If you’re like most riders, you rarely if ever think about spokes.
But if you to tend to lose sleep thinking about bottom bracket height, chainstay length, or reach measurements, and your hair is going grey from stressing over wheel size, then it would be worth your time to think a bit more about the least sexy component on your bike: spokes.
Spokes shouldn’t be overlooked. Spoke choice can radically alter the ride of your bike, since every bit of acceleration and deceleration is transmitted through your spokes.
Spokes will affect how your bike tracks on rough trails, how it transmits feedback into your feet and hands, and how quickly the bike sprints up to speed.
Some Examples / A Little History
Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, for me, it was all about getting lost in the woods on awesome backcountry singletrack. With a riding schedule of 20+ hours a week and a semi-dirtbag existence, reliability, durability, and low maintenance were my primary concerns when it came to bike parts. So I chose rigid single speed bikes in large part because of the frustrations with the suspect durability of shifting and suspension components of the day.
To complement the parts that were available back then, I selected the stiffest possible spokes on the market: the DT Alpine (~200g per wheel), with a 2.3-1.8-2.0 butting profile. The Alpine spokes paired really nicely with the light and relatively flexible trail rims of the day (Mavic 221, 517, F519), and the Alpine’s oversized profile gave the rim more substance under the hard torque that single speeds generate.
By 2004, I had transitioned into gravity riding, and shifted to DT Champion straight gauge 2.0mm spokes. They are about the heaviest (~220g per wheel) spokes out there, a shade less stiff than Alpines, and basically indestructible. The DT Champ’s spokes paired very ell with bomber DH rims (Alex Supra-D, Mavic EX729), as they tracked a little cleaner and were a bit more forgiving in off camber rough/rocky turns than the DT Alpine.
Over the last 2-3 years, I’ve transitioned away from being purely a gravity rider and am now back to being predominantly a “mountain biker” on regular old bike trails. Modern full suspension trail bikes put different stresses on spokes than my previous bikes. Instead of a 19mm, 425 gram, 26” rim (which was the default option 15 years ago), trail riding is now done on rims of an equivalent weight, but with DH stiffness and width, and modern trail bikes are every bit as capable of straight up ripping.
Last summer, I rode 1300 miles and 250,000 vert on DT Super Comp spokes.
Their butting profile is basically that of a trimmed down DT Alpine (2.0-1.7-1.8), so they are quite light (~159g per wheel). The feel these spokes provided worked pretty well when mated to a very stiff and rather wide carbon rim (light-bicycles.com i30mm DH layup 460g rim), though the wheel could feel a touch harsh at times.
Unfortunately, I did not find the spokes to be very durable; five times that summer, the spoke broke at the head of the nipple. I attribute this to the narrower 1.8mm spoke thickness at the nipple, combined with the rim choice (super-duper stiff) and how I ride (like a meat-head).
This season, I am re-lacing the wheel to Sapim Laser spokes. These are 2.0-1.5.-2.0 butted spokes with a ~139g per wheel weight. They are the same basic spoke design as the ultra popular Sapim CX-Ray, with the omission of the blading process. By forgoing the blading, the Lasers are 1/4 the price of the CX-Rays, right inline with standard butted spokes like the DT Competition, and about 1/2 the price of the DT Super Comp.
I will also test these spokes on a narrower (23mm) aluminum rim to see how rim stiffness affects (a) the overall ride, (b) spoke performance and (c) their durability.
And here are a few questions I am looking to address after a reasonable test period (300-500 miles):
1. How does the ride of the spoke match these various rims?
2. How well do these spokes hold up over the length of a season?
3. Does the more substantial (2.0mm vs. 1.8mm) thread-end resist popping at the nipple?
4. Is the narrower mid-section (1.5mm vs. 1.7mm) more susceptible to impact damage, or just move the failure closer to the middle of the spoke?
5. Does the narrower mid-section result in more stretching and more need of truing or re-tensioning after hard use?
6. How nicely do the spokes lace up when building the wheel?
Based on a few initial rides with the Sapim Laser rims, the ride is definitely a little different than the Super Comp spokes, and I am looking forward to spending more time on them. It really is impressive to see how such a small and often overlooked component can change the ride.
Check back in a month for more details and the longer term results.