Is a wheel really a wheel? I have toured a fair amount on 700c bikes but never on a 26" mountain bike, but the time has come. I have always used hand build 36h wheels on my bikes but will a 32h wheel be enough for a mountain bike on paved roads? I have a set of 32h wheels with LX hubs and Sun TL-18 rims lace with 14 ga. spokes. I weigh 200# and my gear weighs 35-40 pounds. I use front and back panniers. So what do you think?
Quality of wheel, spokes, hubs and wheelbuilding expertise being equal, a 32H 26" should be the same as a 36H 700 wheel. Smaller diameter is claimed, wheel for wheel stronger. As pointed out on a thread in the Bicycle Mechanics forum, I have seen recumbent bikes with 20 spokes on their 20" front wheels equipped with disc brakes, and they fly at more than 80km/h downhill.
I've toured with 32 spoke mountain bike wheels and have had no problems. I more commonly used them for mountain biking. On the trail they take a tremendous thrashing yet I rarely have a problem. True, they don't have the weight on them like they do while touring but the rigors of the trail have got to be greater than the weight on the road. The beauty of it is the weight of the wheel. Mine are built with rims that are commonly used for racing yet nothing seems to faze them. I agree that quality of the wheel components and the quality of the build are factors.