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Spoke Tension

Old 11-21-21, 11:25 PM
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Sound and feel are all well and good, if you do it a lot. If not, use a meter if you can get one. On a straight wheel even tensions will have the wheel fairly true. Then you work on the fine adjustments and maintaining even tension.
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Old 11-23-21, 09:33 AM
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Originally Posted by Greg R View Post
Thank you! This was very very helpful. I was going in the direction of pluck tones, but even with guitars I am frequently off checking with a tuner. I'll look into the Park tool.
I used to do that... until I got a spoke gauge and realized how off I was (even with accurate pitch).
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Old 11-23-21, 10:07 AM
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Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
I used to do that... until I got a spoke gauge and realized how off I was (even with accurate pitch).
Again, plucking the spokes isn’t something that should be used to determine the absolute tension of the spokes but only the relative tension. Even with a tension meter, the “correct” tension is a subjective matter. Manufacturers that even give suggested spoke tensions…and they are few…give wide ranges of tensions. There is no “number” that will build a perfect wheel.
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Old 11-23-21, 12:38 PM
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Update. I have 4 bikes, all 3 speeds. All needed lubrication, adjustments, parts, and new bearings.( 3 where new acquisitions) I figured why not do the wheels for a "complete tune". The 1st was a 1972 Schwinn with S6 rims. Many spokes ranged from "ping" to a dull "thunk". I have some bicycle maintenance books, one from 1958, and also went through Sheldon Brown's web pages. Overall they said a tensioned spoke should have a G above middle C tone when plucked. Starting with the front wheel I checked all the spokes with the Park tool to get an overall condition, then starting slowly tightening and loosening to get an average reading on the tool of about 20 that translated to 80-85 Kg force for a 2mm spoke. At that tension there was a very close G tone when plucked. Taking my time it was pluck, check, adjust over several passes only turning the spoke nuts a 1/4 turn aiming for a range of 18-21 on the tool for overall tension. After some time the wheel's wobble and eccentricity greatly diminished with little to no out of round or wobble that used to rub the caliper brake. The tool really helped, it's not a voodoo mystery now. I know there's much more to learn, but it's great to know I can at least get the wheels in a fairly good condition.

My next question is rideability. I wonder if the feel or handling improves with properly tensioned wheels. 1 down, 7 to go.
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Old 11-23-21, 12:59 PM
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That's the way my 3-speed wheels were, too. Spoke tensions all over the place, but the wheels were holding together because there were so many spokes sharing the load. It felt really nice to even out the tensions, true out the worst blips, and stress-relieve them really hard to see if any spokes were damaged and ready to break.
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Old 11-23-21, 04:09 PM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
Again, plucking the spokes isn’t something that should be used to determine the absolute tension of the spokes but only the relative tension. Even with a tension meter, the “correct” tension is a subjective matter. Manufacturers that even give suggested spoke tensions…and they are few…give wide ranges of tensions. There is no “number” that will build a perfect wheel.
Not sure I agree with you. Relative is indeed useful, but it's also important to not go too high or too low. A manufacturer's suggested tension is for the rim, not the spoke. Now that most rims don't have eyelets, it's easy to run too high of tension and wreck the rim.

What amused me was that the pitches of the plucked spokes were nowhere near the tensions I estimated (based on guides given here on BF).
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Old 11-23-21, 06:42 PM
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Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
Not sure I agree with you. Relative is indeed useful, but it's also important to not go too high or too low. A manufacturer's suggested tension is for the rim, not the spoke. Now that most rims don't have eyelets, it's easy to run too high of tension and wreck the rim.

What amused me was that the pitches of the plucked spokes were nowhere near the tensions I estimated (based on guides given here on BF).
The problem with using a specific tone is that will vary with the materials used. You’d have to determine all the notes for all of the combinations of rims, hubs, spokes, and nipples. Just the variance in spoke length is going make for a very large database.

If you look at the tension meter, Park (and others) don’t tell you what tension to use. They allow you to measure the tension but they do not give you a tension for a White Industry Hub, alloy spoke nipples, 2.0/1.8/2.0 mm spokes, and a Velocity A23 700C rim, for example. There is no such magic number. Even if you were to reproduce the wheel exactly, the tension is going to be different. Even if you took that a example wheel apart and rebuilt it, the tension measurement is going to be different. That’s the “art” part of wheel building.
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Old 11-23-21, 07:30 PM
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Gotta start somewhere.
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Old 11-23-21, 08:08 PM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
The problem with using a specific tone is that will vary with the materials used. You’d have to determine all the notes for all of the combinations of rims, hubs, spokes, and nipples. Just the variance in spoke length is going make for a very large database.

If you look at the tension meter, Park (and others) don’t tell you what tension to use. They allow you to measure the tension but they do not give you a tension for a White Industry Hub, alloy spoke nipples, 2.0/1.8/2.0 mm spokes, and a Velocity A23 700C rim, for example. There is no such magic number. Even if you were to reproduce the wheel exactly, the tension is going to be different. Even if you took that a example wheel apart and rebuilt it, the tension measurement is going to be different. That’s the “art” part of wheel building.
Edit: Looking back at my post, you may have thought I was arguing that tone DOES give you a specific tension. I agree that it does not, and implied that in my first post. My disagreement was that there are in fact target tension ranges and limits. It is still subjective, as you said, but there are right and wrong answers.

Now I'm not exactly sure what you are arguing. I never said there is some "magic number". I also understand the variance in tones, and the formula given for determining that, which I stated in my first post that it didn't seem to work. You seem to see the same flaw in that method, yet argue with me as if I'm endorsing it. As far as the Park gauge which I now use, I also never said there was some recommended number. The number a rim manufacturer suggests is usually a maximum. They are saying if you go higher than that, you risk ripping the rim at the spoke hole (I've seen it happen). Nothing more is implied with that, and what tension you ultimately use is determined by many factors. Keeping the build under that limit is just one of many facets in the "art" of wheel building.
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Old 11-23-21, 08:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Greg R View Post


Gotta start somewhere.
That looks like the chart I tried to use 2 decades ago. As I mentioned above, the Park gauge proved it to to be quite unreliable.
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Old 11-24-21, 08:49 AM
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Originally Posted by Greg R View Post
My next question is rideability. I wonder if the feel or handling improves with properly tensioned wheels. 1 down, 7 to go.
I expect you'll be pleased with the result of balancing the wheel's spoke tensions.

A few years back, after a long winter of commuting (in the dark, over potholes, frost heaves, etc.), I headed over the ridge near home on a weekend. This ridge normally has a wonderful 3 mile downhill, with wide sweeping curves and pretty decent pavement. Only after the winter, I had a sphincter-tightening shimmy. When I got home I went over the bike from stem to stern. The rear wheel was pretty badly out of true, with "plinks" and "thunks" mixed as in your description. It took a while to get that wheel straight again. But the next weekend, I was like the pig on the insurance commercial going down the ridge: "Whe-whe-wheee! Whe-whe-wheeee!"
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Old 11-24-21, 09:44 AM
  #37  
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I have built maybe 10 wheels over the years.
Certainly doing it more often increases your skills and makes the need for a tension meter less.
I use tone to get the tension more even but have the Park meter that I use for final tension measurements.
I find in some cases tone can be significantly off for some spokes probably due to something not being uniform in either the spoke or rim.
I have always had good results and last few wheels I did have not had to be trued after they were built.
One thing I picked up from a pro builder that I really like is to use Tef-Gel on the spoke threads. It is a bit messy but really prevents corrosion and doesn't effect how much torque is needed to turn the spoke nipple.
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Old 11-24-21, 10:04 AM
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Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
Edit: Looking back at my post, you may have thought I was arguing that tone DOES give you a specific tension. I agree that it does not, and implied that in my first post. My disagreement was that there are in fact target tension ranges and limits. It is still subjective, as you said, but there are right and wrong answers.
Okay, I understand the issue. I did think you were implying looking for a specific note.

I disagree that there are specific tensions needed or that there are “right and wrong” answers to what tension to use. There’s a range of possibilities but not anything as black and white as to say what is right or what is wrong.

Now I'm not exactly sure what you are arguing. I never said there is some "magic number". I also understand the variance in tones, and the formula given for determining that, which I stated in my first post that it didn't seem to work. You seem to see the same flaw in that method, yet argue with me as if I'm endorsing it. As far as the Park gauge which I now use, I also never said there was some recommended number. The number a rim manufacturer suggests is usually a maximum. They are saying if you go higher than that, you risk ripping the rim at the spoke hole (I've seen it happen). Nothing more is implied with that, and what tension you ultimately use is determined by many factors. Keeping the build under that limit is just one of many facets in the "art" of wheel building.
Going back to what I thought you were suggesting, my argument applies to the idea of a specific note or tension being “the one” to use when building wheels. People tend to think that the tension gauge gives you a number which is the “right” one and anything else is wrong. Just because you can calculate a force value to 4 decimal places doesn’t mean that is the correct force value or even that that value has any…umm…value.

Forgive me if you know this but in science there is precision and accuracy. They are unrelated. Precision is how closely clustered a number of measurements are. Accuracy is how close a measurement is to the “actual” value. You want precision in measurements…which the Park meter and the sound method do well…but you also want to be close to the right answer or “accurate” as well. The accurate part is what the various tension meters don’t do so well. Even the values given to us…when given to us…are only guess and are more likely to be based on liability issues than on actual values.
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Old 11-24-21, 11:03 AM
  #39  
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I've built a fair number of wheels, not a lot, but some. I thought they were built well enough and never used anything to check individual spoke tension, kind of doing it by 'fee' and sound. None of these wheels have ever needed anything more than a tweak or two after an initial ride. Am I good? Am I lucky or do I just 'over build?

A year or so ago I noticed an off brand spoke tension meter for about 30 bucks. I figured 'what the hell, I'll give it a try.' It seems well made. I wasn't expecting it to be super accurate as far as the actual tension goes, but thought it would show relative tension of my spokes.okay. I first check it on a few 'professionally' built wheels just to get a sense of it's accuracy. When I checked wheels I had built and ridden on, wow, I was surprised how wildly off individual spokes where from a good 'average' tension. Though the wheels were 'true' and still rode well, I decided go through all the wheels I built in the past and even things up. They say 'ignorance is bliss,' but once I knew these wheels ere off a bit, I needed to put my mind at ease.

Maybe I was just lucky I never had a wheel collapse, or maybe a wheel is a lot more tolerant of poor building skill than I thought. In any case, as long as you have adequate tension, (nothing kills a wheel faster than under tensioned spokes!) having a way to check relative spoke tension is a good thing, and even these relatively inexpensive tension meters can help with that. Though, as with any tool, you have to know the limitations of both the tool and yourself.
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Old 11-24-21, 11:03 AM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
Okay, I understand the issue. I did think you were implying looking for a specific note.

I disagree that there are specific tensions needed or that there are “right and wrong” answers to what tension to use. There’s a range of possibilities but not anything as black and white as to say what is right or what is wrong.



Going back to what I thought you were suggesting, my argument applies to the idea of a specific note or tension being “the one” to use when building wheels. People tend to think that the tension gauge gives you a number which is the “right” one and anything else is wrong. Just because you can calculate a force value to 4 decimal places doesn’t mean that is the correct force value or even that that value has any…umm…value.

Forgive me if you know this but in science there is precision and accuracy. They are unrelated. Precision is how closely clustered a number of measurements are. Accuracy is how close a measurement is to the “actual” value. You want precision in measurements…which the Park meter and the sound method do well…but you also want to be close to the right answer or “accurate” as well. The accurate part is what the various tension meters don’t do so well. Even the values given to us…when given to us…are only guess and are more likely to be based on liability issues than on actual values.
I think I get what you are saying now, and we are in agreement. When I say “wrong”, I mean that it would be unwise to go with 150kgf on a rim that states a maximum of 130. It would also be unwise to “play it safe” and do the whole wheel around 50. In practice, I aim to have the spoke tension as even as possible while still having a true wheel.
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Old 11-24-21, 01:20 PM
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Originally Posted by joeruge View Post
I've built a fair number of wheels, not a lot, but some. I thought they were built well enough and never used anything to check individual spoke tension, kind of doing it by 'fee' and sound. None of these wheels have ever needed anything more than a tweak or two after an initial ride. Am I good? Am I lucky or do I just 'over build?

A year or so ago I noticed an off brand spoke tension meter for about 30 bucks. I figured 'what the hell, I'll give it a try.' It seems well made. I wasn't expecting it to be super accurate as far as the actual tension goes, but thought it would show relative tension of my spokes.okay. I first check it on a few 'professionally' built wheels just to get a sense of it's accuracy. When I checked wheels I had built and ridden on, wow, I was surprised how wildly off individual spokes where from a good 'average' tension. Though the wheels were 'true' and still rode well, I decided go through all the wheels I built in the past and even things up. They say 'ignorance is bliss,' but once I knew these wheels ere off a bit, I needed to put my mind at ease.

Maybe I was just lucky I never had a wheel collapse, or maybe a wheel is a lot more tolerant of poor building skill than I thought. In any case, as long as you have adequate tension, (nothing kills a wheel faster than under tensioned spokes!) having a way to check relative spoke tension is a good thing, and even these relatively inexpensive tension meters can help with that. Though, as with any tool, you have to know the limitations of both the tool and yourself.
Maybe you were lucky or maybe you just haven't been extreme in the specs of the wheels. Different specs have different ranges of acceptable (safe) parameters. I built MANY (over 100) 32 and 36 spoke 3x and 4x wheels (mostly with eyeleted rims) before ever getting a tension meter. Those were safe builds. Once I started getting more ambitious with lower spoke counts and lighter rims, I started using a tension meter to be safe.
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Old 11-24-21, 04:25 PM
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Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
Maybe you were lucky or maybe you just haven't been extreme in the specs of the wheels. Different specs have different ranges of acceptable (safe) parameters. I built MANY (over 100) 32 and 36 spoke 3x and 4x wheels (mostly with eyeleted rims) before ever getting a tension meter. Those were safe builds. Once I started getting more ambitious with lower spoke counts and lighter rims, I started using a tension meter to be safe.
Urbanknight, You hit it right on the head! I was (am?) never too adventurous when it comes to wheel building. I have pretty much stuck to the 'basics;' 32-36 hole, 3x, with standard lacing configurations. I did build one 32 spoke 2x, but that was only because those were the spokes and other components I had on hand. Guess you could call me a 'retro-grouch!'
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Old 11-25-21, 10:59 AM
  #43  
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3 bikes later it is amazing what "hidden" problems I could've had. Many spokes were very slack, some over tensioned I suppose by a PO to compensate, All the wheels had degrees of wobble and eccentricity; one even to the point of a slight wheel hop when I got above 30-35 Mph. I just figured it what was part and parcel to buying used bikes.

After getting overall tensions first, I started in increments tightening , sometimes loosening. After all the readings became ball park equal, then I started tweaking for shape of the rim. Slowly the wobbles went true, very slowly the eccentricity diminished. Most of the wheels went pretty round and true, another isn't perfect but way better and no wheel hop. The tool was an excellent guide to keep from over tightening and keep things equal.

The LBS charges $40 to true wheels. Now I see why, there's no need or room to be in a hurry. So far the tool has saved me $80 and has paid for it self; not including the education and entry to a new skill set.
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Old 11-25-21, 11:10 PM
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Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
I expect you'll be pleased with the result of balancing the wheel's spoke tensions.

A few years back, after a long winter of commuting (in the dark, over potholes, frost heaves, etc.), I headed over the ridge near home on a weekend. This ridge normally has a wonderful 3 mile downhill, with wide sweeping curves and pretty decent pavement. Only after the winter, I had a sphincter-tightening shimmy. When I got home I went over the bike from stem to stern. The rear wheel was pretty badly out of true, with "plinks" and "thunks" mixed as in your description. It took a while to get that wheel straight again. But the next weekend, I was like the pig on the insurance commercial going down the ridge: "Whe-whe-wheee! Whe-whe-wheeee!"
I'll offer an example of how poor wheel building can affect handling.

After a few years of being a local shop wrench (this was in 1978) I was "really" beginning to develop my own standards and understandings of how to do things. In the wheel building arena I was all on about even spoke tensions but the overall tension level called for "creative thinking". Of course, back then we had fairly soft alloy rims that were rather light weight with lots of spokes, and eyelets on most any rim a "real" rider would be seen on. I wondered about a wheel's service life and how many rims needed truing many times over their lives. This led me to thinking that building a wheel with the lowest spoke tension was the way to allow future truing to be easier as when truing a wheel the tension levels usually increase. (Note the bike shop mechanic centric thinking here, wanting one's repair jobs to be easier to do...)

That summer I had finished a new frame and was taking the freshly built up bike to VT while I attended Eisentraut's class. I got to ride this bike only a couple of times there but on the second time, and while using the front brake, the bike began shuddering/wiggling and got worse as I finished my ride. It was only on coming back home and looking at the bike that I noticed that the front wheel's spoke tensions were really slack, to the point of not having a pluck tone at all. I believe I had experienced the rim "moving" off center WRT the hub as the brake pads clamped against the rim. Like I said really low spoke tension, the spokes had loosened up during those two initial rides. I had built the wheels (Rigida 1320s, Campy hubs and likely Torrington spokes) only a week before the class and followed my then thinking that as long as the rim was well trued the overall spoke tension was less an issue. I retensioned/trued the wheels and the shudder/wobble on heavy ft braking was gone. I took this lesson to heart and have kept an eye on my overall tensions ever since.

So in the extreme, too low spoke tensions can have handling issues if you're using rim brakes (IME) Andy
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Old 11-26-21, 12:47 PM
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result of balancing the wheel's spoke tensions.
There is a difference. I took the bikes out for test rides of a couple of miles of trails and paths. They seem to roll freer and more nimble. Reminded me of a new bike.

Thanks for all the input!!
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Old 11-26-21, 05:58 PM
  #46  
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in about 1977 as a young person I remember no less a wheel builder than Spence Wolf giving me "a few pointers" and he held out a Hozan spoke tensiometer and proclaimed "now Mark, this is the instrument of the devil". his point being that continually chasing spoke tension would lead you to keep building after the wheel was "done" and ready to ride.

there's a comment above that talks about "safe builds" doing 2 and 3 cross wheels with DT spokes and clincher rims and how modern wheels let you run very high spoke tensions approaching 100KGF. I agree with this insite.

today we have the wonderful WheelFanatyk tensiometer and it's accompanying app that lets you generate a "radar plot" showing every spoke's tension and calculates the average and deviation. A fantastic tool ! but the main thing it does is train the builder by giving unambiguous feedback.

/markp

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Old 11-28-21, 10:05 AM
  #47  
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Here's my homebuilt version of the WheelFanatyk Tensiometer. Clearly not as refined as the real deal, but I have found it to be accurate and repeatable. 'Had an opportunity to show this to Ric Hjertberg a few years ago at one of Classic Cycle's evening events. He just smiled. HA!

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Old 11-30-21, 01:08 PM
  #48  
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Originally Posted by Greg R View Post


Gotta start somewhere.
This is only going to apply to a three cross wheel (assuming that's what was normal when the chart was created). A 2x wheel is going to cross in a different location, which is like putting your finger on a guitar fret.
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Old 11-30-21, 02:33 PM
  #49  
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Originally Posted by ThermionicScott View Post
...Even with a Park TM-1, I find myself plucking spokes a lot. I think it's a quicker and better way to tell which spokes in a group have the most or least tension.
For Sure!!! When I was skating around 300 pounds I was popping spokes every now and then. Plucking spokes has become part of my Pre-Flight check list. Now down to 240 and having more experience in bicycle maintenance my spokes and other equipment have been holding great. I use Machine Built wheel sets mostly from Wheel Masters. They have all been pretty close but every now and then one is way out. Enough so that I loosened up all the spokes and then tuned them with the Park TM-1 and my home made Dish Device.

I am sure there are people that can use Pitch to tell the tension in spokes. I am not one of them. Mostly its just the difference like Thunk, Twang, Tink... What ever that is...

The other day I checked someones Steel Rimed wheel sets without tires mounted... Wow... What music... Getting that set trued up was a pleasure even though I had to use PB-Blaster on the nipples...
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