Can 4 Extra Spokes Really Make That Much of a Difference? (of course)

From Rookie’s Keyboard,

Hello, friends

It’s time for another post. To be honest, I never thought I’d like blogging/online writing as much as I do. I find that it helps me concentrate better. 

The topic of today will be spoke count and more specifically 28 and 32-spoke wheels. The difference between the two isn’t huge but requires some clarification.

Analyzing 28-spoke Wheels

The general pros of 28-spoke wheels are: 

  • Reduced drag (not that it matters all that much)

Wheels with fewer spokes are more aerodynamic. One spoke is inconsequential when it comes to the profile of the wheel but as the number increases, so does the drag.

Each spoke protrudes outside of the rim and adds a bit of drag that technically makes it harder for the wheel to spin.

To fight this problem, time trial bikes often rely on disc wheels (no spokes) for the rear. Disc wheels do not protrude out of the rim and thus don’t add drag. 

So, technically, 28-spoke wheels are considered better for racing, but in practice, no one can feel the difference.

Seriously. When I say no one, I really mean it. If you lose a race because you have 4 extra spokes give me a call, and I will send you a new smartphone as compensation.

  • Looks

Wheels with fewer spokes are considered sporty whereas 32 and 36-spoke models are for “touring”. People who want their bikes to look more aggressive might care. 

  • Lighter

When all parameters are equal (rim size, materials, spoke length…etc.), 28H wheels will be about 15-30 grams lighter.

The weight savings are therefore inconsequential to 99% of people. 

Well, the good sides of 28-spoke wheels end here. Now, it’s time for the problematic qualities:

  • Weaker

Fewer spokes = less strength (when all other variables are equal). The reduced number of spokes provides less support for the rim and thus it’s easier to damage the wheel. 

This effect can be mitigated by using a stronger rim. The cost will be extra weight.

  • Too Flexy

28-spoke wheels tend to be more compliant. Some people like that feature for long-distance riding and commuting.

But the comfort isn’t “free”. The lower rotational rigidity increases rolling resistance and makes climbing harder. 

Note that the overall stiffness of a wheel is not dependent only on the number of spokes. The rim, the spoke tension, and the lacing method matter too.

  • Truing (getting the wheel round) is more difficult

Fewer spokes give fewer options for adjusting the wheel. Thus, the truing process becomes harder.

  • Fewer rim and hub options

28-spoke wheels are not super uncommon but aren’t the norm either. So, manufacturers have a smaller incentive to pump up hubs and rims for them.

  • Heavier Spokes and Rims

To match the strength of a 32H wheel, a 28-spoke model requires a beefier rim and spokes. And the extra “meat” comes with extra weight.

Thus, 28-spoke wheels are not always lighter than wheels with 32 spokes. Some 28H models may even be heavier than a 32-spoke one due to the extra material.

32-spoke Wheels For The Win

IMO opinion 32-spoke wheels are a better choice overall for the following reasons:

  • Rigidity

When two wheels have identical spokes and rim, the one with more spokes will always be stronger. 

Also, spoke failure is less catastrophic because each spoke forms a smaller percentage of the wheel’s overall rigidity. If you have a wheel with 36 spokes, chances are it will still get you home if one spoke fails. 

But if your wheel has 24 or fewer spokes, a busted spoke will be a major issue.

  • More Comfortable Truing

Each spoke can be seen as a setting that helps you get the wheel as round as possible during the truing process. Thus, more spokes are welcome when adjusting a wheel.

  • Great Availability

Hubs and rims with 32-spoke eyelets are easier to find thanks to the greater demand. That property will be important to people who do a lot of touring and find themselves at locations that can’t offer a great variety of bike parts.

A Note On Wheels Weight Limits

Some of you may be worried whether 28 spokes can even support you. Unless you weigh more than 220lbs/100kg and carry a ton of cargo, the answer would be yes as long as the wheels are of decent quality. 

You can also follow the mismatched wheels method. You can put a 28-spoke wheel at the front and a 32/36-spoke wheel at the back. 

The rear wheel supports most of the weight (about 70%) and thus will greatly benefit from the extra rigidity. 

The front wheel, on the other hand, is not nearly as stressed, at least not during regular riding and allows you to get away with fewer spokes.

More Spokes Protect You In“What The Hell Moments”

In most cases, a bike wheel bends or breaks due to an unexpected dynamic load rather than a static one.

A well-built rear wheel can support a heavy rider and a lot of cargo without breaking if the road is smooth. But if the wheel drops into a pothole, the damage could be massive due to the amplified stress. 

More spokes increase the chances of surviving such a scenario.

In short, 28-spoke wheels are pretty damn good if you can get your hands on one, but their benefits (less weight, less drag…etc.) aren’t all that impressive. 

And while 4 extra spokes may not seem like a big deal, I’d prefer to have them than to save 10 grams.

Sorry, but this is how I see things. 

I am a 32/36 crew for life.

Until next time,

– Rookie






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