If you are anything like me, you have looked at a wheel on a bike, thought about the wiry spokes on the wheels of your bike, and wondered why they were chosen to keep your bicycle in alignment. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to make the wheel a solid disc, and not have to worry about bending those thin wires? I wanted to understand this and did some research, it turns out there are some great reasons why bike wheels are built with spokes.
Bikes have spokes because their wheels need to be lightweight, have a considerable amount of strength, and need to distribute your weight evenly throughout the wheel. Keeping the cost of your bicycle wheel is also a great byproduct of this design style.
Let’s dig in a little more into each of those reasons, and why they stand out as the solution to the question!
1. Keeping the Wheel Lightweight
Having a lightweight wheel is imperative to not only a comfortable ride but also a quick one! Wheels that have a solid interior also have more weight, meaning for every rotation of the pedal you make, the more weight you are having to push, and the more energy you are going to use to make it happen. The lighter the wheel, the less weight you are going to have to move. This results in less energy used, and a quicker achieved speed.
2. Strength and ease of repair
You would never think that a bunch of thin wires could be stronger than a solid material right? Well in the case of bicycle spokes, it is true. Due to the placement of spokes, and the way they are tightened, spokes like what you see in today’s bikes can be stronger than past solid wheels. They won’t crack, can be trued (or repaired) and they don’t have a massive surface area that can be damaged while riding or even transporting the bicycle from place to place (let’s be honest, we know you throw your bike in the back of a truck).
Less material means less cost both to you and to the manufacturer of your bike. The simple design of wire spokes also would be considerably easier to manufacture than a large component like a solid wheel. All of these things together save everyone time and money in both assembly, but also transportation.
4. Support your weight on the wheel
As we have already discussed, spokes give the wheels their strength. In turn, this allows the wheels to easily support your weight when you sit on the bike. If it were anything other than spokes, it would have a difficult time evenly distributing that weight and may become damaged, or unrideable. Having less mass in the center of the wheel also helps keep it balanced, and less likely to vibrate when it isn’t set up quite right.
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How many spokes do bikes have?
This completely depends on what type of bike you are looking at. The more spokes you have, the more sturdy the wheel, but in turn makes the wheel heavier.
- BMX Bikes – Around 36 spokes
- Trail Bikes – Around 26 Spokes
- Road Bikes – Around 24 Spokes
How do spokes work?
All of the wire spokes are evenly pulling from the middle outward. This makes it so that that wheel stays exactly round all the time. If they are not all evenly tightened, it will be known as not true and will tend to wobble. We’ll talk about how to fix that issue here in a bit.
Different types of spokes
There are 4 major different types of spokes, all attempting to give a different experience.
These spokes offer a much thicker end, meaning the spoke can be considerably more durable where it is needed (at the ends). The way these are designed makes it much easier to transfer any force that is being applied to the rest of the spokes, meaning fewer damage possibilities.
These types of spokes are great for both reliability and durability. Because they can handle so much, you will find these on tandem bikes.
3. Elliptical Aero
This is an extremely Aerodynamic style of spoke, while it isn’t flat like the bladed we will learn about next, it does offer better aerodynamics than the double-butted and triple-butted we already talked about.
These are one type of Aero spokes, instead of being round in the middle, they are actually flattened out and then become round at the ends. Being flat in the middle allows for less air resistance, and the ability to better tune them to make sure they are not being twisted in the middle (something you can’t know on fully round style spokes).
Frequently Asked Questions
There are a multitude of reasons that spokes may break on a wheel. It can be caused by damage to the rim, too much weight on the bike, or it may just be that the bike wasn’t taken care of well. Make sure to keep the spokes on the wheel from impact, or lack of maintenance.
From what I have found, it is completely safe to use your bike temporarily when you have a broken spoke! It is recommended to remove the spoke by unscrewing it. I would highly recommend repairing it at the earliest time frame though, as it won’t be at its peak performance without it. That said, if you have a bike with less spokes like a road bike, its possible that the bike may not be ridable, as a higher ratio of spokes are missing.
Did you know that spokes are made out of many different types of materials? Most commonly they are made of aluminum and stainless steel. However older wheels were made of wood, and newer wheels can be made of ceramic, and carbon composite.
This was a quick recap as to why bikes have spokes! In the end, it comes down to allowing a bike to have a low cost, yet stay lightweight, and strong, and be able to maintain your weight on the bike without causing damage.