replace the other eight when I figured out the problam.
    I ride on average 14000 miles a year and don't have wheel problems.
    The new and improved stuff is marketing hype. Just people trying to make a buck like snake oil salesmen.
    If you ever want to sell your Rambo and it's a 57cm or there abouts let me know.

  7. #7
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    These days 32 spoke 3X wheels with decent mosestly deep section rims (say Macic CXP-33) are the "standard" for recreational, fitness and light touring riders. They are durable, strong and long lasting. Low spoke count wheels are "better" for competative riders but you give up servicability and durability. Your LBS only sees the $$$, not your real needs.

  8. #8
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    That's what I thought, suspicions confirmed. I'm going to go hug my wheels now.

    Yes davidad, its a 57cm Orange Rambo with moustache bars, Ritchey triple crank. A comfortable multiday ride bike unless i feel the need for speed.

    A dealer had oversold a novice rider with a racing bike for the Bike Across Kansas. The wheels were the new type and she had a spoke break. I did a field repair and remarked it would be better to have 36 spoke wheels and she said the dealer told her that was the type of bike she needed and it was an expensive bike. I didn't know enough of the history of these new wheels to say anything but I had my suspicions.

  9. #9
    Senior Member CACycling's Avatar
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    I'm over 225 lbs. and ride low spoke count wheels on my road and commuter bikes. Never had an issue on my road bike. Broke 2 NDS rear spokes on the commuter early on but they are very cheap wheels and the spokes broke at the beginning of the threads. This bike sees tough service as I carry a load and bomb over RR tracks several times a day as well as plenty of potholes. Have gone thousands of trouble-free miles since the initial issues were resolved. Also, I never had an issue making it home with a broken spoke. Just wrapped it around the adjacent spoke and released the tension on the rear brake.

    I wouldn't go out looking for low spoke count wheels when it is time to replace these but I wouldn't avoid a bike that had them. Quality of materials and build play a huge part in the integrity of any wheelset. Simply having a high spoke count will not guarantee a more problem-free wheel.

  10. #10
    Constant tinkerer FastJake's Avatar
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    +1 to everything said on this thread. I couldn't agree more.

    One of my friends has put thousands of miles on a pair of Velocity paired spoke wheels with no issues, but when it comes to serviceability in the middle of nowhere I'll take 36x3 every time. Personally I believe in having a set of bombproof 36x3 or 32x3 wheels to use everyday, then a set of the fancy race wheels to pull out when you want to believe they'll make you faster
    Why "derailer" is the correct way to spell the gear-change mechanism: sheldonbrown.com/derailer.html

  11. #11
    Senior Member cyclist2000's Avatar
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    I have a couple of bikes that have wheels that have low spokes count and the rest of my wheels have 36 spokes. I haven't had any problems with any of my wheels low spoke count or not. I got the last set of wheels (with a low spoke count) because I wanted a cheap set of wheels that would take a campy 11 speed cassette, so I got a set of Campy Khamsin wheels, the set cost less than building a single wheel myself. I have only had these this season but no problems yet.

    So it seems that this is a good set of low spoke count wheels that was cheap.
    I don't do vintage, I bought them new, rode them, kept them. Now they are just old bikes
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  12. #12
    Old fart JohnDThompson's Avatar
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    Low spoke count wheels are currently fashionable on the basis that they are more aerodynamic. In the past, light weight was fashionable, and higher spoke counts allowed a lighter rim and overall wheel weight.

    My personal feeling is that low spoke counts matter most for high-level competition, or those who aspire to such. For everyday riding, a 32 or 36 spoke wheel is perfectly fine and much more durable and affordable than a high-end low spoke count wheel.

  13. #13
    Insane Bicycle Mechanic Jeff Wills's Avatar
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    The irony is that for a low-spoke-count wheel to be stable and stay true, they require very tall, laterally stiff rims. As John D said, a wheel with more spokes can end up lighter, provided light rims are used. A wheel with more spokes will also stay straighter than a low-spoke count wheel if you do manage to break a spoke.

    FWIW: I've been building my own wheels for 30 years. Since I learned to build them with high, even spoke tension I haven't broken a single (undamaged) spoke*. I'm not easy on wheels- with my 220 pounds of winter padding sitting on my rear wheel (of my recumbent), I'm a rolling torture test. Still no broken spokes, though.
    Jeff Wills

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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by davidad View Post
    #2 is the minimum for a reliable wheel if you are below 190.
    No.

    The issue is avoiding excessive stress changes in the bottommost spokes which limits the number of fatigue cycles they can survive and in extreme cases allows nipples to unscrew as the spokes go slack.

    Stiffer rims limit deflection and spread the load across more spokes so you can get by with a lot fewer spokes. Spokes with more stretch for a given strain also limit the stress change for a given rim deflection. You can have a sufficiently durable rim for a 220 pound rider with 16 spokes, although as a Clydestale you might be unhappy about the wheel's lateral stiffness.

    The big issue is what happens when you loose tension in a spoke due to a bent (perhaps temporarily - wheels taco when the rim compresses, deflects sideways with no tension on the spoke, and then collapses as the rim unbends and the spoke applies radial tension with the rim off center) rim or breakage.

    You can increase wheel collapse resistance with fewer spokes through more tension (thus preventing the slack spoke case) although turning them without a fixture to unload the wheel may be hard and field serviceability with a bent rim problematic.

    Having a ridable wheel with an unloaded spoke remains a problem best avoided with reasonable spoke counts.

    My tourer has 36 front and rear and the only problems was low tension on the back with a 185 pound rider and a 40 pound load.
    Too little tension will do that even with a 145 pound rider (been there, done that).

    Soft light rims exacerbate the situation.

    Pedantics aside said I agree most riders lack a functional reason to use fewer than 32 spokes.

    The new and improved stuff is marketing hype. Just people trying to make a buck like snake oil salesmen.
    Exactly.

  15. #15
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    BD, As far as my road bikes go I have a 28H wheelset (D-A hubs, 15-14 DB spokes and Open Pro rims) that're not exceptionally strong, but has lasted a few Ks of miles and yes I spec'd that wheelset simply for appearance. I don't take them out on century rides as the 'distance' bike has a much stronger 32H wheelset (Ultegra hubs, 15-14 DB spokes and CXP12 rims)... I don't want to even think about my wheels on a ride, much less worry about them as I ride solo most of the time.

    I think the ultra low spoke count wheels are probably fine for rides where there is SAG support or a team car, but from a common sense stand point you've a very good wheelset.

    Brad

    PS Are 28H wheels even considered "low spoke count wheels" now-a-days?

  16. #16
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Are 28H wheels even considered "low spoke count wheels" now-a-days?
    .. not if the wheel is small, like on 349 wheels on folding bikes.. It's standard
    on Bromptons.

  17. #17
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    thanks.

    The Riv has Mavics, the Simo has Campy's and I have no intention of moving to something with less spokes. I wanted to know how to address the issue when asked, such as by somebody on a long ride with a broken spoke. My suspicion was that it was a way to build a cheaper wheel and then claim it had aerodynamic advantages and was better than a 32x3. Then I saw these wheels on costly bikes and i began to wonder.

    I've never built a wheel but i have replaced spokes and trued wheels so i have some background.

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