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  1. #1
    Senior Member Ekdog's Avatar
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    Wheel recommendations

    I've got a couple of mountain bikes I've fixed up for touring. They work fine except for one thing: I keep breaking axles. My mechanic tells me I need to get better wheels because of the amount of weight I carry, but touring bikes aren't really his forte, so he really wasn't able to recommend anything specific.

    I'd appreciate your suggestions. What should I be looking for? How many spokes? Should they be stainless steel? Double butted? How much will I have to pay for something decent? Brands?

    Many thanks.

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    Are your current wheels the older freewheel technology or the more current cassette/freehub models?

    It's been my impression that the wider spaced bearings in a cassette/freehub arrangement have largely eliminated the broken axles of yore. If you're currently riding a freewheel rear wheel, I'd certainly upgrade to a cassette/freehub.

    People tour successfully on wheels that run the gamut from lightweight racing wheels to purpose-built touring wheels. Your choice depends on your budget and the safety margin you're comfortable with. I prefer very, very strong wheels for touring and I've never had a wheel problem on the road. You never know what the quality of the road will be in places you've never toured before.

    I use 48-spoke wheels with stainless double-butted spokes, double wall rims, and Phil Wood hubs.



    Many people will argue that 32 or 36 spokes are plenty as long as the rim itself is fairly strong (i.e. double wall). I'd strongly recommend stainless double-butted spokes regardless of how many you choose to use.

  3. #3
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    I've had good luck so far with 32 spoke 26 inch wheels, I've never broken a spoke on tour with that set up. I use Velocity Cliffhanger rims, and double butted stainless steel spokes. The double butted spokes have a little give in them, so the spoke elbows don't fatigue and break so quickly. The Cliffhanger rims are about as sturdy a rim as you can find.

    Like xyzzy834 said, broken axles became a thing of the past when cassettes and freehubs arrived on the scene. In case you don't know the difference, the older hubs had threading on the right side so that the freewheel (sprockets + ratcheting mechanism) screwed on and tightened as you pedaled. With a freehub/cassette, the ratcheting mechanism is built into the hub, and the cogs/sprockets slide onto splines on the hub and are held in place by a lock ring. Cassettes and freehubs started to appear around 1990 or a little earlier, and right now only really old bicycles or really cheap ones have freewheels.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Ekdog's Avatar
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    Thanks to both of you for your sage advice. My bikes are old and use the old freewheel technology, so I'll be sure to upgrade to cassettes.

    About how much $ are we talking about laying out for the wheels that you describe?

  5. #5
    Dirt Bomb sknhgy's Avatar
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    I went through this. Took me one bent and one broken axle on my Trek 820. Buy a good, strong wheel. Have a reputable LBS build one up for you. It's one less thing to worry about. I've got a custom built wheel that has been through hell and it works fine.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ekdog View Post
    Thanks to both of you for your sage advice. My bikes are old and use the old freewheel technology, so I'll be sure to upgrade to cassettes.

    About how much $ are we talking about laying out for the wheels that you describe?
    Ekdog, you only need a new rear wheel, the cheapest production wheel with straight 14g. spokes and cheapest cassette hub might cost $50-$100. $150-$250 will get you the strongest wheel you'll ever need. Cassettes are $30-$80. I remember lots of big guys bending axles before cassetes came out.

  7. #7
    Biking to the Pits IntoThickAir's Avatar
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    Dear Ekdog,

    And one more thing: if the road get bad I let my tire pressure down. Assuming you've got tires that are big enough to run at, say, 30 psi on a bad surface (or no surface), the tire itself will take much of the blow with sidewall flex, and spare your axle the shock. Slow, yes, but comfortable, too.

    Yours,

  8. #8
    Bicycle Repair Man !!! Sixty Fiver's Avatar
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    I build a lot of wheels for commuters and tourists and like 26 inch wheels because they are just that much stronger than 700c wheels.

    Shimano makes good hubs... LX and XT level hubs are extremely nice, are very robust, and won't break the bank.

    I like Mavic rims... the XM317, XM517, and XM719 are great for 26 inch wheels and for 700c wheels the A319 and A719 are what most people choose for rims depending on budget.

    I had a nice stock of old Sun Rhynolites that got built up into some really nice wheels... these are ridiculously strong rims and I use them for intense mountain biking... touring is actually much easier on these wheels and they are very popular with commuters.

    For about $160.00 you can get a very decent hand built rear wheel (without cassette) and a front wheel will cost a little less due to a lower cost for the hub.

    Cost is based on parts plus $30.00 (average cost) for the build... higher spoke wheels(36 plus) cost more to have built.

    Off the shelf pre-built wheels can also serve you quite well but I would have a good wheelsmith check them to make sure they have been properly tensioned and de-stressed which should not add more than $20.00 to your final cost.

  9. #9
    Bicycle Repair Man !!! Sixty Fiver's Avatar
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    PS - 36 spoke / 3 cross wheels are what I consider a minimum for touring.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by xyzzy834 View Post
    I use 48-spoke wheels with stainless double-butted spokes, double wall rims, and Phil Wood hubs.
    For both wheels, no less. Wow! That's more than a lot of people use for a rear wheel on a tandem!

    Steve
    Specialized Tricross Sport 2009. Giant Yukon FX 3.

  11. #11
    Bicycle Repair Man !!! Sixty Fiver's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by xyzzy834 View Post
    I use 48-spoke wheels with stainless double-butted spokes, double wall rims, and Phil Wood hubs.
    I thought the 40 spoke front tandem wheel on my Trek was overkill...

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