Spoke Count

How Many Spokes?

Typically, if someone asks me how many spokes I recommend for city riding, I usually say 36 for the rear wheel and 32 for the front. For many years I rode mostly on 36/36 handbuilt wheels and I can’t recall ever needing to even true a wheel. In recent years I’ve had a couple of bikes with 32/32 production wheels, and the fact is, those wheels stayed perfectly true as well. Of course, the fact that a wheel is well-built has more bearing on its durability than the number of spokes.

What’s required of a wheel varies dramatically based upon the rider’s weight and how much cargo is being carried on the bike, but at least for riders of average stature carrying typical commute loads, it may be time to drop my recommendation down to a 32 spoke minimum for the rear wheel.

I’m curious to hear from you. How many spokes do you run for commuting and city riding? Have you had issues with wheels that have 32 spokes or less?

How many spokes do you prefer for city riding?

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30 Responses to “Spoke Count”

  • Andy says:

    I’ve never noticed number of spokes making a difference in how the ride feels. My commuter/touring bike has 32/32 I believe, and my race bike has 20/24, and I can’t honestly say that I prefer one wheel over the other.

  • Alan says:

    @Andy

    Perhaps I didn’t phrase the question clearly, but I was referring to durability, not ride quality.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Andy M says:

    I think you hit it exactly right with the point that a well-built wheel is the key to durability. Case in point are the 26″ Matrix wheels on my ’93 Trek 930, a bike that in its 18 years has served as commuter, off-roader and country bike on the potholed streets of Chicago. The wheels have never needed truing and are nearly as straight as they were when new–and I cannot say that I took reasonable care of them until the last 3 years or so (apart from hanging the bike for storage). The bike (possibly Trek’s last lugged frame) was advertised as “handbuilt in the USA.” Although this model did not have the fanciest components when new, its build quality was impeccable (and the LBS’s assembly likewise), and this translated into a reliable ride with minimal maintenance–although some chickens have come home to roost for want of regular maintenance, but those were good excuses for some nice upgrades, which I think were deserved after 18 years.)

  • Andy says:

    I see – Same answer still. Both bikes have only seen not-quite-necessary minor truing adjustments once or twice in the year. I have gone through several wheels on the commuter bike, but that’s from getting beaten up in polo and using rim brakes throughout the winters. I personally see no benefit from more than 32, and I probably wouldn’t seek out less than 24 either.

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    I’ve found a good, if somewhat spendy, way to get a cush ride yet have a strong wheel is to use thinner spokes. My current set of commuter wheels are 32 spoke with 14-16-14 double butted spokes, and they have only needed truing once in the past four years, even though I do a fairly high curb drop on a regular basis. The one time they got out of true was when I was hit from behind by a driver who leaned down and took his foot off the brake at an intersection. In fact with a little coercion the wheel was actually still ridable, and with a little time on the truing stand was back to (almost) new.

    You might also want to comment on lacing patterns (radial, 2x, 3x, 4x) as well as dish, if you’re broaching the subject of wheel strength.

  • Val says:

    My good freind and Master Mechanic Mike has this rule of thumb: the spoke count of your rear wheel should be as close to your waist measurement (in inches) as possible. Works pretty well.

  • TD says:

    I think the rim used makes a huge difference, also. My main utility ride has 32 front and rear, but the rims are CR-18s which are brutally tough.

  • Nicholas says:

    I went from a 32/32 bike to a 16/20 bike recently. The bike with less spokes has been carrying a lot more weight than the previous one, plus with the fatter tires on it, I’ve been dropping off curbs and riding on unpaved surfaces. So far the wheels are perfectly true, and I expect that they will stay that way for quite a while. It’s all about build quality and quality of the parts.

  • John Ferguson says:

    Second the motion TD offers – I’ve been building my own wheels for years and IMO the biggest factor in the durability of a wheel is the durability of the rim it’s built with.

    I’ve built 36 and 32 spoke rear wheels and the rim choice has way more impact on the longevity of the wheel than the spoke count. I generally build 36 spoke wheels as 4x and 32 spoke wheels as 3x – it just seems to be where the spokes want to cross. I’ve always used double butted spokes – there just isn’t any good reason to use straight gauge unless you really need to save the $8 or whatever the difference is.

    I had a problem with the few CR-18 (700C) wheels I built. It’s a pretty soft rim, so it needed to be trued more often than I’d like. I just built myself a new rear wheel on my commuter with a Velocity Dyad – 32 hole, double butted DT spokes, brass nipples. Seems solid as a rock and it built up nice and easy. I haven’t built many disk brake specific rims, but I’d imagine that the rounded profile (no need for a brake track) will lead to better builds and longer lasting wheels.

  • Roland Smith says:

    There is a missing option in this poll: “enough”. For the life of me I couldn’t tell you how many spokes my wheels have. So, I choose “other”. :-)

    There are some factors that will make a difference.

    For the last decade or so I’ve been riding recumbents exlcusively, and I’ve never had wheel problems. These bike do seem to have a better build quality than your average nameless brand bike, and that might be a factor.

    My last two bikes use 406 wheels which are stronger than larger wheels.

    Another factor might be that I’m used to hub gears. Those allow a symmetric build of the rear wheel with an even force distribution on the spokes. Having looked it up it seems that my gear hub uses only 32 spokes. But even on a trike which is subjected to significant cornering loads (not nice for a bike wheel), this is enough in a 406 rim.

  • Matt DeBlass says:

    I’ve always had the best luck with wheels I’ve laced up myself, usually 32 or 36 with a strong rim. The current ride came with 36-spoke wheels with Weinmann double-walls, and I’ve had to true them up a couple times since March, and replace a rear spoke. Maybe when I’ve got a bit of cash I’ll build a better set of hoops, but for now an overall re-tensioning and truing up seems to have improved them.

  • voyage says:

    It’s really difficult to separate to separate rim quality and spoke count. I’d say in most commute/util applications, 32.

    Maybe in 10 years we’ll see aero wheels as normal on commuters??

  • Michael says:

    I only have one bike. 36/36

    Better a little over-built than under-built. I haven’t got a clue how to work on a bike, and would prefer as little maintenance interaction as possible.

  • Scott says:

    I’m not sure it’s as simple as the number of spokes, but since that’s what you’re asking about, I find a minimum of 32 seems to be more durable and require the least amount of maintenance. That being said, I prefer 36 spokes both front and rear … never had an ounce of trouble with any of my 36-spoke wheels. The same model rim with 32 spokes needed more regular truing … very minor, but still more.

    Another (possibly more important) factor that plays into it is , as mentioned, the quality of the wheel build itself, including the KIND of spokes used, as well as proper tension and prep.

    I also find that the tires used will greatly affect the wheel durability. Wider tires with more air cusion, at least for me, result in longer lasting wheels … with rim, spokes, etc. being equal.

  • Don says:

    I am about 215 and ride a production city bike with 32s that have never held up. I’ve had to replace three spokes, and the wheels never stayed true even before that. My old steel frame hybrid has 36/36 replacement wheels and I’ve never had a problem, although my tires are a bit larger with the latter, 38s instead of 32s, but with the pressure difference that seems to be a wash.

    My next bike will not only be 36/36, but may even be 650b or 26. Riding in town, I just want my tires to stay reasonably true for a little while.

  • Syd says:

    I’d be interested to know how many of the readers of this site have lower spoke counts on their rear wheel because they have hub gears. The symmetrical nature means even spoke stress on both sides, so a wheel with fewer spokes will as strong or stronger than an asymmetrical derailleur geared wheel with more.

    Alan does the fact that “In recent years I’ve had a couple of bikes with 32/32 production wheels, and the fact is, those wheels stayed perfectly true as well” have anything to do with the increasing number of hub geared bikes that you review? – I’m not trying to be smart with this question, just wondering.

  • Ira Kinro says:

    “the spoke count of your rear wheel should be as close to your waist measurement (in inches) as possible”

    I would need 54 spoke wheels! I would ride on 48′s, but I really like IGH’s, so I roll on 36′s. With good rims, nice builds, and a “light” riding style, I have not had any problems.

    Of course, rim quality and wheel build quality are critical, but “all other things being equal” I would say…depends. Rider/cargo weight, road quality, and riding style all play a big role in my recommendation. Overbuilt is better than underbuilt. I’d stick with 36 as a minimum recommendation. Of course, if you know more details about a particular rider, you can tailor your recommendation accordingly.

  • Mat says:

    I’ve always used 36 count spokes front and rear in deference to a personal weight a touch north of 200lbs. Build quality yes, but as TD notes, rim quality too. My stock pile of favoured rims having run out, I had horrible luck until I gave some Velo Orange rims a whirl. They built true, no fighting back, and they’ve stayed that way some four thousand miles later.

    Not a plug, per se, but more a pointer to keep experimenting to find what works for the individual!

  • EricW says:

    Bunch of other stuff matters in this question I think.

    Rider weight, general road surface, tire size and pressure. Major incidents like falls.

    I went though a bunch of old 27′ wheels on the old bike. Ran at max pressure. Broke a lot of spokes. Now, I have a much more expensive new wheels w/deep 700C rims. The age of the rims seems to make a difference.

    32mm tires at lowish pressure, 200 plus 30 lbs bike and average load, really bad Los Angeles roads with potholes…

    No problems so far, minor truing after a fall.

    And 28 rear – 24 front. I suppose I’d get/make wheels with more spokes if I rode off road more, or carried more.

  • TD says:

    @John Ferguson: I’ve never had any problem with Sun Rims in general. I MTB and play bike polo on Rhyno Lites, and commute, tour, general mischief on CR-18s. They’ve always been rock solid cheap rims for me.

  • Phil says:

    48 spoke rear 36 front on the Yuba ( wide rims, BMX hubs and 14mm solid axle ), on my other bike 36 front and rear into Sputniks. They need truing once a year.

  • Graham says:

    I’m a very large and strong rider. I never had a problem with broken spokes until I bought a bicycle with 700c wheels. The wheel came with 24 spoke wheels and I was replacing spokes every other week. I finally upgraded to a beefier rim and 36 spoke wheels and now only break spokes if I’m not paying attention and hit a pothole or a curb unexpectedly. I have to say that for my part I don’t think I’ll be riding any bicycle with fewer than 36 spokes no matter how expert your wheel building.

    I know that some Clydesdales take a perverse pleasure in making road and commuting bicycles weep at the thought of being that hard, but I just need to get to work and back without any fuss.

  • Graham says:

    edit: “of being RIDDEN that hard”

    Sorry about that!

  • Elliott @ Austin on Two Wheels says:

    This may have been mentioned elsewhere, but having an equally tensioned wheel is far more important than the number of spokes (within reason.) An unequally tensioned 36 spoke wheel will come out of true faster than a 20 spoke wheel that is properly tensioned. This is why hand built wheels usually stay truer longer. Now days, a lot of the machine built wheels are properly tensioned so it is less of an issue.

    If you are having trouble with a wheel coming out of true, look to the tension first before you start playing around with changing spoke counts. 32 to 36 spoke should cover 95% of the riders out there.

  • Russell says:

    As a Professional Wheelbuilder by trade I’ll say that it’s both the QUALITY of the build and the components that truly matter.

  • Brian Daniels says:

    My main ride is a 2009 Kona Honky Tonk, an all steel road bike. I had a set of 36/36 built for it around Mavic touring rims and 105 hubs. Between these wheels and 700×28 tires I’m all set for the winter ravaged roads that New York State cannot afford to repair and all of the dirt roads we still have in my corner of the world.

  • Daniel M says:

    I guess I’ll join in, late to the party and long-winded as usual.

    My worst experience with spoke count was a Marin Mill Valley Hybrid that came with dual 700c 16-spoke (!) wheels, probably running 28mm tires. I knew quite a bit less about bikes back then (about 10 years ago) and was drawn in by the wow factor. Well, suffice to say the 8 drive-side spokes in the rear were not up to the task of withstanding the pedaling torque, and with that few spokes, when one broke the wheel went so far out of true as to be unrideable. There was a blessing in disguise in that I bought a small cassette spline tool and learned how to pull the cassette using it, an adjustable wrench, my seatpost as an extender, and the chain on the bike, and to replace a broken drive-side spoke on a ride. Eventually the rim cracked and I replaced the rear wheel with a conventional 32 spoke. What shocked me was that the new wheel seemed lighter than the old! It seems that when going to fewer spokes, the rim needs to be beefed up, effectively negating any weight savings. My friend who bought the bike from me upgraded to 38mm tires on my suggestion and rides it to this day, still with the 16-spoke in front, without incident.

    My only other problem was when touring on my old Gary Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo mountain bike, whose rear 26″ 32-spoke wheel was in need of constant truing when touring. Eventually I blew a drive-side spoke on a long descent in Sardinia, and boy was I glad I had the tools and experience needed to replace it on the roadside.

    I had dual 700c 32-spoke wheels on a Bianchi Volpe which replaced the Marin and never had a problem, even when light touring on rough dirt roads. I always rode 35mm tires on that bike. Really well-built wheels.

    I have since adopted the handbuilt-is-better mantra and had my Hillborne, which replaced the Bianchi, built with dual 700c 36-spoke wheels built by Rich Lesnik. I have truly abused this bike in the past year, sometimes heavily loaded, often on terribly rough roads and trails, and the wheels are still in perfect shape.

    Finally, I upgraded the Fisher rear wheel to a Rohloff IGH. The Rohloff only comes drilled for 32 spokes, but because the of the large diameter of the hub the spokes are incredibly short, especially when going with 26″ rims, and there is no dish. Rohloff recommends building the wheel 2-cross only and claims that the strength is equivalent to a 48-spoke dished conventional wheel. I had the wheel built by Neil at Cycle Monkey in Albany, CA, who is the only person in the US licensed by Rohloff to service the hubs. He is also a superb wheel builder, and the one he built for me is stiff like concrete. I’m looking forward to subjecting this wheel to future touring/testing, as my Rohloff-specific build (Thorn Raven) should be ready any day to finally replace the old Fisher, just in time for summer touring.

  • Andrew says:

    The most durable wheels I’ve had (on any bike) were the cheap-ish Alex ACE-24 32-spokers that came stock on my Jamis Coda Sport. Have never really needed truing, to this day. Ironically, the 36/36 Mavic touring wheelset that I replaced them with needs regular truing and has a bit of a hop in it (they took a bit of a hit, but not much more than you’d see from curb-dropping). I’m a light dude, though (~150 lbs).

    tldr; +1 to build quality, anything else is just gravy.

  • Doug V says:

    I ride Campy Vento 16 spoke wheels…………I weigh 240lbs and regularly carry 20lbs in my backback full of work clothes, towels, etc for when I get to work………..I commute 18 miles each way and my wheels hold up fine!

  • Charles F Nighbor says:

    Latest wheels for my 5′-9” 155 pounds that I built were 28H / 28H cross 2
    I used DT Swisss Revolution spokes 15g / 17g and on drive side rear wheel 14G / 15G
    Mavic Open Pro rims 28H and Campagnolo Records Hubs 28H from 80′s
    So far tey have worked fine. With newer stronger modern rims the spoke count can be lowered along with diameter of spokes. This is 2nd set I built like this

 
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