Basic Spoke Info Every Rookie Should Know

from Rookie’s keyboard,

Hello, friends

It’s time for another RJ post. I want to cover all the basics of cycling with my site and that of course includes wheel talk. The wheels are the heart of the bike…at the end of the day. 

But rookies a.k.a. noobs are often intimidated by articles about wheel-building tuning. Don’t worry, fellas. RookieJournal is here to save the day. I always try to present topics in the simplest fashion.

So, today, I am going to write about plain/straight gauge(PG) and double-butted(DB) spokes.

Plain gauge spokes have the same thickness/diameter from end to end. Meanwhile, double-butted spokes are thin in the middle and thicker at the elbow and the threads. 

The goal of “butting” is to strategically remove material from a section under smaller stress and add it to another to save weight and increase rigidity. In this case, the thinning out of the middle makes the wheel (at least in theory) more flexible/compliant while the extra material reinforces the spokes at the location where they are more likely to break. 

DB spokes are usually 1.8mm in the middle and 2mm at the ends

That said, I think the vast majority of people don’t need DB spokes. I prefer plain gauge myself for the following reasons:

  • Cheaper + Readily Available

Plain gauge spokes are produced in massive quantities and can be found at every bike shop. Hence they’re cheaper and available whenever you need them. Those properties alone make them the logical choice for 99% of the cycling population. I am in that category too.

A spoke threading tool
  • Hackable”

The consistent diameter of plain gauge spokes renders them ideal for making custom-length spokes.

You can simply cut them with cable/housing-cutting pliers to the desired length and re-thread them with a spoke-threading machine. (This is good news for people who like to make their spokes for e-bike motors.)

DB spokes can’t be used the same way as they are thinner in the middle. If you cut and re-thread them, they will be weaker at critical junctures.

  • Stiffer

The extra material makes plain gauge and single-butted spokes stiffer laterally and better for more extreme riding (e.g., BMX)

  • Better For Fat People

No offense but not every wheel can operate with heavier riders. When all parameters are equal, plain gauge spokes are simply stronger. That doesn’t mean that DB spokes can’t support heavier riders, though. But you may have to pay more for them for no good reason. Saving spoke weight while being heavy yourself is just illogical.

At this point, some of you may ask yourself why DB spokes even exist. Well, they do have their good sides, namely:

  • Lighter

A double-butted spoke is a few grams lighter than a PG one. This means that a wheel can be about 5-6% lighter when using DB spokes (when all other variables are the same, ofc).

The table below compares the weights of PG gauge and double-butted spokes:

Straight/plain GaugeWeightDouble-buttedWeight
DT Swiss Champion Straight Pull6.81gDT Competition Race4.9g
Sapim Leader Straight Gauge6.72gSapim Laser4.32g
Condor Spokes Straight Gauge7.4gSapim Race5.95g
Wheelsmith Straight Gauge Spokes 9.75gDT Revolution4.47g

So, how much weight can you save? Around 60-70 grams per wheel or 120-140 per wheel set. Those grams don’t make a difference for the rookies out there.

  • A softer ride(theoretically)

Double-butted spokes flex more and thus can theoretically provide a more comfortable ride. But the truth is that the softness of the wheels isn’t decided solely by the spokes. The tire width, the rim, and the air pressure matter a lot more. For example, an MTB wheel can offer a much softer ride than a road wheel with narrow tires pumped to the max.

  • Lacing wheels is easier

The extra flex of DB spokes makes it easier to rough lace a wheel.

  • Lower Drag

Since spokes protrude outside of the rim, they add some drag to the wheel. It’s not a lot, but people trying to be super fast do everything in their power to get as aerodynamic as possible. 

And technically, the slim middle of DB spokes reduces the drag created by them. 

Does it really matter? No, if you fall within the 99%. 

  • A Longer Life(questionable)

Spokes rarely break in the middle. Usually, the failure happens near the connection points to the rim or the hub’s flange. (My experience confirms that 100%).

The extra flexing of DB spokes in the middle mitigates some of the stress reaching those vulnerable spots. Meanwhile, the rigidity of plain gauge spokes stops that from happening and the J-bend eats extra stress and theoretically fails faster.

But let’s be real here. There are other factors such as spoke quality, rim, wheel trueness, riding style, tire size, tire width, and air pressure…that impact the lifespan of a spoke too.

So, what is the right choice? 

Before all, make sure you get high-quality spokes – not to be confused with exotic. If the spokes are well made, they should survive a lot of abuse whether they are PG or DB. 

I think most people will be better off choosing the simple route and getting plain gauge spokes – especially if we are talking about heavier riders and/or impact disciplines such as BMX, dirt jumping…etc. 

Ok, friends. 

With that, I am ending the first post on wheel-building (and maintenance) basics. 

I also have to go pump the tires of my commuter now as work starts in 45 minutes.

Until next time

– Rookie






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