Spokes are great. They are an integral part of your bike and probably a piece you have never given much attention. Spokes are never talked about in hushed, reverential tones we use when talking about carbon fiber or even steel tubes. We just take these little pieces of magic and ignore them, until one fails, and then we curse them to the moon and back.
We felt it was about time that spokes got the love that they need. So we are bringing you our handy little guide to spokes. First though a little bit of history.
The History of Bicycle Spokes
There are various types of spoke available in the world, and the ones we use in the humble world of bicycle wheel building are correctly defined as tension spokes. Another couple of names for the bicycle wheel are the wire wheel and the suspension wheel. Combining these with the name tension spoke pretty much sums up exactly what the bicycle spoke has to do.
It has to stay in tension to keep your wheel true, it has to help cushion you a bit, and finally, it just looks like a little bit of wire. George Cayley invented the original wire wheels in 1808, amazingly he forgot to patent his invention, so sometimes he is not credited with his invention.
Not long after his invention, we started to see them used on bikes, around 1850. This was also the time that the rubber tire first appeared. Soon people began to think of ways to lace wheels using these spokes. We saw 3-cross, 2-cross, radial (no-cross) spoking patterns, and still, after all this time we rely on and use these patterns on nearly every set of bicycle wheels that are produced, no matter how technologically advanced they are.
So what do we mean by 3-cross, 2-cross, or radial?
3-cross is one of the few terms in cycling that is used correctly. A 3-cross spoking pattern means that every single spoke crosses three other spokes on its journey between your hub flange and your rim. We generally call this style and other cross over methods of spoking as tangential spoking.
Tangential spoking means that rather than going straight up and down from the hub, your spokes come out at an angle. The higher the number of spokes that your spoke crosses the more tangential they become. Why would you want this though?
Every point where your spoke intersects with another spoke it is braced by that spoke when it is tensioned, and it will support it when it is compressed. The bracing and the support helps to increase the lateral rigidity of your wheel. It can also help lengthen the time needed before your wheel needs to be trued, as your wheel is fundamentally stronger.
You will find that this is why 3-cross is preferred on the drive side of your rear wheel. Your spokes here need to transfer your power from the hub and drivetrain out to your wheel rim. As three other spokes brace the spokes, they are less likely to flex than if they are a no-cross spoke.
There is a pay for this strength though, isn’t there always. In order to make the extra distance needed for 3-cross spoking the spokes themselves are longer and this adds an increased amount of weight.
As you may have taken from 3-cross, a 2-cross spoking pattern means that every spoke crosses two other spokes between the hub and your wheel’s rim. 2-cross is then another style of tangential spoking. It also uses shorter spokes than what you will find on the 3-cross patterns, as the angle they leave the hub at is closer to be straight up and down.
So, you will have guessed that the spokes are a little lighter than those used in 3-cross patterns. The payoff here is that they are a little less sturdy than a 3-cross pattern, as you only have two brace points as opposed to 3.
However, there is a place where this rule may not stand as true. On lower spoke count wheels as there are fewer spokes you will find that although the spokes only cross another two spokes, they can be as laterally stiff as 3-cross. A great bit of news if you’re a weight conscious roadie.
As we eluded to earlier a radial spoked wheel crosses no other spokes on its way between your hub flange and your wheel rim. We like to use radial spoking on our front wheels, and this is because it gives a small aero and weight advantage.
You get an aero advantage as the spokes do not cross each other. When spokes cross each other, they break the boundary layer of air and cause turbulence in the air, bringing you some drag. They are also lighter as they are shorter as they go the direct route to your rim.
You will also find that wheels for disc brake bikes do not have radial spoked wheels. Disc brakes bring a load of torsional loading to your wheels, and radial spoking patterns do not like that. In fact, many wheel builders will tell you that disc brakes make radial lacing impossible.
Which is a shame as radial lacing always looks cool.
Can I Mix Spoking Patterns?
You can not mix spoking patterns on the same side of a wheel, but you can have different patterns on each side. For instance on our new Aero range of wheels we use radial spoking on the drive side and 2-cross on the non-drive side.
We do this because this design allowed us to build you a stiffer wheelset. By going radial on the drive side we could increase the spoke’s bracing angle, which increases stiffness. Our hub shell was also designed so that all of your torque is passed over to the 2-cross non-drive side. So you
If you want to know any more about our spoking patterns, please feel free to contact us and ask.