bike Spokes and spoke lengths are really subjective to all the factors like their market availability and length calculation by a person who didn’t know how to measure them or used a source that they used which was not authentic like spoke calculators on the internet and there are a lot of opinions around longer and shorter spokes length.
By the way, length or the number of spokes doesn’t determine spokes’ durability only the material of the spokes and nipples do, because an untrued wheel of uneven spoke length would be under more stress than a trued wheel with an even spoke length but except the error margin.
the error margin is usually 1mm – 2mm and not more than that because if it gets more than that then either you will break the nipples or the spokes will come in contact with rim strips or rim tape on the wheel
Before I go deeper here are the topics of the article so you can quickly browse to your desired section.
Left/right Or drive and non-drive side spoke length difference
Longer and shorter spoke length difference and their effects on rim strength
More or fewer threads, which are better on spokes
Optimal spoke length with nipples
should you buy longer or shorter spokes, if the ideal length is not available
Left/right Or drive and non-drive side spoke length difference :
The right side/drive side of the bike or drive side on the bike is always your cassette side and the Left side/non-drive side is the side with the disc brake on your bike if its confusing your bike sit on your bike and you will know right away what I am talking about.
The drive side/ right side of your bike has a higher flange and the spoke length on this side will always be longer and the left side/non-drive side will always have a lower flange hence the spoke length is shorter on that side, because there are many types and brands of hubs there is no definitive difference of length for spokes on the wheel.
and if we try adding the same length spokes on both sides of the wheel the wheels will go untrue and the wheel will lean more toward the non-drive side which is really dangerous because not only it will take no time for the spokes to break but also it will put a significant burden on you while handling the bike.
So always make sure that when you are trying to lace your wheels yourself make sure that you have the same length spokes whether you are lacing them in diagonal or in the cross-type lacing or in the hybrid forms like radial lacing on the drive/non-drive side and cross lacing on the other side.
In both cases the spoke lengths will stay the same and they will not change so make sure you always remember this.
Longer and shorter spoke length difference and their effects on rim strength :
Some people have the idea that a longer or shorter spoke length makes the wheel stronger which is not the case, in fact, the idea itself is not valid because
there are risks involved in this method when the spoke length is shorter no matter which material nipples you are using aluminum or steel they will not last long and break especially in the case of the aluminum nipples, they will not sustain even the bare minimum error that I discussed above
and shorter length can cause the spoke tension to always vary and put greater stress both on the nipples and the spokes similarly longer length with more threads than needed can cause the spokes to lose tension.
Shorter spoke lengths vs different spoke nipple materials :
the bare minimum error margin that I said above is roughly 1 to 2 mm and aluminum spoke nipples will take no time break because of the constant stress on the spokes and in the case of the steel or titanium nipples which are really common and popular the acceptable margin difference that I discussed, they will be able to sustain but not for long.
So the error margin that you would see on many places like 1 mm and 2 mm that will put more strain on the nipples in the case of the steel or titanium those spokes can sustain that damage longer but the effect is the same as on the aluminum nipples and if you are a bulky rider steel nipples with short spokes of 1 mm to 2mm difference would cause the steel nipples to behave the same way as aluminum.
More or fewer threads, which are better on spokes :
The idea behind the threads on the spokes is simple to buy a longer spoke shorten it with a cutter and cut it to the same length you need and carve new threads on it which is in fact, okay and most mechanics do that as well but
If you don’t know the spoke length of the nipple or in pure laziness, you carve more threads on the spokes than needed for example you carved 4 mm of threads on the spokes in hopes that the spoke nipple will cover 3mm and the extra will stay that way is wrong
because the wheel is constant vibration no matter what kind of surface you are riding them on trails or the roads and the spokes constantly lose tension or tighten under these effects (more so on trails) and if you leave more thread on the spoke and tighten the nipple to just 3mm there are two things that will happen
- spokes will lose tensioning more quicker
- spokes will over-tighten themselves
In case of the exact spoke lengths, spokes will always loosen because there are no more threads to wind up but in this case, spokes will go both ways and that will make the wheel go untrue faster.
Although it would be better to use shorter spokes with a lesser number of spokes because a larger number of threads and larger spokes would cause tensioning of the wheel, and for aggressive and rough terrains shorter spokes with a lesser number of threads are more worthy than the longer spokes with a greater number of threads. but there is also an advantage if you have got longer spokes, you have to install washers within the hub end or nipple end of the spokes but it further increases the weight of the wheel.
Optimal spoke length :
Spoke length varies with each hub and wheel and no matter what calculation you use always take into account the length of the spoke nipple and always try to make sure that the maximum margin error is 1mm and no more than that
because it will create problems for you in the future and the margin error that I mention here is on spokes being shorter not longer, if the spoke length increase even by 1 mm that might damage the rim strip or the rim tape which can result in air leaking through the spokes or if you use a tube it will constantly damage the tube and puncture it which wouldn’t be good.
The optimal spoke length is the exact same length and as I discussed above in some material spoke nipples if the length is shorter it’s still better than the longer spoke length.
So always make sure that you take into account all these things before you take advice from anyone or anywhere on the internet shorter or longer spokes both do have defects and usually shorter is still better than longer given the difference of 1mm.
should you buy longer or shorter spokes, if the ideal length is not available :
I would say always try to make sure that whatever size shorter or longer spoke that you can buy and is available to you make sure that you don’t go above the difference of 1 mm on the shorter end and on the longer end 2mm more or less than that will turn out to be a hassle and I have experienced it myself as well.
And in case you cannot find any of both then always go for the longer spokes rather than shorter ones because even though you might have to spend some money to make them the optimal size they will be still a lot better than losing all the money on non-compatible spokes.
How to make longer spokes a little shorter :
There is actually a way to make a longer spoke shorter and that’s spoke washers they are little round metal pieces that go on the hub and if you have a little bit of difference to cover they can come in very handy to make the spoke a little short.
These are usually made of aluminum but they last significantly longer and they are much cheaper than buying threading equipment and spoke cutters.
If you don’t find them on the internet usually your local bike shop always has them on you so ask around and you will definitely find them somewhere.