Wheelbuilder.com :: Spoke Selection

Spoke Selection

At first glance, it would appear there is not much left to consider after the rim and hub are selected; however, spokes play a very important role in supporting static loads and transmitting power to the road. Spokes also contribute to the weight, ride quality, strength, stiffness and aerodynamics of a wheel.

Weight: Spoke weight is pretty straightforward. Thinner spokes weigh less than thicker spokes right? True, but there are several important trade-offs involved with thinner spokes. Thinner spokes are harder to true because they tend to twist during the final stages of the wheel build when tension is at its highest. Thinner spokes are not as strong as thicker spokes and are therefore not recommended for some mountain applications where spoke overload can be common. Also, thinner spokes tend to fit loosely in the hub holes and are often used with spoke washers to improve fatigue life.

Double butted spokes can help reduce weight and distribute load throughout the spoke better. These spokes are designed similar to a high stress fastener that necks down in the center. Double butted spokes have a "springy" characteristic that enhances ride quality.
In addition to being lighter and more aerodynamic, bladed spokes allow us to bring the spokes to a higher tension and control the tension uniformity with precision thanks to the flat edge of the blade. Double butted or straight gauge spokes will wind up once they get to a certain tension and the wind up can be difficult to control.

Exotic materials have been used successfully in spoke manufacturing; however, cost and availability can sometimes be limiting factors. Titanium, and carbon/Kevlar spokes are currently in use on several manufacturers' production wheels. Titanium spokes weigh significantly less than stainless spokes, but are typically used for race-only wheels. Due to their inherent flexibility the Ti spokes give a very unique ride sometimes described as comfortable, plush, soft, flexy and even sloppy by some riders.

Spoke Lacing Patterns: Spokes can be laced in a variety of different patterns that can enhance the appearance, strength, and durability. Spoke patterns are usually described by the number of times each spoke crosses other spokes. Common lace patterns are: zero-cross or radial (0x), one-cross (1x), two-cross (2x), three-cross (3x) and four-cross (4x). These spoke patterns are sometimes combined on rear wheels. Additionally, there are many exotic lace patterns, which are not commonly used in racing wheels. Some of these include the crow's foot, three leading-three trailing and patterns that use spokes twisted about themselves or other spokes.

The ideal number of spoke crossings depends on a number of factors, but the most efficient power transfer occurs when the spoke leaves the hub at a tangential (90-degree) angle. The appropriate number of spoke crossings depends on the number of spokes on each flange. With 20 or 24 spokes, a 2x pattern is ideal; 32- and 36-spoked wheels are better suited to 3x. As the number of spoke crossings increases, the length of each spoke increases. Longer spokes are more flexible, which improves the ride quality, but also results in decreased radial stiffness.

Generally 2x and 3x patterns can be used successfully on road wheels. 3x and 4x patterns should be used for wheels subjected to higher torque inputs, such as track racing. Radial lace patterns are typically only used for front wheels since they tend to twist when the hub is subjected to high torque inputs. Rear wheels are sometimes radially laced on the non-drive side to improve the spoke entry angle, and are typically built with a 2x pattern on the drive side.
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