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Spoke Count- Now vs 1975

Old 01-29-17, 06:34 PM
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grizzly59
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Spoke Count- Now vs 1975

I grew up with 36 spoke wheels, and that's all I've built.

Question is: Can a wheel built with a good quality triangular section rim and 32 spokes have the same strength and longevity as a wheel built with a good quality box section rim and 36 spokes?

Components such as 105 quality hub, 2.0/1.8/2.0 stainless DB spokes.

36 spoke wheels seems to be out of favor, and I wonder if a modern 32 is just as good.
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Old 01-29-17, 07:06 PM
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In my experience 32 spoke wheels built with good quality modern rims and spokes are superior to the 36 spoke wheel of years ago.

The only wheels I've ever had that routinely broke spokes were a pair of 36H Araya rims laced 4X with galvanized 14 ga spokes that were the OEM wheels on an '85 Bridgestone 400. The first ds rear spoke broke at about 8500 miles and several more over the next 1000 miles. I replaced them with 32 spoke wheels laced 3X with 14 ga DT spokes and have never broken another spoke on any wheel since in almost 200,000 additional miles.

All of my wheels since have been 32 spokes laced 3X and one set of 16/20 spoke Shimano WH-R560 wheels. I've gotten well over 30,000 miles on many of these wheels.
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Old 01-29-17, 07:18 PM
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Let's be real.

Nothing all that much has changed in the intervening years, so 10% fewer spokes probably means 10% less strength.

But that doesn't mean the difference is material. I've been building wheels with spokes much thinner than 1.8mm for decades, so 10% fewer (32 vs. 36) 1.8mm spokes would still be more steel than my typical wheel.

Also consider that the defining issue was just as much the rim as the spokes. IMO the issue of the longer spans spoke to spoke can be an issue with light shallow profile aluminum rims. However modern deep section rims (which are heavier) have proven that they have no issue dealing with long spoke to spoke spans of the type seen on 20 (or fewer) and 24 spoke wheels.

So all in all, if you use a deep section rim, there's the real chance that you're 32 spoke wheel may turn out stronger than the old style 36 spoke wheel it's replacing.
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Old 01-29-17, 08:54 PM
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The changes to both rims and spokes over the years mean that there are "better" results to be had. Rims are stronger and stiffer then decades ago. High quality spokes are far more available then before (although the actual strengths are not that much different). I also think there's more talk about the benefits of a quality hand build then years ago (although when I started there were essentially no machine built wheels, though a lot were of too quickly "assembled" by too inexperienced part timers during the off seasons). Andy
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Old 01-29-17, 09:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart View Post
High quality spokes are far more available then before (although the actual strengths are not that much different).
I don't think the actual "strength" of spokes, in the sense of ultimate tensile or yield, is now better than in the past but their fatigue life seem to be a lot better. They are made of better material with a far better surface finish.
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Old 01-29-17, 09:34 PM
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Originally Posted by HillRider View Post
I don't think the actual "strength" of spokes, in the sense of ultimate tensile or yield, is now better than in the past but their fatigue life seem to be a lot better. They are made of better material with a far better surface finish.
I don't know your basis of comparison, but I was using "Stella" stainless spokes back in the late sixties and they were in every respect (finish, thread quality, etc.) as nice as anything sold today. Later, I used "S" and Alpina spokes and likewise no issues, plus keep in mind that DT spokes came into their own in the USA during that same era.
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Old 01-29-17, 10:47 PM
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Dave and Francis= I think we are on the same page WRT spokes now and then. My point was that best grade spokes are far more common or known about now then back in the day.


But this is also my point about the build quality. With today's interweb and media presence this kind of knowledge is far more wide spread. Andy.
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Old 01-29-17, 10:51 PM
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Originally Posted by grizzly59 View Post
...Question is: Can a wheel built with a good quality triangular section rim and 32 spokes have the same strength and longevity as a wheel built with a good quality box section rim and 36 spokes?

...36 spoke wheels seems to be out of favor, and I wonder if a modern 32 is just as good.
Yes and no. A modern 32 spoke wheel is strong enough for longevity and reliability, IME, but an identical rim built with 36 spokes is still better supportive and stronger still. My Sun Mistrals probably benefited from having 36 spokes, something more modern like my Open Pros have done quite well with 28 spokes. Touring bikes generally have a minimum of 36 spoke wheel sets, when in the past it was common to find a 40 spoke wheel on the rear.

I think that the more modern rims really help a 32 spoke wheel to serve as well as an older 36 spoke wheel and DB spokes help some, while hubs are much the same. With the modern 130 mm drop out spacing I wonder how much the greater disparity in spoke tension at the DS and NDS spokes than the older 120 mm rear drop out spacing comes into play, if at all, to evolve an improvement in rim strength?

Brad
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Old 01-29-17, 11:18 PM
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One of the ironies here is that wheels (excluding hubs*) are the only part of the bike that's gotten heavier in the last half century.

50 years ago, high end wheels were being built with rims weighing close to 250grams, and the norm was 1.8/1.6mm spokes. The hubs of the era were drilled for those thinner spokes, and when we first started using 2mm spokes we had problems pushing them into the spoke holes. The 2mm spokes commonly used today, were reserved for low to mid level OEM production bikes and never used on anything approaching a "pro" bike.

So, yes, modern wheels are probably stronger, even with 32 vs 36 spokes, but that's also come at a cost.



*hubs have gotten lighter, but to keep comparison simple, I exclude both the hub and freewheel.
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Old 01-29-17, 11:28 PM
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Actually, AFAIK in the good old days, there were mostly only 32H fronts and 40H rears. In the 80s they went both 36 to save production cost likely. I agree that galvanized spokes were weaker. IMO, strength is all about lateral forces, not vertical. Plus lopsided tension for deraillers will always be a problem for heavy bikes. My antique SS Rudge has dropouts of only 85 and 110 mm.

As for rims, lately I have been chucking stuff and tried to smash 2 plucked rims. Couldn't budge them, one steel from 1974 and the other AL from 1990. The steel one was still completely true.

TREK has sure found out how stupid it is to think 24 spokes can do the job.
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Old 01-29-17, 11:35 PM
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Originally Posted by GamblerGORD53 View Post
Actually, AFAIK in the good old days, there were mostly only 32H fronts and 40H rears. In the 80s they went both 36 to save production cost likely.....
To keep it straight, the 32/40 pairs was just about exclusively a British thing. 36/36 was the norm on the continent.

Also, there was no real economy in moving to 36/36, since it was possible to design hubs and spoke patterns such that the front and rear wheels used the same length spokes. (SOP on Raleigh built 3-speed sport bikes).
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Old 01-29-17, 11:55 PM
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Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
One of the ironies here is that wheels (excluding hubs*) are the only part of the bike that's gotten heavier in the last half century.

50 years ago, high end wheels were being built with rims weighing close to 250grams, and the norm was 1.8/1.6mm spokes. The hubs of the era were drilled for those thinner spokes, and when we first started using 2mm spokes we had problems pushing them into the spoke holes. The 2mm spokes commonly used today, were reserved for low to mid level OEM production bikes and never used on anything approaching a "pro" bike.

So, yes, modern wheels are probably stronger, even with 32 vs 36 spokes, but that's also come at a cost.



*hubs have gotten lighter, but to keep comparison simple, I exclude both the hub and freewheel.

I agree completely. Note that I didn't mention the drawbacks of today's rims/wheels as Francis does. The Op only asked about strength and longevity. Like a few of us older guys I rode 260 to 330 gram sew up rims with 15g spokes early on. In fact is was only 2004 before my commuter went to clinchers.


Todays wheels are harsh/ridged devices which are driving frames to "invent" vertical compliance (like we had decades ago). And until carbon rims came about the current rims/spokes weighed no less and often more then what we rode when we were young.


But, again, as I said this wasn't the question the Op asked. I will add that as the dish of modern drivetrains has gotten deeper and the resulting spoke tension differences grow the work that spokes need to preform has gotten harder. I see as many spoke failures as I did back when, maybe more these days.


So part of my answer is that for the same hub profile modern rims result in better wheels. But Francis said this in so many words. Andy.
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Old 01-30-17, 08:13 AM
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Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart View Post
Dave and Francis= I think we are on the same page WRT spokes now and then. My point was that best grade spokes are far more common or known about now then back in the day.
Yes, I agree. Back in the mid-80's when I first got (back) into bikes, galvanized or cadmium plated mild steel spokes were the norm on entry and mid-level bike shop bikes and their longevity was not nearly as good as the best spokes available then or now.
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Old 01-30-17, 08:56 AM
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Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
50 years ago, high end wheels were being built with rims weighing close to 250grams, and the norm was 1.8/1.6mm spokes.
OK, but let me ask a different question. What kind of longevity did you expect from those very light wheels? Were they "disposable" and expected to be replaced every couple of years or within a few thousand miles?

My modern (aka heavy) 32H wheels have lasted many years and 10's of thousands of miles with 35,000 not unusual. Failure,when it finally happens, is from brake track abrasion, not spoke breakage.
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Old 01-30-17, 09:02 AM
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Rider weight obviously matters as well.

Frankly, if you're not racing and you just want a strong wheel, why not go with 36 spokes? The weight difference is small and there's not much of a the downside of a stronger wheel.
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Old 01-30-17, 09:23 AM
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Originally Posted by bikemig View Post
Rider weight obviously matters as well.

Frankly, if you're not racing and you just want a strong wheel, why not go with 36 spokes? The weight difference is small and there's not much of a the downside of a stronger wheel.
Yeah, what is a spoke anyway. I remember calculating ~7 g a piece including a brass nipple? Thats an ounce saved going to 32 rather than 36, if i remember correctly. Hardly worth agonising over.
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Old 01-30-17, 09:46 AM
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Originally Posted by HillRider View Post
OK, but let me ask a different question. What kind of longevity did you expect from those very light wheels? Were they "disposable" and expected to be replaced every couple of years or within a few thousand miles?

My modern (aka heavy) 32H wheels have lasted many years and 10's of thousands of miles with 35,000 not unusual. Failure,when it finally happens, is from brake track abrasion, not spoke breakage.
There's no denying that they'd need truing now and then, especially after a crash or high impact on a road hazard, but otherwise they lasted fine until finished off by a dented or buckled rim. I've never broken a spoke on any light wheels, including ones I used for touring.

My commuter's wheels were 26" Mavic 231's built 1.8/1.5 in front and 2.0/1.8 right and 2.0/1.6 left, and lasted until the brake track was very worn at about 20,000 miles. I planned to ride them until something gave, but a nice lady used her car to spare me the trouble.

FWIW I'm no lightweight at shy of 200#s, and have never pampered my bikes which are expected to handle whatever I, the roads, and nature hand out.
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Old 01-30-17, 01:45 PM
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Originally Posted by bikemig View Post
Frankly, if you're not racing and you just want a strong wheel, why not go with 36 spokes?
I'm the OP. I started thinking about this when I saw that some rims didn't come 36 hole, 32 was the highest. Like a DT R460.

I meant to keep the spokes the same, say DT 2.0/1.8/2.0 . I forgot that an old 5-cog would have a different dish on the rear than a new 10-cog.

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Old 01-30-17, 02:20 PM
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The single biggest change in the 50 years has been modern rims. IMHO wheel building changed considerably when Mavic came out with SUP and UB (welded seams w/ machined brake surfaces.

I can still remember thinking 'this is too easy' after building my first set of wheels with SUP/UB rims.

32's stronger than 36's? Any day all day with good rims. I think 32's are inherently stronger regardless...
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Old 01-30-17, 02:24 PM
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Originally Posted by grizzly59 View Post
I forgot that an old 5-cog would have a different dish on the rear than a new 10-cog.
Not always. Dish is dependent on axle width lock nut to lock nut and flange placement. With proper component selection a 10s could have less dish than a 5s.
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Old 01-30-17, 02:35 PM
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One thing that everyone seems to be missing is that quality and, more importantly, quality control has undergone vast improvements over the last 40 years. The spokes and rims that are coming out now are better made of better material than they were in the 70s and 80s.
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Old 01-30-17, 03:04 PM
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Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
Nothing all that much has changed in the intervening years, so 10% fewer spokes probably means 10% less strength.
I'm not sure I agree. At least in frame alloys, the steel used has more than doubled in ultimate tensile strength since 1935. To use Reynolds steel allows as an analogy, There's been about 140% improvement in strength since 1935 and about 60% improvement since 1976 (The real measure of strength we're interested in is not ultimate, but yield, but this is pretty close to half the ultimate for steel). Has spoke material not evolved in like fashion? Also, I would think that the drawing technology has improved as well. It would be interesting to note the actual steel type used in state of the art spokes then and now. And I know that aluminum alloys have improved significantly as well. Plus, you have the option of uber-strong CF rims.

I guess the real reason I'm skeptical is that the bike I got a year ago has 18/20 spoke wheels, I weigh 240lbs, and the wheels are still pretty true. That would not have happened with 18/20 wheels from 1976.

Reynolds 531 introduced 1935 UTS: 700-900 MPa/100-130ksi
Reynolds 753 introduced 1976 UTS: 1080-1280 MPa/157-186 ksi
Reynolds 853 introduced 1980 UTS: 1250-1400 MPa/181-203 ksi
Reynolds 953 introduced 2005 UTS: 1750-2050 MPa/ 254-300 ksi
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Old 01-30-17, 03:59 PM
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Originally Posted by WizardOfBoz View Post
I'm not sure I agree. At least in frame alloys, the steel used has more than doubled in ultimate tensile strength since 1935. ....
An apple and oranges comparison-- in two ways.

First of all, we were talking about a 50 year or so interval, so going back to pre-war materials isn't relevant.

Secondly, the fact is that there was resistance to stainless steel spokes until alloys were developed that came close enough to the strength of carbon steels. That happened a bit over 50 years ago, and since them the alloys used for spokes haven't changed significantly.

As for drawing and general fabrication technology, that's almost 100 years old, and like many proven old designs and processes has seen only minor refinements. As I pointed out earlier, 50 years ago, it was SOP to use spokes roughly 20% thinner (cross section) than what's common today, so IF there were any improvements in spoke construction, nobody is taking advantage of it.

As has been pointed out, the AVERAGE quality of built wheels has probably improved over the years, but good stuff is and was always pretty damn good. Whatever differences we see are mainly attributable to improvements in rims, not spokes.
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Old 01-30-17, 04:46 PM
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In 2017 ppl are much fatter than in 1950. Im sure manufactures take that into account to limit returns, liability, ect.

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Old 01-30-17, 06:26 PM
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Drew Eckhardt 
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Originally Posted by grizzly59 View Post
I grew up with 36 spoke wheels, and that's all I've built.

Question is: Can a wheel built with a good quality triangular section rim and 32 spokes have the same strength and longevity as a wheel built with a good quality box section rim and 36 spokes?
It can be stronger. With beam stiffness proportional to the cube of height, contemporary deep rims require a much harder hit to deform past their elastic limit than traditional box section rims.

With butted spokes stretching more at a given tension than straight gauge, more dish for wider cog sets isn't an issue because the thinner spokes need less preload to prevent going slack enough nipples unscrew.

36 spoke wheels seems to be out of favor, and I wonder if a modern 32 is just as good.
It's good enough you can lose a spoke and continue to ride with the brake release open, although with releases on the brakes not the levers you'll want to true the wheel so you still have enough pull to actuate the brakes.

Last edited by Drew Eckhardt; 01-30-17 at 06:30 PM.
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