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  1. #1
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    In the vertical plane only, 20-24 vs 32-36 spoked built wheels

    I heard a group guys/local racers (a few sponsored) talking the other day, and I thought something they said sounded wrong. Wanted to post here and ask all you wheelbuilders:

    These guys or whole group got to talking about something I thought was esoteric (and a fiction) in terms of wheel builds. Overall 'vertical' comfort of a wheelset. Huh? Vertical??. Specfically, most all of them said that when every variable was held constant--

    ---same rims, same hubs, same diameter spokes, same tire size (700x25c), and they could definitely tell---in the vertical plane, while riding seated---which wheelset, an 16F/20R or 20F/24R vs 32F/32R or 32H/36H rear---which set they were on & that the 16F/20R or 20F/24R was noticably more comfortable to ride over road terrain (that presented all sorts of surfaces) than 32F/32R or 32H/36R wheels. Is this true??

    Aren't they just making this stuff up in their heads, convincing themselves of something that is not true? I thought once a wheel is a built, it does not matter if it is 20 spokes or 32 spokes, wheels do not flex in the vertical plane? Horizontal plane, yes, we all know that when standing & rocking the bike back & forth as we accelerate. But in the vertical plane, while seated, riding?

    Many guys in the group chimed in & said this is what they believe, and it has to be true because they have wheelsets exactly like this where they've been built up with exact same components & tires & pressures, etc, etc.....one is a racing set, the other is their training set. Is there "vertical" give and/or compliance that could possibly be noticeable just because of the number of spokes? If this is true, I really have misunderstood things all these years.

    Thank you for any explanation, clarification, and/or enlightenment.

  2. #2
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    They don't know what they are talking about.
    If spokes were so lose and stretchy as to act as shocks they'd be breaking them at every turn. And even that far flung possibility wouldn't have much to do with spoke count.

    Most people who have different spoke count but otherwise identical would choose based on how rough the roads are for the particular ride. I'd think they'd be smart enough to put 2 and 2 together if they are noticing a difference because of different type rides but I doesn't sound like they would be.

    I have 24/28/and 32 otherwise identical rear wheels and could never ID which I was riding based on feel.

  3. #3
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    Short answer: No.

    I have noticed that wheels with more spokes feel more stable, but definitely not more comfortable. It sounds like your friends are experiencing a little placebo effect.

    Keep in mind that your tires and your body are the flexiest objects on your bike. Lowering your tire pressure or increasing your tire width will make the greatest difference in comfort a.k.a. vertical compliance.
    "With bicycles in particular, you need to separate between what's merely true and what's important."-- DCGriz, RBR.

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  4. #4
    tlg
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    Those guys are all full of $#it.
    So all these guys have 4 wheelsets that are all identical except for spoke count? Bull$#it. I don't know anyone with 2 identical wheel builds let alone 4.

    And lets assume these guys had the 4 identical wheelsets. I call bull$#it that they could actually tell the difference. Only way to prove that would be to have someone swap the wheels without them looking each time... and without them looking down at the wheels while riding.

    And... lets assume they can actually tell them apart.
    "16F/20R or 20F/24R was noticably more comfortable"
    Bull$#it.
    Just sounds like someone trying to justify saving a few grams of spoke weight.
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  5. #5
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    @all, thank guys, that's what I thought. I knew it was all in their heads. And tlg, you evidently don't know the Flanderians/Dutch & French southerners, lol, they are---above all else---thrifty sonofaguns (even if they hate each other's guts). Nearly all these guys build/lace their wheels (heck, I even do my own---but that is because of this forum and reading many of the member's posts (and blogs detailing how to do a wheel build). A popular combo here is HED and/or DT Swiss rims, Hope and/or DT Swiss hubs, exact same Sapim or DT Swiss spokes whether it is a 16-24 spoke count or 32-36 spoke count build, and they run the exact same tires (talking training here) from the same brand, with same width & same tubes (nobody runs tubeless and/or tubulars for training) and all at exact same pressures f&r.

    So, yeah, identical sets are pretty common here and, yes, they nearly---judging from their comments---felt there was a difference. Me being the Old World outsider from the land that elected someone like D. Trump, where I just happen to live here, my opinion on what they said they felt didn't count for much. When I said I thought they were full of it, they looked at me like I was a lunatic. Heck, I didn't say it, but I've even always thought the lower the count the spokes,those wheels all-around are even stiffer and harsher. It just couldn't be possible because low spoke builds have to be so frigging tight to make a wheel round & sufficiently strong enough to ride. But, not anything in the vertical plane, that was just plain nuts thinking.

    Anyhow, thanks again all. They really do love their placebos around Belgium/Netherlands, whether mentally generated and/or swallowing them. I guess we all do everywhere, in one way or another. Now if I could just figure out how they can down a beer, like it was water, in the middle of the ride yet still finish with the front pack, I'll have this place, but not the langauge, completely figured out. Trying to speak French and/or Dutch, well, for me, the more beer the better but I sure ain't finishing no ride.
    Last edited by BelgianHammer; 03-08-2018 at 10:26 AM.

  6. #6
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    IMO we are all speculating on this, but, hey, that’s the fun of the interweb.

    I’m with the rest of the RBR crowd. My 2-bit analysis: A wheel with fewer spokes has a larger spoke stress cycle, which means slightly more vertical flex at the bottom of the rim (insert reference to wheel-stands-on-bottom-spokes argument). Does that make lower spoke count more comfortable? I doubt it. I think the additional rim flex is so tiny that it makes no difference to the rider. Within practical limits on PSI, tire flex is going to dominate.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by bobf View Post
    IMO we are all speculating on this, but, hey, that’s the fun of the interweb.
    "I have 24/28/and 32 otherwise identical rear wheels and could never ID which I was riding based on feel."

    I'm quite certain I actually do own and have ridden those wheels. Call it speculation if you like though.

  8. #8
    Russian Troll Farmer
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    I've heard that 3 and 4-cross spoking will give a smoother ride than straight-pull spokes. I really think that tires make a much larger difference....

    Also, the lower the spoke count, the stiffer the rim. I've seen some 36-spoke rims that were quite flexy before being built. That might be the best case for this idea.
    "L'enfer, c'est les autres"

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Strongbow View Post
    "I have 24/28/and 32 otherwise identical rear wheels and could never ID which I was riding based on feel."

    I'm quite certain I actually do own and have ridden those wheels. Call it speculation if you like though.
    OK, except for Jay.

    I'd wish to see a controlled study with measurements, maybe an accelerometer or two mounted on the seat post and/or handlebars. But I admit I'm not going to do it.

  10. #10
    'brifter' is a lame word.
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    Your friends don't know what they're talking about. Period.
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by No Time Toulouse View Post
    I've heard that 3 and 4-cross spoking will give a smoother ride than straight-pull spokes.
    You heard wrong.

    Quote Originally Posted by No Time Toulouse View Post
    Also, the lower the spoke count, the stiffer the rim. I've seen some 36-spoke rims that were quite flexy before being built.
    This statement is misleading. It is true that a rim must be more robust to be able to handle a smaller spoke count because each spoke on a 20 spoke wheel is subject to greater forces than each spoke on a 32 spoke wheel. So you can use a lighter rim with a higher spoke count wheel without having problems.
    "With bicycles in particular, you need to separate between what's merely true and what's important."-- DCGriz, RBR.

    “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.” -- Aaron Levenstein



  12. #12
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    Their race tires feel nicer than their training tires. There is no truth to their assertions about wheels.

  13. #13
    'brifter' is a lame word.
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    Quote Originally Posted by No Time Toulouse View Post
    I've heard that 3 and 4-cross spoking will give a smoother ride than straight-pull spokes. I really think that tires make a much larger difference....

    Also, the lower the spoke count, the stiffer the rim. I've seen some 36-spoke rims that were quite flexy before being built. That might be the best case for this idea.
    You mean RADIAL not straight pull.
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  14. #14
    changingleaf
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    There definitely is a durability difference between these spoke counts, but it's unlikely they can tell the difference in vertical compliance since it is very, very small.

    A double blind test would be interesting.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by cxwrench View Post
    You mean RADIAL not straight pull.
    I'm pretty sure that's what he meant.
    "With bicycles in particular, you need to separate between what's merely true and what's important."-- DCGriz, RBR.

    “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.” -- Aaron Levenstein



  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by changingleaf View Post
    There definitely is a durability difference between these spoke counts, but it's unlikely they can tell the difference in vertical compliance since it is very, very small.

    A double blind test would be interesting.
    I can definitely tell a difference in that there is a feeling of more stability with a higher spoke count wheel. I am guessing that has to do with lateral flex.

    But I've never been able to tell a difference in comfort a.k.a. vertical compliance.
    "With bicycles in particular, you need to separate between what's merely true and what's important."-- DCGriz, RBR.

    “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.” -- Aaron Levenstein



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