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Spoke Tension

Old 11-15-21, 02:30 PM
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Greg R
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Spoke Tension

I'm looking into acquiring a spoke tension gauge. Does anyone use them or what should I look for?
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Old 11-15-21, 02:53 PM
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Lots of us use them. Many feel that they have to have a specific spoke tension and thus need a number to read. Some are worried about over tensioning the spokes resulting in cracked rims or collapsed wheels. At one time in my shop life I decided to record on service tickets (and label the rim with) the average spoke tension, thinking that it would elevate me above the other shops. I have to say that my wheels weren't any longer lasting if there was a number listed, for an experienced builder a tension meter is more of an image thing as their skills and feel are what really counts. During the actual building pluck tones are far faster to do and give a very good feedback to how consistently/evenly tensioned the spokes are. For beginner builders having a number to aim for helps though.

As to what one to get that's not a big deal. The meter's ability to be consistent and repeatable is far more important then any small drift from perfect calibration. I find the Park ones (both the more recent versions as well as their earlier one) are easy to hold in one hand and apply to the spokes in the wheel. There have been various copies out their and I suspect they will also work well. I haven't used a dial type, except to handle and check out at a bike show. The claimed tighter tolerances of the dial type didn't seem to be of much benefit and their much higher cost wasn't justified IMO. Andy
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Old 11-15-21, 02:54 PM
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The Park tensiometer (TM-1 Spoke Tension Meter | Park Tool) is all I've ever needed. Look for a good price.
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Old 11-15-21, 02:58 PM
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I use one every time I build or true a wheel. It is the only way to get the consistency needed for good wheel builds. The Park Tool one is ubiquitous...but it needs to be calibrated fairly often. The Wheel Fanatyk and DT tension meters are very nice (I use the WF) but are very expensive. I don't care what kind of skills you claim to have...you can't build accurately and consistently without one.
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Old 11-15-21, 03:08 PM
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I think that a quality tensiometer is essential for consistent and evenly tensioned wheel builds. I used the Park TM-1 and I've never had a wheel build issue as a result. You will find some that say it's not always accurate, but I've always had very consistent readings and Park will recalibrate it for you if needed.
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Old 11-15-21, 03:08 PM
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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.
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Old 11-15-21, 03:09 PM
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"I don't care what kind of skills you claim to have...you can't build accurately and consistently without one." cxwrench

I will take issue with this claim. I've built many (as in many dozens) of wheels both before tension meters were available and after they became the "need to have to be called a good builder". If it's impossible to build a good wheel without a meter then there's millions of bikes with bad wheels being used every day. Also this suggests that all the wheels that we built before meters became available were crap. All the gold medals, all the race wins were on crap wheels. This is bogus.

Will having a meter help, sure. Will it insure a good wheel, no way as that's up to the builder's skills. Can a good wheel be built without a meter, yes and has been done since the tensioned spoke wheel was first made. Andy
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Old 11-15-21, 03:53 PM
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Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart View Post
"I don't care what kind of skills you claim to have...you can't build accurately and consistently without one." cxwrench

I will take issue with this claim. I've built many (as in many dozens) of wheels both before tension meters were available and after they became the "need to have to be called a good builder". If it's impossible to build a good wheel without a meter then there's millions of bikes with bad wheels being used every day. Also this suggests that all the wheels that we built before meters became available were crap. All the gold medals, all the race wins were on crap wheels. This is bogus.

Will having a meter help, sure. Will it insure a good wheel, no way as that's up to the builder's skills. Can a good wheel be built without a meter, yes and has been done since the tensioned spoke wheel was first made. Andy
I generally agree with this. I don't need a tensiometer to build a set of wheels and I agree it's most definitely possible to build a solid ridable pair without one. But as a non-professional who doesn't build dozens of wheels, I prefer having the meter to help verify my work.
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Old 11-15-21, 04:01 PM
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I’ve used the Park and have a similar version at home that cost a fraction of it’s price. The Park might be calibrated better and likely comes with with better info. I’m not sure who designed these first but they both work. They’re helpful but not absolutely necessary to building wheels. I still have wheels I built 30+ years ago without a gauge and they’ve held up fine.
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Old 11-15-21, 04:04 PM
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...aaand this thread has liftoff!

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.
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. Muting one of a crossed pair helps you hear the other better. When truing a jog in the wheel, it's tempting to tighten/loosen the closest pair of spokes to the jog. But I sometimes find through plucking, that the real tight spoke is one spoke away on one side, and that there's a loose spoke one more over in the other direction on the other side. By adjusting those two, I can take care of the jog and do a better job of evening out the spoke tensions.

With a tensiometer, some of the repeatability comes down to how quickly you release the handle, so initially your readings won't be as precise as just plucking the spokes.
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Old 11-15-21, 04:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart View Post
Will having a meter help, sure. Will it insure a good wheel, no way as that's up to the builder's skills. Can a good wheel be built without a meter, yes and has been done since the tensioned spoke wheel was first made. Andy
Couple points. First, I suspect using a tensiometer is similar to using a torque wrench, in that for a majority of uses, a mechanic who works on wheels (or engines) day in, day out, can get pretty good results without either. For someone like me, who builds or trues a wheel maybe a couple times a year, the measuring tool lets me get results similar to the dedicated mechanic who averages 5-10 wheels a day, and has for the last 5-10 years.

Second, there's more to building a solid wheel than tensioning the spokes evenly and adequately. As Andrew implies, things like correcting a spoke line, balancing tension against trueness (especially for "experienced" wheels), or stress relieving the spokes is as important as getting them tensioned correctly.

As far as tensioning by ear, I was trained early as a musician, so I trued by plucking for years. I was still surprised by how uneven a couple of wheels were when I first got a tensiometer.
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Old 11-15-21, 06:25 PM
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All good "war" stories and field experience. I've been a mechanic my whole working life so I understand experience vs. tools. I'll learn a spoke's pitch. (over at Sheldon Brown's a contributor as a whole musical chart on the subject.) For now this is a new skill and I need to start in the ball park with numbers. Lot's of encouraging info. .

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Old 11-15-21, 09:05 PM
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I've never used 'pitch' and I've never plucked spokes. I'd guess this would change depending on spoke gauge, pattern, and hub/rim dimensions. Why bother with it other than to check consistency? Am I right in thinking you can't use the same note if you're building wheels w/ different thickness spokes? At the shop level I have to use processes that both accurate and repeatable. That's why we use torque wrenches and tension gauges. The 3 senior mechanics at the shop I'm at have nearly 90 years of combined experience. We don't 'think' we're right at 5nm or 110kgf we know.
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Old 11-15-21, 09:20 PM
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Not being very "artistic" I find the paint by numbers kits to result in perfect paintings... Andy (trying to make a joke about absolutes and numbers and how they are not always what makes a better wheel.)
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Old 11-15-21, 11:27 PM
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A spoke tension meter is kinda like instructions. Something nice to have so when I'm finished I can check it to know everything is right. A really good builder should be able to build a wheel without one and have it be right. After getting my wheelsmith version I went and checked the last three wheelsets I built and all three were spot on for tension and all the spokes were within a couple KgF of each other. Personally, from what I've seen of them I wouldn't trust a park to be spot on, I know neither of my truing stands were when they arrived either, and I've heard from people who have tested them they're not always accurate.
Where it will still excel is in telling you if all the spokes are within an acceptable margin in relation to each other. They won't all be perfectly the same, with my wheelsmith if the number is supposed to be 55 and it reads 54-56 for all of them, and the wheel is straight, true and round then that's good enough. Same with the park. Where this can help a lot is dealing with old wheels that can have wayward spokes randomly located from others mis-truing the wheel. If you're gonna build, its a good investment.
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Old 11-16-21, 02:54 AM
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In his book The Art of Wheelbuilding Gerd Schraner says "I worked for year without a tensiometer, being under the false impression that instinct and experience were enough. Then I bought one of the first HOZAN tensiometers on the market and started making comparisons. Shamefacedly I had to admit that my super instinct was not so super after all. Even my mood on any particular day gave different results." Sheldon Brown felt a bike shop should have an tensionometer and Andy's cousin John S Allen thinks at least as early as 2002 that a tensionometer has value and you need some musical aptitude to pluck spokes to discern tension.

There ARE millions of bikes ridden every day on crap wheels and there have been and will continue to be gold medals and races won on crap wheels. And crap wheels will continue to be built with tensionometers. Racers that weigh 145 pounds can get a lot of miles out of crap wheels. Not so much on loaded touring bikes and particularly loaded tandem with disc brakes. They need something better than even a "good" wheel. There is a wide range of spoke tension that can result in a "good "wheel but I believe the range of optimal tension is much narrower and results in the best wheel for the application. For me, past experience and the ability to consistently reproduce a result is critical. If I haven't built with a particular combination of components for a few months, a tensionometer check helps me feel confident I have replicated something I know from experience will serve my customer well and not come back to spite me.

When I started working in a bike shop some decades ago, the owner of the shop insisted that each customer be given a spoke wrench with their new bike, calling it "the most dangerous tool in a bike kit". 15 gauge galvanized spokes, thin flange hubs, single wall rims, narrow tires-what can possibly go wrong?

Some might say that wheel building is part art, part science and part VooDoo. We can all have our opinions on where a tensionometer fits in that triangle as long as the wheels stay round.
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Old 11-16-21, 07:39 AM
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Get a good one like the Park and in my experience you will build confidence and skills much faster and soon find yourself using it less and less.
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Old 11-16-21, 07:56 AM
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I guess I'm cheap. I use the app on iphone ...I think it was $5.99.
https://apps.apple.com/us/app/spoke-...ge/id518870820
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Old 11-16-21, 08:41 AM
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Originally Posted by trailangel View Post
I guess I'm cheap. I use the app on iphone ...I think it was $5.99.
https://apps.apple.com/us/app/spoke-...ge/id518870820
Rated 2.7 out of 5, with the one 5-star rating sounding like a shill.
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Old 11-16-21, 09:42 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 donít ďpluckĒ the spokes because thatís hard on the fingernails. I ďstrikeĒ the spoke with the spoke wrench. But Iím only looking for sharp vs flat tones or high tension spokes vs low tension spokes. Donít go looking for a specific note because the note you are looking for would vary depending on a large number of factors.

I do this striking throughout the build to guide me on tension and only use the tension meter as a final check/fine tuning tool.

Donít fall into the trap of thinking that now that you have a number (or a note) that you just have to wind the spoke up to that value and youíll have a good wheel. There is still a lot of art in wheel building. There is the spoke tension you should use. A lot of people will tell you to check with the manufacturer for the tension needed. If there is a list of spoke tensions for a specific rim out there, Iíve never found itÖdespite decades of looking. Generally, the only spoke tension guidance Iíve found is similar to this recommendation from Velocity

We recommend building to spoke tension between 110kgf and 130kgf.
This statement is similar to every other recommendation Iíve run across, if I can find a recommendation at all. Velocity makes 15 different models of rims with different profiles and different thicknesses but only use this range. Unlike other companies, however, they do continue with

Each rim may behave a bit differently; the mark of an excellent wheel builder is the ability to find the highest tension a rim will allow while maintaining its radial and lateral true.
Thatís the art part.
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Old 11-18-21, 01:24 AM
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If you only built DT Competition spoked two cross, 32 hole wheels with 22mm high rims, you wouldn't need a tensiometer after some experience. But different diameter spokes at different lengths have very different deflections for the same tension - which is why the tensiometer comes with a magic decoder card to turn the readout into a useful number. So if you went from 2.0mm spokes to 1.5, you'd likely over-tension the 1.5s because they feel looser at proper tension (and only tension matters).

Plucking is a quick way to find high and low tension spokes in an otherwise full tension wheel. It replaces the tensiometer for relative comparison, not tension value.

I've built lots of wheels without a tensiometer, but they weren't weird and I have a lot of experience. A home mechanic can always go to a shop and ask if the finished wheel has good tension. Most mechanics would check without charging you.

There is a wide range of acceptable tensions for most wheels, which is why many can get away with even but unknown tension. And few understand that total tension (number of spokes) is a factor in individual spoke tension selection - 20 spoke wheels should have more tension per spoke than 36, and wide spaced flanges should have less than narrow.

Bed your elbows, stress your spokes throughout.

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Old 11-18-21, 10:38 AM
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I've only built about 25 wheels and starting using a Wheelsmith tensiometer after the first few. I have had good luck with my builds for myself and friends.
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Old 11-21-21, 07:26 PM
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The Park tension tool arrived. I'll post my experiences to follow. Thanks for the advice so far
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Old 11-21-21, 10:04 PM
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Originally Posted by cxwrench View Post
I've never used 'pitch' and I've never plucked spokes. I'd guess this would change depending on spoke gauge, pattern, and hub/rim dimensions. Why bother with it other than to check consistency? Am I right in thinking you can't use the same note if you're building wheels w/ different thickness spokes? At the shop level I have to use processes that both accurate and repeatable. That's why we use torque wrenches and tension gauges. The 3 senior mechanics at the shop I'm at have nearly 90 years of combined experience. We don't 'think' we're right at 5nm or 110kgf we know.
I have a really, really accurate sense of relative pitch and very good pitch memory because of my experience as a musician/composer so plucking spokes drastically speeds my builds when comparing spoke tension of spokes on the same side of a wheel--I tend to make any adjustments to whatever spoke is the greatest outlier in tension, and also I balance paired spokes pretty early in the build process. I just use a TM-1 and I can compare relative tension way more precisely by ear. But I don't pretend to be able to tell absolute tension by ear--I set my final spoke tension with the meter, and also double check tension evenness with the meter , but the meter definitely only touches the wheel at final tensioning. It's a legitimate technique.
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Old 11-21-21, 10:39 PM
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Originally Posted by cpach View Post
I have a really, really accurate sense of relative pitch and very good pitch memory because of my experience as a musician/composer so plucking spokes drastically speeds my builds when comparing spoke tension of spokes on the same side of a wheel--I tend to make any adjustments to whatever spoke is the greatest outlier in tension, and also I balance paired spokes pretty early in the build process. I just use a TM-1 and I can compare relative tension way more precisely by ear. But I don't pretend to be able to tell absolute tension by ear--I set my final spoke tension with the meter, and also double check tension evenness with the meter , but the meter definitely only touches the wheel at final tensioning. It's a legitimate technique.
Using sound was something that we basically had to do up until the late 80s. Hozan made a tension meter in the 70s but it went for very high dollars back then. I recall seeing prices that were pushing $300 in the mid-80s. That’s close to $700 today. Only factories and very high end shops wold have them. Wheelsmith made a tension meter in the late 80s that was still $150 or about $350 today. Sound was the only reliable and cheap way to get even(ish) tension.

Park’s tension meter has made it so that most everyone can afford to have a tension meter. That’s only something that has occurred in the last couple of decades. It’s also nice to know the sound method if you have to replace a spoke in the field where you can’t carry a tension meter. It’s good to have a work around just in case.
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