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Butted or straight-gauge spokes on touring wheels?

Old 11-01-09, 10:52 AM
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Butted or straight-gauge spokes on touring wheels?

I'm planning to buy a set of touring wheels soon, probably Velocity Dyads or Synergys laced to Velocity or Ultegra hubs. The rims will be 700c, 36-spoke but I'm not sure whether to get butted or straight-gauge spokes. It seems that all of the experts recommend butted spokes, but my current mechanic and other mechanics I've used over the years all seem to think that straight spokes are more durable.

I plan to put these wheels on my Bob Jackson World Tour that I use mostly for commuting, but I would like to do some occasional loaded touring. I generally use 25 mm tires for commuting, but may jump up to 28s and would get some 32s for loaded touring.
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Old 11-01-09, 02:37 PM
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Touring bikes also have to withstand being thrown on the back of trucks etc. But I think that as long as you have enough spokes and your wheel is well-built and true it just doesn't matter whether you have 14 ga straights or butted. My Americano came with 14 ga straight spokes and I continue to rebuild my wheels using them.
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Old 11-01-09, 02:43 PM
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Originally Posted by Cyclesafe View Post
Touring bikes also have to withstand being thrown on the back of trucks etc. But I think that as long as you have enough spokes and your wheel is well-built and true it just doesn't matter whether you have 14 ga straights or butted. My Americano came with 14 ga straight spokes and I continue to rebuild my wheels using them.
Agree. I would be more focused on a STRONG double wall rim. As long as it is properly built and maintained it should be good. My FCR came with just stock cheap but double wall reinforced ally wheels. I did not have 1 broken spoke all tour. Not even a leak. But I did have to true it up every 500-1000 miles.
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Old 11-01-09, 03:19 PM
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Sheldon Brown, Jobst Brandt, Gerd Shraner, and others who are engineering-oriented and know wheelbuilding well (and are beyond the level of most bike mechanics in their understanding of the issues involved here) seem to lean toward butted spokes.

Sheldon Brown recommended DT Alpine III triple-butted spokes.

Apparently, the greater elasticity that you can get with the (right) butted spokes evens out the stresses.
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Old 11-01-09, 03:23 PM
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Interesting. I tend to listen to the pros and the uber-pros myself. Good reference Niles.
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Old 11-01-09, 03:46 PM
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Butted all the way! +1 for what Niles said
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Old 11-01-09, 03:58 PM
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Again, This is one of those areas where "what can you find for replacement" on the road should dictate. I had my wheels built with straight gauge spokes because in the event I break more than the spares I carry, I was told that straight gauge are available everywhere. My wheel build is 36h Mavic EX721 rims hand built with CK hubs and I think these wheels are exceptionally strong in the first place so I don't anticipate a real problem. I believe butted spokes on a less strong rim might equal the wheel build so I guess it's all how you look at it.
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Old 11-01-09, 04:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Dave Nault View Post
Again, This is one of those areas where "what can you find for replacement" on the road should dictate. I had my wheels built with straight gauge spokes because in the event I break more than the spares I carry, I was told that straight gauge are available everywhere.
This makes absolutely no sense. It is not an issue to replace a butted spoke with a straight gauge one if you can't find an identical butted replacement. The important parameter for replacements-in-a-pinch is the length and possibly the gauge of the threaded end (if you don't want to/can't replace the nipple).
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Old 11-01-09, 04:48 PM
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Your right if you want to mix and match, but in my case straight gauge on hand built wheels are strong enough. And I'll take the advise from my wheel builder who's been all the way around the world on his bike.
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Old 11-01-09, 06:01 PM
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my $.02 is that it's probably academic given the range of circumstances that require a wheel replacement or spoke breakage. When I built bunches of wheels 25yrs ago the rims weren't as rigid. I built 36 hole wheels with straight 15gauge spokes and toured on them. I was light and carried a light load. Racing wheels made with straight 14g spokes in the rear and straight 15g in the front worked fine. The longer life of butted spokes makes sense but I wonder if more rigid rims makes that less critical or in the circumstances where it would make a difference just go whole hog with 13g single or double butted spokes. My limited experience from that time period was that poorly built wheels with heavy loads would have spokes fail but rim damage or whole wheel failures from accidents or big holes/drops was more of a problem with well built wheels.
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Old 11-01-09, 07:02 PM
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Butted spokes are more flexible near the middle where there are less stresses. Thus, it will stress the whole spoke more evenly, rather than focusing on smaller areas of the spoke.
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Old 11-02-09, 06:34 AM
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To me it seems very likely that butted spokes will hold up better. If there is doubt which were more durable, then I'd opt for butted to save a few grams. Why go for a heavier option unless it is definitely more durable. Cost is the other possible factor, but if having a set of wheels built I wouldn't think that was the time to be overly frugal.

As far as worrying about mixing and matching spokes when repairing... I don't see that as a big deal, just use what you have available and if that worries you set it right at a later time.
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Old 11-02-09, 09:45 AM
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I had already decided to use butted spokes until my mechanic tried to convince me otherwise. He is admittedly old school but a great mechanic nonetheless. However, the arguments in favor of butted spokes definitely seem stronger to me.
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Old 11-02-09, 09:53 AM
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The DT Swiss Alpine III s where hard to find the last time I tried to find them.
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Old 11-02-09, 10:07 AM
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I have one touring bike with 14 ga straights - never broke a spoke. Wore out the rims first - even with disc brakes - after 15k miles too many dents to true properly. Actually I reused most of the spokes when I rebuilt the wheel. No truing necessary after 6k more miles.

My other touring bike has Alpine III's - never broke a spoke on that bike either. No truing needed after 5k miles. The Alpines cost 4X what the 14 ga straights cost and are only available in black (if that matters). Another thing to consider is the size of the holes on your hub. The 13 ga end may not fit in all hubs.

My conclusion: it doesn't matter.

Best source of Alpines I have found.

https://www.universalcycles.com/shopp...s.php?id=16565
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Old 11-02-09, 10:07 AM
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Originally Posted by mas-az View Post
The DT Swiss Alpine III s where hard to find the last time I tried to find them.
Really? The first online shop I checked indicated they were available in just about every size under the sun. Dunno that they're worth the price premium over standard double-butted spokes, though.
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Old 11-02-09, 10:18 AM
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Originally Posted by tarwheel View Post
I had already decided to use butted spokes until my mechanic tried to convince me otherwise. He is admittedly old school but a great mechanic nonetheless. However, the arguments in favor of butted spokes definitely seem stronger to me.
could be from a wheel builders perspective the twist in the spoke is less on the straight gauge spokes and there's a bit less effort involved in getting that last 10% right. The cost of the inventory is less with straight gauge. I wonder in the life of a well built wheel what takes it out sooner, broken spokes from fatigue or damaged rim from potholes, crashes and worn rims. There's a spoke manufacturers website showing fatigue failure for different spokes, it should be possible to come up with a comparative value for x miles from that chart. Sapim I think it is. Anyway the funny part is that while butted 14g spokes show better fatigue life than straight gauge 14 butted 13g is substantially higher than butted 14g.

methinks it matters more if you have a good sized tire with enough pressure and avoid potholes.
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Old 11-02-09, 10:46 AM
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Originally Posted by sstorkel View Post
Really? The first online shop I checked indicated they were available in just about every size under the sun. Dunno that they're worth the price premium over standard double-butted spokes, though.
They are worth the price and effort. Spokes have the thread rolled onto them. This increases the diameter of the threaded part to 2.3 mm. Standard butted spokes have diameters at the head that are 2.0mm. But the holes at the hub are made for the 2.3mm threads to pass. That leaves a gap of 0.3 mm around each spoke elbow.

On each revolution of the wheel, the spokes tension and detension a little depending on where they are relative to the ground. Detensioning of the spoke allows the head to move a little in the hub. If you have a loose spoke, for whatever reason, the spoke can move around enough to fatique the head and eventually lead to failure.

The Alpine III (Wheelsmith makes a similar spoke) fills the hub spoke hole more completely. There is a much smaller gap (on the order of 0.1mm) so that the spoke can't move much. The beefier head also resists fatique a bit better.

I first used the Alpines on a mountain bike wheel around 2001. The wheel is still going strong despite my best efforts I've never had a wheel last that long. It's kind of boring actually. I have no excuse to go and rebuild the wheel
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Old 11-02-09, 10:53 AM
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Being old school, I'm a butt(ed) man myself, but when you see so many modern mountain bike and cyclocross wheels built with straight 14g spokes and the thrashing they take, I could be wrong but I'm not sure most people will see a difference.
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Old 11-02-09, 11:09 AM
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I'm waiting for the test rig that has a wheel go through assymetric loading where side to side flexibility is factored into the increase in cycling stresses for each spoke. Instead of simply looking at verical loading loading where a wheel is spun on a drum with high load have the wheel go through heavy side loads like the kinds that occur in real life. Seems to me that if a wheel with butted spokes is a bit more flexible side to side that increases the load on each spoke if the wheel can flex more side to side.

https://www.sapim.be/index.php?st=pro...il=fatiguetest

here it is, the implication is that the thinnest butted section makes for the longest fatigue life. Not sure how that relates to wheels on bikes that fall down or have 15lbs on either side.

Last edited by LeeG; 11-02-09 at 11:15 AM.
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Old 11-02-09, 05:16 PM
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The bottom line is whether they break. If you want to look at real expert opinion, then you run also into guys who prefer straight (Beckman), or alternatively will tell you their spokes have gone 300 000 miles (Brandt), or they built a bomber touring wheel with only 20 spokes (Shaneker). With properly built wheels with enough spokes, and only traveling a few hundred thousand miles, it doesn't mater. The are probably 30 more important decisions when building a wheel than which type of spoke you use, straight or butted. Badly built wheels break spokes, and bad rims break spokes, or break themselves. Spokes are virtually eternal. If you want to spend more money or time. check every spoke for tension either by tone or with a meter. Be sure to build to correct tension. Or use a shop with serious touring experience.

My observation is that people with butted spokes talk a lot about spoke breakage, and people with straight spokes don't. I have never broken a straight spoke.
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Old 11-03-09, 11:10 PM
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+1 on rim choice being far more important.

Purely from reading and hearing what extremely experienced mechanics have said, I agree with the argument that double butted spokes are superior. In fact, I've yet to hear of a substantial argument that supports straight gauge spokes.

That being said, I ride straight gauge on my touring bike and have yet to break a spoke. However, when a spoke breaks, it's usually at the head, and the head diameter is exactly the same on straight gauge and double butted spokes(well, the ones we're talking about). I think a spoke breaking on a wheel is a symptom of a bigger problem, like an improperly built wheel, or worn out parts.

I think the only benefit of straight gauge spokes is if something were to get caught in your wheel like a branch or something, and actually stress the middle of the spoke by bending or twisting it.

Eh, I'm not saying anything that hasn't already been said. Another vote for butted, although not through experience.
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Old 11-03-09, 11:35 PM
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I tour on tricked out aerospokes for +hipster points.
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Old 11-04-09, 07:47 PM
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In theory, Weasel the butted spokes may save your heads because of the elasticity arguments. But there are probably 5 main reasons heads fail, of which butted is only one reason. There are also a bunch of specific building things that can address head breakage. I think the main thing is that people decide they don't want broken spokes on tour and then they latch onto the idea that experts say butted spokes are better, and they jump to conclusions. You did nail the main reasons some people prefer straight spokes. I recently laced up two new wheelsets, and was surprised at how little price difference there was between the two types.

Another issue is whether touring is really a long distance use. A long tour for most of us is probably less than 5000 miles, so if spokes are breaking within that kind of distance it isn't the spoke butted vs. straight.
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Old 11-04-09, 08:10 PM
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Originally Posted by tarwheel View Post
but my current mechanic and other mechanics I've used over the years all seem to think that straight spokes are more durable.
Ask them how many butted spokes they've seen that broke in the thin butted section.
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