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  1. #1
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    Broken spokes - part of the deal?

    Hello all,
    My fiancee and i just got back from our first tour and it was a blast. Approximately 320 miles over 6 days, some of which were really tough (going through the desert, surreal sandstorms), 30 something ride hours.
    I was carrying all the gear because she's a novice, and it ran up to about 60lbs, including tent and two sleeping bags. It was Passover here and we knew bread would be hard find, so we brought pasta and crackers etc., which really bumped up the weight.

    Anyways, upon inspection at home, i discovered that i have two broken spokes in the rear wheel. I took Chipcom's (i think) advice and did a 60-40 front biased weight distribution, to avoid exactly that, and yet it happened anyway.


    Is this part of the touring experience? Assuming the wheel is trued and tensioned properly, is this something that i should expect on every tour?
    The wheels were bought especially for this purpose - Mavic A319/Deore with 36straight gauge spokes, 3X.

    Advice from experience would be much appreciated.
    When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.

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    I'm made of earth! becnal's Avatar
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    Broken spokes should not be part of a tour. It can happen of course, but they can largley be avoided by having the suitable equipment suitably maintained. I use Mavic rims with 36 Swiss double-butted spokes. Haven't had a broken spoke in years.

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    We have done nearly 10,000km and no broken spokes yet. I think if you overload your bike you are much more likely to experience this, of course with well built wheels helping to minimise your chances. Most stories I have heard about broken spokes have been from people who admit bulking up on heavy things in their panniers.
    We blog about bike touring, with reviews, tips and cycle touring podcasts at Travelling Two

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    Quote Originally Posted by FidelCastrovich
    Hello all,
    My fiancee and i just got back from our first tour and it was a blast. Approximately 320 miles over 6 days, some of which were really tough (going through the desert, surreal sandstorms), 30 something ride hours.
    I was carrying all the gear because she's a novice, and it ran up to about 60lbs, including tent and two sleeping bags. It was Passover here and we knew bread would be hard find, so we brought pasta and crackers etc., which really bumped up the weight.

    Anyways, upon inspection at home, i discovered that i have two broken spokes in the rear wheel. I took Chipcom's (i think) advice and did a 60-40 front biased weight distribution, to avoid exactly that, and yet it happened anyway.


    Is this part of the touring experience? Assuming the wheel is trued and tensioned properly, is this something that i should expect on every tour?
    The wheels were bought especially for this purpose - Mavic A319/Deore with 36straight gauge spokes, 3X.

    Advice from experience would be much appreciated.
    Butted spokes would have been better. Were the wheels hand built?

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by halfspeed
    Butted spokes would have been better. Were the wheels hand built?

    Yeah, i know butted would have better a better choice. But the thing is, i HAD no choice. I bought these wheels by default, because finding a touring rim here is Mission Impossible, or very very expensive. I could have bought a Mavic A719 rim for ~$170 each+hubs+spokes+build which would have made a mighty deep hole in my wallet.
    So instead i bought these A319/Deore on Ebay (figured it was a good deal at $215 including $50 shipping), and figured that having them retensioned by my mechanic is an acceptable alternative. Now, i'm starting to doubt that decision.

    Anyway, to answer your question - No, i don't think the wheels were hand-built. They were, however, tensioned and trued by a pro upon arrival. I'm starting to think that the spokes are junk, because they're not DT or Wheelsmith.


    I can live with a couple of broken spokes here and there, as i don't intend to go on my round-the-world tour just yet, and will settle for closer, shorter routes around here and Europe. So maybe i'll just ride the heck out of the wheelset, and replace the spokes as they break
    What do you do when a spoke breaks on a tour?Do spoke lengths vary between drive/non drive sides? Should i learn how to replace them?

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  6. #6
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    Baring accidents you shouldn't be breaking spokes on tour if your wheels are appropriate for the load you are carrying and the road surface. You did the one thing I'd suggest with machine built wheels - have them tensioned and trued by a human.

    Some stuff you can do now: Check the tension on the spokes again. Reduce the load on your rear wheel. Carry some spare spokes for repairs on the road. You can use Fibre-fix spokes which will work to replace any length broken spoke and can be used on the drive side without removing the cassette.

    The trouble you have now is that if a few spokes broke then, likely, many other spokes are also close to failure. You can just see how it goes and keep replacing them as the break or you can solve the whole problem and get the wheels rebuilt with good quality spokes/nipples.

    I'd do the later because the hassle of dealing with wheel problems on tour isn't worth the $$$ I'd save by dealing with the problem as it evolves.

    Sounds like you had some epic moments on your tour - post some pics if you have 'em....=-)
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    Quote Originally Posted by FidelCastrovich
    Is this part of the touring experience? Assuming the wheel is trued and tensioned properly, is this something that i should expect on every tour?

    Advice from experience would be much appreciated.
    Since I've not gotten to tour ''officially' yet, I will relate my recent experience as a Clydesdale & a regular commuter. At 6'5", 230 lbs. with a loaded Arkel Commuter bag on the back of my Surly LHT, I was blowing a spoke on my rear wheel every 2 weeks for 3 months.

    Eventually I figured out that my standard rim was simply not built for my weight & load so converted to a tandem rim at my LBS's recommendation. Rides like a dream now & when I stuffed my panniers with gear last weekend for a test ride, no problems at all.

    My LBS found a decent , tandem rim, the wheelbuilder did double-butted spokes & put my tire back on, trued it all for about 60 bucks. Can't beat the price or service & the wheel definitely rides better with or without load.
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    +1 (FiberFix)

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    You bought junk wheels. The seller likely used the cheapest spokes he could get because most buyers are more interested in the rim and hub. You should have the wheels (at least the rear wheel) re-built with good quality, preferably butted, spokes. Do this and you'll have little trouble.

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    I'm made of earth! becnal's Avatar
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    And, always carry First Aid Spokes with you. They eliminate the need to need to carry cassette tools and a whole bunch of other stuff by allowing you to insert a replacement spoke without taking off the rear cassette. They are great, and can be used multiple times.

    http://www.globetrotter.de/de/shop/d..._id=0309&hot=0

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    Quote Originally Posted by supcom
    You bought junk wheels. The seller likely used the cheapest spokes he could get because most buyers are more interested in the rim and hub. You should have the wheels (at least the rear wheel) re-built with good quality, preferably butted, spokes. Do this and you'll have little trouble.
    geez, you don't have to be so harsh! "Junk wheels"...
    No, actually, i knew that i was probably getting screwed over with the spokes, but didn't care. The rims/hubs were what i was more interested indeed, especially because buying just the rims+hubs here would cost more than these already built wheels.
    I guess i'll just keep riding them, and since my bike is my only mode of transportation, i should get a decent mileage out of them before my next tour, for which i'll have them rebuilt. At least the rear.

    Thanks everyone for the advice, especially on the FiberFix. Looks like a great solution.
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    Quote Originally Posted by FidelCastrovich
    I'm starting to think that the spokes are junk, because they're not DT or Wheelsmith.
    That would be the problem. Most, if not all, professional wheelbuilders will tell you that you should only go with DT, Wheelsmith, or Sapim spokes. The off-brand ones simply aren't the same quality -- metallurgically and manufacturing-wise. It doesn't take many returns for a wheelbuilder to recognize the pattern.

    I build my own wheels, and ('cuz I'm cheap) I recycle "good" spokes for my commuter wheels (NOT for touring wheels). The ones I build up with generic spokes pop about one a month; with DT or Wheelsmith, about once in 6 or 12 months. This is so consistent that I'm sure it outweighs other factors.

    Of course, other factors are involved, such as loading, spoke tension, truing, etc. But I'd bet that if you have the wheel hand re-built with DT/WS/Sapim spokes (double- or triple-butted), you'll go 10 times farther on the original 36.

    Do a Google for "spokecalc" (I think spokecalc.xls, in fact). It's a spreadsheet that calculates spoke length based on rim and hub dimensions, as well as other things. It's accurate, although it depends on accurate inputs. I usually round down (e.g., 165.8 -> 165.0) from the results.

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    There might be an issue with the hubs. Cheaper hubs tend to have larger holes for the spokes than better quality hubs do. The large holes mean you can insert spokes faster so aid mass production of cheaper wheels. You would expect that Deore hubs would be high quality, unfortunately personal experience tells me that isn't always the case. I had an old pair of Deore LX hubs with loose spoke holes and had regular problems with broken spokes, I never had a problem with my Deore XT hubs as they had much tighter holes.
    The reason that large spoke holes cause a problem is that you get movement between the head of the spoke and the hub, eventually this causes failure of the spoke at the head. Even high quality spokes, such as DT or Wheelsmith, will fail if this is the cause of the problem.
    Of course this may not be your problem at all, but it's worth bearing in mind. There's little you can do to solve this, the only possible solution I can see is trying some of the DT Champion 2.3 or DT Alpine III spokes, both of which use a thicker guage at the head so should be stronger and be a tighter fit in any loose holes.
    Hope that helps.

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    I tour a lot and spokes start to break as the wheel wears. The wheel ages faster with heavy loads, high speeds and rough roads. The high money solution is to always have new wheels. If you never ride your bike, wheels last a long time. Well built wheels are expensive but last longer due to proper tensioning. You can help them out by tightening and truing your wheels regularly (i.e., when they start to go out of true or loosen). Internal hub wheels are a comparative joy to fix, since the wheel isn't dished and there is no cassette to remove. No dishing means they are easier to true. This is why many long-haul tourists prefer internal hubs. Much easier to repair wheels! Anyways, tires get punctured and spokes break and that is a fact of life, but one gets fewer punctures with Kevlar lined or other puncture resistant tires and fewer broken spokes with well trued and tensioned wheels with heavy gauge spokes.

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    I don't actually believe butted spokes are better, or you certainly shouldn't blame that for your problems. One of the inconsistencies is that while many in the general cycling community believe butted is better for durability:

    1) many of the best expedition based bikes, like Sakkitt, specify straight taper.

    2) At least three expedition wheel maker specify mixed spoke type.

    3) Some wheels that are consistent winners of the C+ best touring wheel award use straight taper spokes.

    A lot of what we think about spokes is based on the work of Jobst Brandt. He posts profusely on some of the cycling boards, and I certainly defer to his opinion on these things, though expedition touring is not his prefer mode of touring. So one slow day, I undertook to read everything he had said on spokes and read hours of his stuff (in addition to the first edition of his book I have had since it came out). Of course I never got nearly through it all.

    He believes the DT spokes are better, but he also said in one of his posts that one should never replace spokes, that once they are proven in the field and any bad actors have broken, the remainder will last indefinitely. and should not be replaced. One set of spokes should outlast many of the highest quality rims. So then someone jumped into the thread and asked why if modern top quality spokes easily outlast rims, why are DT spokes needed . Brandt went into some explanation i;m sure I can't do justice to, the upshot of which was that the DT spokes thing is really a hang over from a time when they did break at the ends comonly, on the best made wheels. Finally a product Brandt thinks is improving.

    Of course there are other reasons for using DT spokes, like possible rim failures in crap rims, or lighter weight, or alleged ride improvement (My points not sure what Brandt says about all this). DT or maybe tripples are a premium product.

    There are also other reasons for preferring straight taper spokes on expedition bikes, one being that they are stronger when stuff flips up into the spokes ore something bad happens with something catching in the spokes. Another being that they are one means of building the correct tenion into dished wheels. Which ends up with the most highly loaded spoles on the bike being the no taper ones.

    Overall what I take home from this is that if your wheel is properly built for the task you are undertaking, and uses good quality components that fit properly together, it is not inconceivable that a spoke may break, and the proper response is to simply replace the broken spokes, that should get you closer to the ultimate wheel.

    The other takeaway is that you shouldn't listen to people who blame wheel breakage on the fact that DT spokes are stronger but were not used. Straight taper are stronger in some respects also. And remember that the top makers of spokes make both types and it's not just a price point issue.

    On the other hand, if your components are crap...

    It's also trickier than it sounds to build a proper wheel there are many parts that have to be assembled and many problems that can crop up with the details of how these parts play together. There is more to it than true and properly tensioned. One advantage to a well made stock product is that if they have any credibility they will have chased down these micro issues and dealt with them. Then there is the pure junk. There is also the custom made stuff made out of top components, all expensive, that is a mismatch...
    Last edited by NoReg; 04-11-07 at 12:54 PM.

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    Broken spokes on a brand new wheel after 320 miles doesn't sound right, even if you were carrying a lot of stuff. What kind of road surface were you on?

    I've taken to touring on the fattest tires I can fit under my fenders (26 x 1.75). I think the extra air volume cushions the rim and reduces stress on the spokes, along with a few other benefits. I built the wheels on on all my bikes (tourer, road bike, full rigid mountain bike) using Jobst Brandt's book and good quality (DT or Wheelsmith) butted spokes, and my wheels have been quite dependable. I'm a very slow wheel builder, but the wheels work when I'm through. I can't remember the last time I broke a spoke, I think it was 1988 or so.

    I think good quality stainless steel spokes are much more durable than the old style galvanized steel spokes, which are still used on cheap wheels. I also agree with the theory that butted spokes are more durable because the thinner center section stretches a little when the wheel is stressed, instead of all the impact being taken by the spoke elbow.

  17. #17
    I'm made of earth! becnal's Avatar
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    Well, it just seems like common sense to me that, since every broken spoke I've ever seen broke at the elbow, then spokes with thicker elbows (like DT Swiss double-butted) will be more resistant to breaking.

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    Quote Originally Posted by becnal
    Well, it just seems like common sense to me that, since every broken spoke I've ever seen broke at the elbow, then spokes with thicker elbows (like DT Swiss double-butted) will be more resistant to breaking.

    *scratch head*
    But double butted spokes have the same exact elbow width as straight gauge, no? It's just the middle section that's thinner.

    Or am i mistaken?

    It's kind of counter-intuitive, this whole double butted business. You'd think that a thicker spoke would be stronger, but no, they had to go and make things complicated for you...Damn Physics...If there ever was a more flaky science.

    On a more serious note, i think i'll stick with what i have right now, and if my next tour's outcome is similar to this one's, then i'll rebuild the wheels with DT Alpine III for overkill.
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    Quote Originally Posted by markf
    Broken spokes on a brand new wheel after 320 miles doesn't sound right, even if you were carrying a lot of stuff. What kind of road surface were you on?

    I've taken to touring on the fattest tires I can fit under my fenders (26 x 1.75). I think the extra air volume cushions the rim and reduces stress on the spokes, along with a few other benefits. I built the wheels on on all my bikes (tourer, road bike, full rigid mountain bike) using Jobst Brandt's book and good quality (DT or Wheelsmith) butted spokes, and my wheels have been quite dependable. I'm a very slow wheel builder, but the wheels work when I'm through. I can't remember the last time I broke a spoke, I think it was 1988 or so.

    I think good quality stainless steel spokes are much more durable than the old style galvanized steel spokes, which are still used on cheap wheels. I also agree with the theory that butted spokes are more durable because the thinner center section stretches a little when the wheel is stressed, instead of all the impact being taken by the spoke elbow.

    Well, the wheels have seen more miles than that, actually - 600mi maybe?

    You're right about the tires,though. I run Panaracer Paselas TG right now, which are rather narrow at 32mm (listed at 35), and for that kind of load i should use something closer to a true 35 or 37.

    How does one undertake such a seemingly impossible and massive task as building their own wheel? It looks like black magic to me, reserved for the best and most experienced professionals out there...
    It's right up there with repacking bearings and baking 5 tier wedding cakes.
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    I'm made of earth! becnal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FidelCastrovich
    *scratch head* But double butted spokes have the same exact elbow width as straight gauge, no? It's just the middle section that's thinner. Or am i mistaken?
    I believe you are mistaken. With regards to "normal" spokes, the middle bit is thinner, but the elbows are thicker. And I have never had or seen a DT double butted spoke break.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FidelCastrovich
    *scratch head*
    But double butted spokes have the same exact elbow width as straight gauge, no? It's just the middle section that's thinner.

    Or am i mistaken?

    It's kind of counter-intuitive, this whole double butted business. You'd think that a thicker spoke would be stronger, but no, they had to go and make things complicated for you...Damn Physics...If there ever was a more flaky science.

    On a more serious note, i think i'll stick with what i have right now, and if my next tour's outcome is similar to this one's, then i'll rebuild the wheels with DT Alpine III for overkill.
    You are correct, double butted spokes have the same elbow width as straight gauge. When a wheel with double butted spokes hits a bump, the thinner middle section stretches a little, absorbing some of the impact like a spring. When a wheel built with straight gauge spokes hits a bump, the spoke hardly stretches at all, transferring the whole impact to the elbow.

    Jobst Brandt's book does a very good job of guiding the reader through the wheelbuilding process, at least I found it easy to follow. It's far from black magic, but you have to be very patient, follow the instructions carefully, and take your time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FidelCastrovich
    geez, you don't have to be so harsh! "Junk wheels"...
    No, actually, i knew that i was probably getting screwed over with the spokes, but didn't care. The rims/hubs were what i was more interested indeed, especially because buying just the rims+hubs here would cost more than these already built wheels.
    I guess i'll just keep riding them, and since my bike is my only mode of transportation, i should get a decent mileage out of them before my next tour, for which i'll have them rebuilt. At least the rear.

    Thanks everyone for the advice, especially on the FiberFix. Looks like a great solution.
    Sorry for being harsh, but a wheel that breaks multiple spokes in under 1000 miles was built with defective components. You even referred to the spokes as "junk" in this thread. The builder cut corners and you are paying the price with your time and money. A wheel designed for the application and built with quality components should last many thousands of miles with only minor truing occasionally required.

    The hub and rim may be fine components, but the wheel is the complete product and is only as good as the weakest component - in this case, the spokes. So, considering that the spokes are a critical component of a wheel, one made with junk spokes is a junk wheel.

    Next time you buy wheels, I'd suggest working through a competent wheel builder like Peter White in the US (he ships worldwide) or Harris Cyclery (also ships worldwide). There are surely European builders that would ship to you as well. Saint John's Cycles in England comes to mind as a shop that understands touring needs. These shops could also sell you whatever components you need so you could have a trusted local shop build the wheel for you.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FidelCastrovich
    Well, the wheels have seen more miles than that, actually - 600mi maybe?

    You're right about the tires,though. I run Panaracer Paselas TG right now, which are rather narrow at 32mm (listed at 35), and for that kind of load i should use something closer to a true 35 or 37.

    How does one undertake such a seemingly impossible and massive task as building their own wheel? It looks like black magic to me, reserved for the best and most experienced professionals out there...
    It's right up there with repacking bearings and baking 5 tier wedding cakes.
    A good place to start is by ordering Jobst Brandt's book, "The Bicycle Wheel". This book discusses wheel design and construction in detail and provides step-by-step instructions on building a 3-cross wheel. I built four wheel based on these instructions and have had no problems with them after thousands of miles. I can't even remember the last time I had to true one up.

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    There's lots of things that should happen on tour. You shouldn't crash...but you can. You shouldn't forget parts of your tent...but you can. Your bike shouldn't have any problems...but it probably will.

    Stuff happens. It's like flats, some people are lucky enough never to have one, some people have flats all the time. Be prepared. I always carry spare spokes. Sometimes I need them. Sometimes I don't. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it
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    Yes.

    Broken spokes will happen eventually, so it's best to be ready for them.

    Yes, nicer/stronger wheels will have less problems (sometimes seems like none at all), but we can't all afford handbuilt DT CHris King/Phil Wood wheels, but spokes bust, man.

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