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Struggling with broken spokes on my Bianchi Volpe which I use as a road bike

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Struggling with broken spokes on my Bianchi Volpe which I use as a road bike

Old 09-02-15, 01:48 AM
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Struggling with broken spokes on my Bianchi Volpe which I use as a road bike

Greetings new friends @ bikeforums. I am a 195lb, 5'10" male, and my one and only bike is a Bianchi Volpe. I almost always ride with 5-10 pounds in a pannier attached to the rear rack, and I am struggling with a lot of broken spokes, especially on the rear wheel, and as luck would have it, usually on the side with the gears which is hardest to replace. My pedaling stroke isn't smooth, i tend to exert a lot more downward force than I should. I know that I should ride more gently, but I definitely don't avoid every obstacle, and I drop off curbs from time to time.

I have two wheel/tire combinations:
1) my older configuration is the 32-spoke with Tiagra hub and unknown rim which came with the bike. It is configured with 28cm tires which I run at about 80-90 PSI. So far this combination has ridden ~2000 miles with 2 broken spokes on the rear, none on the front.
2) about a year ago, I got a pair of 28-spoke Maddux R3.0's which I have ridden about 1000 miles with 25cm which I run at around 90 PSI. The rear spokes have broken 3 times, and front broke once.

Hypothesis:
I ride the bike too hard for these wheels, especially given my weight. 32-spoke is reasonable, but a typical 28 will probably be frustrating. I know that 36 spoke is also available in some cases, will that help?
I have learned that a tapered spoke (narrower in middle to stretch better, thick at ends) might be more durable as it has a little more give. Is this good advise?

Questions:
1) Can anyone recommend some wheels which will be reliable (my top priority), modest price (under 150$ for rear wheel) and have good performance characteristics (I have done a century and want to do more, but I don't compete for time.)
2) Am I correct that matching front and rear wheel is not important? I feel like my existing 28 or 32 are fine in the front, and don't seem to be having issues with the spokes breaking there.

Thanks,
---tom
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Old 09-02-15, 05:00 AM
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Your riding style and cheap wheels don't mix. You need to spend more to get bomb proof wheels. Riding off curbs at your weight is going to eat spokes on any cheap wheel.
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Old 09-02-15, 09:06 AM
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You need a stiffer rim and the double butted spokes you mentioned with correct tensioning.
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Old 09-02-15, 09:29 AM
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Curbs? Wrong bike.
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Old 09-02-15, 09:38 AM
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Originally Posted by tomalphin
Greetings new friends @ bikeforums. I am a 195lb, 5'10" male, and my one and only bike is a Bianchi Volpe. I almost always ride with 5-10 pounds in a pannier attached to the rear rack, and I am struggling with a lot of broken spokes, especially on the rear wheel, and as luck would have it, usually on the side with the gears which is hardest to replace. My pedaling stroke isn't smooth, i tend to exert a lot more downward force than I should. I know that I should ride more gently, but I definitely don't avoid every obstacle, and I drop off curbs from time to time.

I have two wheel/tire combinations:
1) my older configuration is the 32-spoke with Tiagra hub and unknown rim which came with the bike. It is configured with 28cm tires which I run at about 80-90 PSI. So far this combination has ridden ~2000 miles with 2 broken spokes on the rear, none on the front.
2) about a year ago, I got a pair of 28-spoke Maddux R3.0's which I have ridden about 1000 miles with 25cm which I run at around 90 PSI. The rear spokes have broken 3 times, and front broke once.

Hypothesis:
I ride the bike too hard for these wheels, especially given my weight. 32-spoke is reasonable, but a typical 28 will probably be frustrating. I know that 36 spoke is also available in some cases, will that help?
I have learned that a tapered spoke (narrower in middle to stretch better, thick at ends) might be more durable as it has a little more give. Is this good advise?

Questions:
1) Can anyone recommend some wheels which will be reliable (my top priority), modest price (under 150$ for rear wheel) and have good performance characteristics (I have done a century and want to do more, but I don't compete for time.)
2) Am I correct that matching front and rear wheel is not important? I feel like my existing 28 or 32 are fine in the front, and don't seem to be having issues with the spokes breaking there.

Thanks,
---tom
I think wheel quality is the culprit, not spoke count.

I am also 195lbs.

I have ridden thousands of miles on 24 spoke rears and knock on wood, have never broken a spoke.

I also don't jump curbs or carry a load, but I've also never gone easy on pedal force.
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Old 09-02-15, 09:40 AM
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If you're not opposed to learning how to build your own set, and have the patience, check out Bike Hub Store (do a Google search). You can pick up a truing stand, a simple one-sided stand (just flip the wheel to check dish) on the cheap, spokes & nipples, hubs and rims for ~$250. I'd build up a 32/36 f/r set with non-butted spokes (stronger, but with a slightly firmer ride), with a 3X lacing pattern. They'll be better than any box-set you can get for the same price.
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Old 09-02-15, 12:26 PM
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Hi, welcome to the forums. As others have mentioned, riding over/off curbs is not a good idea. Second, seeing as you have ridden a decent number miles on these wheels that have broken spokes, it is likely worth it to invest in new wheels. Wheel quality depends on the quality of the build, a poorly built wheel made with top of the line components will not hold up. One low-cost route that many people use is to buy a machine-built wheel on the internet, and do the final spoke tensioning and truing yourself. A more expensive option is to get a hand-built wheel from a good local shop.At your weight, for the rear wheel a well built 32 spoke wheel with double butted spokes laced 3-cross should do fine. One good option is an off-center rim like the Velocity A23 which results in less dish and therefore a stronger wheel. I doubt an experienced wheelbuilder would recommend 28 spokes for you in the rear, but that might be ok in the front.Using a fatter tire at lower pressure will also improve durability. Since your Volpe is a touring bike it can probably fit 35mm tires, but of course you should measure first to be sure.
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Old 09-02-15, 12:34 PM
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I'm 6'1" and my only bike for the past five years is a 1990 Bianchi Volpe. When I bought it (used, eBay, April 2010) I weighed 310lbs; now, I weigh 200lbs. I use it, mostly, as a road bike, but a few months ago I added a Pletscher "Innova" rear rack, for shopping with one-or-two grocery-bag panniers.

Stock 36-spoke wheels, front and rear. Got hit by an SUV this past March, and the original rear wheel got tacoed. Replaced it with a Weinmann ZAC19 700C and Wheelmaster freewheel hub. Been riding on Bontrager Satellite Elite Hardcase tires (700x38) since I bought the bike.

Never a bent/broken spoke in all that time (6,000+ miles).
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Old 09-02-15, 05:07 PM
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Originally Posted by tomalphin
Hypothesis:
I ride the bike too hard for these wheels, especially given my weight.
Nope. The companies that made those wheels decided it was more profitable to deal with occasional warranty returns from people like you than to pay for more expensive robots or hand labor to properly tension and stress relieve them, and no one who understood wheels did that before you broke them.

Spokes break due to fatigue, with the number of cycles survived dependent on average stress and the variation.

The variation comes from spokes going slack passing the bottom of the wheel due to your weight. Bigger riders are worse.

The average comes from elbows never taken past their elastic limit.

32-spoke is reasonable, but a typical 28 will probably be frustrating. I know that 36 spoke is also available in some cases, will that help?
No. Uniform high tension and stress-relieving will. Squeeze each spoke and its near parallel counterpart on the same side of the wheel, or twist the spokes about eachother at their outer crossing using something softer like a plastic screw driver handle, old left crank, or brass drift.

Hitting obstacles and dropping off curbs decreases tension and isn't going to hurt the spokes, although you may pinch flat or bend a rim especially if your tires aren't inflated enough.

High spoke count means the wheel is more likely to be rideable (perhaps just opening the brake release, perhaps with adjustment) when you break a spoke. It also makes the rim stiffer laterally so bigger riders are less likely to have problems with brake rub when out of the saddle.

I have learned that a tapered spoke (narrower in middle to stretch better, thick at ends) might be more durable as it has a little more give. Is this good advise?
Yes.

2) Am I correct that matching front and rear wheel is not important? I feel like my existing 28 or 32 are fine in the front, and don't seem to be having issues with the spokes breaking there.
It only matters for aesthetics and spare parts - I have only one spare rim for the 32/32 wheelset I usually ride.

Last edited by Drew Eckhardt; 09-02-15 at 05:14 PM.
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Old 09-02-15, 05:13 PM
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Originally Posted by silversx80
If you're not opposed to learning how to build your own set, and have the patience, check out Bike Hub Store (do a Google search). You can pick up a truing stand, a simple one-sided stand (just flip the wheel to check dish) on the cheap, spokes & nipples, hubs and rims for ~$250. I'd build up a 32/36 f/r set with non-butted spokes (stronger, but with a slightly firmer ride), with a 3X lacing pattern. They'll be better than any box-set you can get for the same price.
Non-butted spokes are more likely to crack rims and unscrew nipples because they stretch less at a given tension. With quality butted spokes starting at ~$.40 a piece there's no reason to use them.

Windup is an issue on paper, although a tape flag on representative spokes (first after the valve hole, plus the second on rear wheels) or Sharpie dot on all of them will show you how much you're getting so correct compensation doesn't take any experience.

You can argue about what butting is ideal - traditional 2.0/1.8mm, 2.0/1.5mm like most small manufacturers' boutique wheels (flattened into an aero shape), 2.0/1.6 as a compromise with more lateral stiffness, 2.3mm at the head because the holes must be that big to pass 14 gauge rolled threads and heavy riders deserve all the strength they can get...

For high spoke counts with weights not much over 200 pounds I like DT 2.0/1.5mm Revolutions - they'll keep the non-drive-side tight with bigger hits and/or lower tension which is important in shallow rims.

Last edited by Drew Eckhardt; 09-02-15 at 06:58 PM.
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Old 09-02-15, 05:25 PM
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Drew gives a lot of good information. I would only add that my training/commuting wheels are inexpensive 32h Tiagra hubs on Weinmann Sec 16 rims. They were machine built but I took them to my local shop and had them trued, and most importantly, properly tensioned. That's the key to long wheel life, in my experience. I ride over curbs, broken pavement, gravel, whatever. It helps to learn how to bunnyhop or even to just unweight the wheels.
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Old 09-02-15, 05:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Drew Eckhardt
High spoke count means the wheel is more likely to be rideable (perhaps just opening the brake release, perhaps with adjustment) when you break a spoke. It also makes the rim stiffer laterally so bigger riders are less likely to have problems with brake rub when out of the saddle.
I was surprised when I broke a spoke on a 24h carbon rim. Didn't notice it being out of true while riding, and it didn't rub the brake pads either. Finished 25 miles after it broke, only noticed it by the rattling sound of the broken nipple bouncing around.
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Old 09-02-15, 05:57 PM
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This thread has been extremely informative. It has taught me that there are a ton of factors which impact wheel life and durability, and that there is no silver bullet.

Specific things which I will probably put into practice eventually when I buy or build new wheels:
1) 32/36 spokes will increase durability a bit, and weight a bit. The most significant change is the rideability of the wheel if/when a spoke does break.
2) Correctly stress-relieved and tensioned wheels are incredibly important. This is a critical step in getting the best reliability out of any wheel, store bought or handmade.
3) The majority of folks on this thread seem to prefer butted spokes for reliability. The extra stretch from the thinner section of the spoke reduces the lack of tension on the nipple as the wheel rotates, and keeping the nipple in tension prevents it from loosening over time.
4) I did not see a significant discussion around lacing pattern, but Cross-3 seems the be the norm for a wheel with this number of spokes.
5) It seems like the rim is largely personal preference, with a double-wall design being recommended for durability.

Again, thanks for all the feedback.

So, one last question:
Can anyone recommend a good readily-available pre-built wheel that meets most of these criteria?
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Old 09-02-15, 08:53 PM
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Originally Posted by Bunyanderman
I was surprised when I broke a spoke on a 24h carbon rim. Didn't notice it being out of true while riding, and it didn't rub the brake pads either. Finished 25 miles after it broke, only noticed it by the rattling sound of the broken nipple bouncing around.
Modern aero rims are much stiffer than what was available when a lot of the conventional wisdom about wheels was born. Old lightweight box section rims did indeed become unridable when a single broke spoke unless you had spoke counts of at least 32. Not so much any more.
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Old 09-02-15, 09:53 PM
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Originally Posted by Bunyanderman
I was surprised when I broke a spoke on a 24h carbon rim. Didn't notice it being out of true while riding, and it didn't rub the brake pads either. Finished 25 miles after it broke, only noticed it by the rattling sound of the broken nipple bouncing around.
Yeah, modern carbon rims are awesome. I detensioned a spoke on a 16 spoke front wheel and only had to open up the brakes a bit for it to spin freely. Just as an experiment.

A well designed aluminum rim is good too. I broke a spoke on a 24 spoke XR270 and it was still rideable.
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