WHEELY GOOD ADVICE/EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SPOKE BUTTING AND MORE!
Struggling with broken spokes?
We receive a lot of requests from our community looking for advice about wheels and how best to prevent broken spokes. Ade our community project Manager spoke to self confessed “Wheel geek’ Oliie Gray who is the service and dispatch Manager of Sussex based Hunt bike wheels and below you will find a comprehensive guide with all those spoke and wheel questions. Ollie and the guys are more than happy to answer any more questions you may have and you’ll find their details at the bottom of the post.
Why do my spokes keep breaking? and is it solely down to weight ?
Spokes in bicycle wheels absorb almost all of the vibrations passing through wheels, and act as dampeners during the course of riding your bike. As such, and given their physical properties (each spoke is obviously quite thin and long) and the number of them, a wheel failure coming as a result of excessive force will most often manifest itself in a spoke snapping or breaking. The variables at play include a whole lot more than weight, and I’ll go over just the most important of these:
Spoke count & gauge:
The number of spokes is incredibly important to how tough/stiff the wheel is (or conversely, how compliant the wheel is). The greater number of spokes in a wheel, the more widely the acting pressures on them are spread (and thus each spoke has less ‘work’ to do). The guage of a spoke is less significant, but does play a role. The gauge of the spoke refers to its thickness. A thicker spoke will be tougher, but also less compliant and of course slightly heavier.
Spoke butting: Butting a spoke will mean it possesses varying levels of thickness (with the thinnest part being the main part in the middle). Butting adds extra protection around the parts of the spokes which are submitted to the most forces during the course of a ride (found both where the spoke meets the hub, and the rim). All Hunt wheels are triple butted, meaning that the spoke is strong only where it needs to be, and as light as possible where it wants to be.
Tyre pressure & choice:
Here at Hunt we cannot stress enough the importance of choosing a tyre and running a pressure that is well suited both to you as a rider, as well as the riding conditions and surfaces of their intended use. Recent studies have shown that lower tyre pressures are actually faster than super high ones. This goes against commonplace beliefs and assumptions about cycling (particularly road cycling), as most often our perception of speed is governed by how much of the road we ‘feel’. There is a lot of interesting science behind it, which is covered in the following podcast: (https://cyclingtips.com/2016/08/cyclingtips-podcast-episode-9-rethinking-road-bike-tire-sizes-and-pressures/). It is that very absorption of the road surface, most commonly associated with higher tyre pressures, that is slowing you down. Simply put, your body is absorbing more of the road than it needs to be. Lower pressures mean much more of the absorption happens in the tyre, which not only places your body under less strain, but also your wheels.
Stability of the build: This refers to the quality of rims & spokes. Good quality/true rims (true at the point of manufacture), will allow for more even distribution of spoke tension. This reduces the maximum spoke tension at any point on the wheelset and thus reduces the risk of that spoke snapping.
Weight & riding style:
This seems like such an obvious thing to say, but the way you behave when you ride is absolutely crucial to ensuring or maximising the longevity of your wheels. If your system weight (that is, the rider + the bike + any additional luggage) is 86kg, and you’re riding a wheelset with an 85kg upper limit, it does not mean they will instantly explode upon first riding them. It simply means that you should perhaps refrain from bunny-hopping off kerbs and hitting the gravel tracks with a menacing grin on your face. I am the primary tester of Hunt Bike Wheels, and by this I mean I ride in such an irresponsible way that I’ve a bit of a name for myself as being a dab hand at breaking things. On a serious level, though, it’s genuinely important for us to know where the limits are of our wheels out in the real world. We’re all keen riders across a number of disciplines here at Hunt, and so we make the wheels we want to be out riding on!
We actually spoke to Cycling Weekly about rider weight limits on wheels, and this is probably worth a quick read before proceeding to the next section: http://www.cyclingweekly.com/news/product-news/worry-wheelsets-weight-limit-287016
What wheel would you recommend for a rider up to 90kg ?
For riders south of 85/90kg, you can get away with a much lighter build of wheel, involving lower spoke counts and consequently lighter weight. As such, these wheels tend to have more of a focus on performance, owing to the nature (for the vast majority) of the kind of riders who would ride them.
Rim-brake: Either of our carbon wheelsets; the 38 or 50Carbon Wide Aero. Or for aluminium options, the Race Aero and Race Aero Wide.
Disc-brake: Our 30 or 50Carbon Aero Disc wheels. Or for aluminium, the Aero Light Disc.
What wheel would you recommend for a rider up to 130kg ?
For heavier riders, this is where the focus on performance needs to shift towards durability. Certain features of wheels included to maximise durability and longevity will necessitate a compromise on all-out performance, but it’s better to have a wheel built to match your needs, than a faster wheel that might not make the distance.
Our all-new Race Aero SuperDura wheelset has been designed to meet the needs of heavier riders who wish to minimise that compromise on performance. With cycling growing in popularity for riders of all shapes and sizes, we felt there was a gap in the market for a wheelset designed to be incredibly stiff and hard-wearing, but with a nod towards speed. Big guys are getting faster! They were actually designed following feedback from ex-Leicester pro rugby player, Will Johnson, who is a member of our Open Development team. He’s done his best to try, but he still hasn’t managed to break them or even knock them out of true! They are rated to a max weight of 130kg, which is exceptionally high by the industry’s standards – particularly for a wheelset designed with racing in mind. Another option is the 4Season Aero V2 wheels. These are rated to 115kg, owing to the lower spoke count (these are 24f/28r compared to the 28f/32r of the RA SuperDura), but feature our award-winning 4Season hubs, with great sealing on the bearings for year-round dependability.
Our 4Season Gravel Disc wheelset is one of the toughest I can think of. I couldn’t honestly tell you of a single example in the past of one of those wheels failing. They’re rated to 115kg, as are our new 30Carbon Gravel Disc. These feature the same super-wide, hookless carbon rims as the 30Carbon Aero Disc, however feature a 28f/28r spoke count (as opposed to 24f/24r) and also utilise our 4Season hubs. They’re a really impressive wheelset, and I’ll be riding on them for the 2017/2018 London X League season. There is no test on a wheelset’s limits than a season of cyclocross!
What wheel would you recommend for a rider over 130kg ?
Whilst none of our wheels are aimed at riders over 130kg, this is a territory where, honestly, most would struggle to find an off-the-peg offering suited to their needs. Similar to exceptionally tall riders (6”5’ and over), it is here where it might be pertinent to consider custom hand-built wheels that will feature the necessary spoke counts/tensions to accommodate the weight (and consequent forces passing through the wheels).
However, if you take some care with how you ride, and run as wide a tyre as you can fit in your frame (ideally 30mm+) and keep a close eye on your wheels for the early signs of wear you will still be able to get a good working life out of a pair of wheels such as the Race Aero Super-dura. Although we can’t guarantee the warranty on a wheelset that has been used over its system weight limit we will always try to be as fair and helpful to our customers as possible and we keep a good stock of spares to allow you to replace any damaged components.
Are there any tips you could offer to stop my spokes breaking ?
My big one is to run lower tyre pressures! We are big advocates of tubeless tyre technology here at Hunt, and one of the great benefits associated with this is that you can run much lower pressures without fearing a pinch flat (whereby the rim ‘pinches’ the inner tube against the ground). In some races during last year’s London X League I was running 15psi! Having said that just pay attention to ensure your tyres aren’t ‘bottoming out’ on bumps or drops so the rim hits the tyre. As well as causing snakebite punctures or tyre damage it can also put a ding or crack in your rims, so if you feel this starting to happen just increase the pressure by 5 or 10 psi and try again.
Another big tip is to just be precautious with your wheels. A lot of time people will have spokes break and it’s down to the fact they haven’t been keeping an eye on the distribution of spoke tension in their wheels, which can change over time. A (very, very basic) way to check this at home is just to ping each spoke with your finger… if they feel different to one another, or make a distinctly different ‘pinging’ sound, then it’s worth having them checked over by a qualified professional.
I’ve also included a couple of links to some material that make for good reading/watching for anybody who’d like to learn more about this sort of stuff, including the modern revelation of wider tyres (and consequent increases in air volume relative to pressure), wider rims and all the associated benefits:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrHxQg1OW0A(GCN video on the ‘truth’ behind wide tyres & rims)
http://www.cyclingweekly.com/videos/cycling-tech/clinchers-tubulars-tubeless-tyre-system-fastest-video(CyclingWeekly rolling resistence test on all tyre types – tubeless won of course!)
Hunt Bike Wheels is a brand under The Rider Firm, a company comprised of cyclists across different platforms and disciplines. It was founded by Tom & Pete Marchment (brothers) a few years ago, and we basically just seek to create the products we as riders would want to use. We look for unexplored gaps in the market (hence the Race Aero SuperDura, as well as our brand-new SuperDura Dynamo Disc wheelset) that we don’t think other companies are paying enough attention. We embrace modern wheel technologies such as tubeless-ready rims, lower tyre pressures, wider rims, etc. So we’re slightly ahead of the curve in some senses! We are a team of 12 now, but we’re always growing, and the guys would be glad to answer any questions your readers might have.
We love to talk bikes and riding.
Please speak to us or come and visit us at our Partridge Green HQ, bring your bike we have the Sussex lanes and South Downs on our doorstep.
+44 (0)1403 711813
TheRiderFirm, 8 Huffwood, Partridge Green, Sussex, RH13 8AU, UK