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What makes a wheel stronger More & thicker spokes or better material

It’s interesting to think that what would happen if you increased the number of spokes or used thicker spokes on a wheel or if we just used better materials like carbon or titanium to build a wheel would it make no difference at all or would it drastically change the performance of the wheel or maybe it will make it stronger.

So I did some research on it and the results are surprising well they are somewhat not what you might think but still, it makes up for an interesting case study or a learning experience.

Do more spokes(in numbers) make a wheel stronger :

Certainly, everyone would want to conduct an experiment like if you do the hassle of drilling more holes into your rim and add more spokes in it but would the effects be, well the really simple answer to that would be.

Yes, A wheel with more spokes will be stronger but there will be side effects to it one of the side effects will be wheel will not perform nearly as well as it used to it would be too jumpy to handle, and many more.

Wheels are built with a specific purpose and the number of spokes it has is added considering that same specification if we compare the number of spokes on road bikes and mountain bikes.

For the sake of understanding if we take a 26-inch mountain bike rim and a 26-inch road bike rim the number of spokes on each would be 32-26 spokes and 20-25 spokes on-road bike.

There is very simple science behind it a bike tire made for would not be under some much external forces as a mountain bike would be roads are fairly flat but off roads are very twisted with more jumps and bumps rocks and roots, so the tires would be under constant beating or forces.

picture shows weight applied on rims

but they are made in a way that they can handle it, 32 spokes are more than enough for a 26-inch mountain bike and 20 spokes are more than enough for a road bike.

How many spokes you can increase to notice a difference :

It’s not like if you increase the spokes by 4 numbers on each side of the bike wheels that you would feel a difference but will feel a difference if you 4 spokes on each side of your bike wheels(16 in total), similarly if you break 1 or 2 spokes on your bike you wouldn’t necessarily feel a difference in the performance of the wheel.

But of course, if you are increasing that number by 16 the difference would be very well apparent, first thing you might start noticing right away would be your wheel would get stiffer and the energy dedication throughout the wheel would decrease which would affect your suspension directly and your frame weakening them over time and your suspensions and frame might start degrading or cracking on a higher rate than it was before.

But of course, we are not talking days here it could take months or even years depending on the use of the bike and other things like if you are running your bike on harsh surfaces and so on and so forth.

How rim and spokes work in a bike tire :

If we take a look at any tire including mountain bikes or road bikes, rims are the most important part it, its what gives the whole tire a shape and the next important things are the spokes, these are responsible for holding the tire together.

From another angle, spokes are just like your derailleur hanger they are made to be sacrificed for a better cause in the case of a derailleur hanger it’s made to be sacrificed for the protection of the frame.

Spokes are the supporting pillars of a tire and if you are in an unfortunate accident they will break first and usually, your rim will stay safe because spokes are supporting the whole weight of you your bike, and the rims and tires.

picture shows tire rims

And in addition to saving you money, they are built-in suspensions, of course, they don’t perform nearly as well as a suspension but wheels are responsible to provide your comfort and again it depends on what TPI tires you are running which could conversely make things more comfortable or introduce new characteristics to the tire.

If you don’t know what I am talking about you can check out my article on Is Higher TPI better than a Lower TPI 

Will thicker spokes make a wheel stronger :

Things are a little bit different for thicker spokes but the results would be the same as I discussed above but to be exact.

Yes, thicker spokes will make a wheel stronger but the efficiency of the wheels will drop significantly more than increasing the number of spokes on it but it depends on if you are going for a mixture or seeking what would happen if you make them all thicker.

And depending on your answer the end results will differ but not by a very big margin.

Considering the scenario that if you are going for hybrid half of the spokes are thicker and half of them are the same then the tires will be stronger but it would make them stiffer which means they will directly impact the bike’s suspensions and frame and the wear and tear will increase furthermore or it will accelerate.

Similarly, if a bike is fully equipped with thicker spokes it will not perform nearly as well as it would with thinner and elastic spokes because they will not distribute the forces or energy quite as well and either the spokes will break or it will have devastating effects on the suspension and frame because now that the spokes are less elastic and stiffer the energy or the forces will directly fall on to the suspensions and the frame.

So yeah the results will not be pretty, thinner spokes are more elastic and a lot of energy is dissipated in them and the rest falls on the suspensions and the frame but by the time it reaches the frame the impact is not that high so in a sense, the thinner spokes will make a bike much more comfortable and better than thicker spokes.

But things become different when we are talking about the materials of the spokes and you will know exactly why I say that.

What materials spokes and nipples are made of :

Most of the aluminum rims or almost all of the aluminum rims are equipped with steel spokes rather than aluminum spokes for good reasons.

Some of the common differences between the aluminum and steel spokes are.

Aluminum is more ductile than steel meaning it will bend more which you wouldn’t want your spokes to do.

And aluminum is more brittle than steel at normal temperature meaning it will break more.

And aluminum has less tensile strength meaning it will break much faster than steel.

All of these qualities make steel a more useful and better substance than aluminum for the spokes, In other words, aluminum spokes are not just as reliable as steel, steel is heavier than aluminum but the weight difference is very low and aluminum is just not that reliable for the spokes, because the whole structure of the wheel is dependent on the spokes.

Are carbon spokes better than Steel spokes :

no carbon spokes are not reliable as steel spokes the reason for that is that carbon spokes are not made the way the traditional steel spokes are made and the hub used for carbon spokes is made just to support the carbon spokes so other metallic can not be replaced with carbon spokes.

The other thing is the carbon is directional and if the spokes get hit from the side they are more likely to break than steel spokes.

ARE carbon spokes stronger than steel spokes: in a sense they are but they are still not as reliable as steel because carbon spokes are still made of carbon fiber and carbon is still directional. It can break easily if the force is applied in opposite direction.

Are titanium spokes better than steel :

Titanium is the second best material for bike spokes it’s far better than aluminum and carbon of course but when comparing with steel there are certain properties where steel excels and certain where titanium excels but looking at bigger picture steel would still be the best option.

Except for strength and price titanium spokes are much better than steel but the difference is not that big except for weight, steel is much more heavier but to counter that steel lasts longer than titanium but the price gap is very large so steel still wins over titanium.

Overall the steel would be better but in terms of weight and if you are a racer then titanium is better suited for mountain bikes and off-road bikes steel would still be much more reliable.

Here’s a quick ranking in terms of the best material for the spokes

  1. Steel
  2. titanium
  3. aluminum
  4. carbon

Carbon is last because carbon spokes are different they can be better than aluminum but carbon spokes and nipples are 1 unit threads cant be made on carbon fiber which is why for the carbon you would have to spend money on the hubs and carbon rims which is not a very good option in my opinion.

On the other hand, if you want to lose that extra weight titanium would be a much better option and more reliable than carbon.

Best materials for spoke nipples :

For spoke nipples brass is much better than aluminum they last longer and are more resistant to corrosion than aluminum and the biggest problem aluminum has is if it gets crowded or even not crowded they will break much easier and in the corrosive state they will make noises, brass is heavier than aluminum but it’s still worth it for the shear longevity of the material and better performance overall.

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