Live Long and Prosper


Mr. Spoke

Google is a funny place, and in this case at least, offers possible insight into some people’s ability to spell. An image search result for ‘spoke’ turned up more than one photo of this guy.

But I did find what I was looking for in the end and I have returned to you, far-more-educated reader, for some more advice.

But first, here’s what’s up with the build. I’ve now got the brake levers on, plus the chain, the saddle, and have even managed to thread the shifter cables. Only the brake cables left, then some fiddling with torque tensions and groupset adjustments, and I’ll be ready for the road.

2015-01-19 17.32.01

‘Highly illogical’, you are saying to yourself. You don’t have a set of wheels yet (the one in the photo above is from the Bianchi). You are right, of course, and that’s why I’m coming back to you. I need help with my spoke count.

bicycle-spokes-250x250If I do get a wheelset before putting the Colnago on the road (I’m still in negotiations with my banker), I will probably go with a custom-built pair of aluminum ‘hoops’ with Chris King R45 hubs. I’ve been in contact with a bunch of people about this and there seem to be two main spoke counts floating about these days: 20/24 and 24/28. Most wheel builders have recommended 24/28 to me based on what I have told them about my riding, but I know riders heavier than me who have 20/24 and have no issues to speak of.

In the end it’s not a big deal. As one builder told me recently, the difference is 36 grams, and in his opinion I’d be getting a stiffer, more durable wheel with the 24/28. I am leaning this way, but I wonder if any of you have any insight that may sway me one way or another?

It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.

–SPOCK, Star Trek: The Original Series, “Errand of Mercy”

27 thoughts on “Live Long and Prosper

  1. 24/28 = stiffness = more energy transferred into forward motion = UCI amateur qualification
    More importantly: have you pondered the colour of the handlebar tape yet? Will it be a statement (yellow? pink?) or just 08/15 (google that) black?

  2. Ask what you will use the wheels for most of the time. And it depends on the rim. With carbon rim and your slim weight go 20/24 (i even did 16/20 for racing wheels); if non-carbon (hence less stiff), perhaps a few more spokes will give you a robust set that better withstands travel cases etc

      • Good points here in the blog. The last, perhaps most important, thing to consider for rim choice (spoke choice is secondary) indeed is breaking power. Unless it’s a race (or you have disc brakes), i go aluminum when there’s a lot of descending or wet weather (Al still so much better braking than carbon).

        • This is a big one, Jan, and I’ve been scouring the interwebs to get a clear answer. Some say that ‘carbon has come a long way’ and that it can be as good as alloy when it comes to breaking. Others, like you, say that’s not quite the case. I am ‘light on the brakes’, but I definitely have the type of terrain that demands quality here. Man, this decision is just getting more and more difficult!

  3. I´m with Jan. It depends on the rim. but also on the heights of the rim. ztr alpha? kin lin 270? frm 333? German, but an overview of the high end hand build
    as I get older, I want stiffness and breaking power over weight. number of spokes inflences more the aerodyn. than the weight. And radial is more aero but less stiff

      • I have not but I’m pretty much on the fence. On one hand, aluminum hoops are more my speed, they’re more versatile and handle the mounains better – I’m a cautious decender so I don’t shy away from the brakes unless I have a straight shot and know the asphalt.

        On the other, Amp Hoops ( has a 38mm clincher for around $1,050 US (£700 – they’re Brittish and use Taiwanese hoops but hand build them at home) makes a light, very fast wheel (their review is stellar)… I just might go with a set if I find that can afford them and just switch them out for the mountain trips. Time will tell. Now, because you deal with a lot more gradient change than I do, were I in your position, it would be an aluminum no-brainer.

        My local shop owner is currently going through the same issue. He’s currently got mismatched wheels and figures it’s bad advertising to have gnarly lookin’ wheels on his Madone 6 series (fitted with Campy Super Record components)… He’s leaning towards a nice set of aluminum hoops for the cost benefit and the versatility as well.

        That’s really where I come out on the matter, at least for now. I need a good all-around wheel and that’s aluminum.

    • It definitely exists if you add an ‘r’ in there somewhere! The Shamal is on my ‘list’, but I already have a set of Eurus, so it’d pretty much be the same thing, I think.

  4. Stiffness is a bit more complex than it sounds. Enve provides a good summary here One qualification that I think might be worth mentioning is I think there may be difference in lateral stiffness for a given lacing pattern varies whether you use round spokes or flat spokes like Sapim CX Ray and the profile height of the rim being used. If you pick up an unlaced CX Ray, you’ll see how it flexes like a Twizzler. My wheelbuilder prefers to use flat spokes for track with high profile rims and round spokes for road. I did persuade him to use CX Ray on mine but not without making a sour face.

    I would not want to go on long descents with cheap carbon rims using caliper brakes. In the wet, braking is still not as efficient as alloy.

    As far as weight is concerned, carbon rims are often heavier than better alloy rims.

    I think better carbon, constructed properly, wins on tortional stiffness so there is higher efficiency in making the wheel go round. Also, despite the higher lateral stiffness, carbon absorbs road buzz more effectively, resulting in a more comfortable ride. Friends who roll on Enve Smart rims point to this as a noticeable feature.

    I would not buy cheap carbon rims. At the same time, I would not buy any component that I cannot afford to replace in case it gets damaged in a crash.

    Lastly, I would not do 20/24 with alloy rims unless they are only for specific use like race days.

    • Great points, Chikashi, and nice, concise article by Enve. I wish I could afford to buy a pair of those, let alone afford to replace them!

      As for the weight, I have been finding the same thing with most carbon wheels in my price range. There is not weight advantage over alloy.

      What I want is probably what I can’t get, i.e. a wheel I can ride all year round in all conditions, but one that is faster and ‘stiffer’ than my Eurus. Many people seem to suggest that carbon wheels are for ‘racing’, which I find hard to swallow, given the number of riders I know who exclusively ride them. Still, this concerns me a bit (the ‘special’ use given to carbon wheels).

      One aspect that I have recently read about and that I think would benefit me is ‘speed’. From the little I’ve seen it appears that most carbon rims will save you some watts once you are riding past a certain speed (18-20 mph). This is actually something that could help me a lot in sportives because I find that I have to expend stupid amounts of energy on the flats, going fast. If this is true for shallower rims (30mm-38mm), then it could be a good excuse for me to go carbon.

      Finally, since I’ve never even ridden carbon wheels, I really, really want to know what all the fuss is about.

      • Yes, it appears that maintaining speed can be easier. I have a friend who switched from one model of Zipp to another a couple of years ago and felt that the newer ones are faster. In practice, I don’t know whether that means you expend less power to maintain the same speed or you expend the same amount of power and go faster. I suppose it requires being clear about the priority and having the discipline to stick to it…

        I don’t know whether the section depth influences this, but I think the combination of stiffness with increased rim weight of deeper section rims has an impact, given the principle of inertia, with aerodynamic efficiency being equal.

        I think that an attempt at making a general characterisation of carbon rims as being race-only or everyday use is questionable, given that there are, like anything else, a broad range of quality and construction methods out there.

        Fun and games…

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