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I have to change the rims of my bike and I have to choose between 32 or 36 (or 48 or any other variation). I never thought about this until now and I feel it's kind of a dumb question, but I don't have a clue if this has any perceptible impact or not.

So far, I understand that more spokes means a stronger wheel, but also more spokes means a little bit more weight. Despite that, a spoke weights almost nothing so I think that's not a practical difference to take into account.

Is there anything else? I ride a single speed bike mainly for city commuting, so is there any practical difference between choosing 32/36 spokes (or another number)?

Thanks a lot people!

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You stated that you are changing the rims (but not wheels?). Does this mean you are keeping your hub or did you mean to say you are getting new wheels? If its the former, it is best to match the rim spoke count to the hub spoke count. –  Rider_X Feb 11 at 21:53
    
@Rider_X I forgot to mention that, but yes, I'm keeping the hubs only if I choose a rim with the same number of spokes (32 in my current wheel), any other case means to change also the hub. –  Ekso Feb 12 at 11:46
    
I'd be hard pressed to find a reason why you'd use a hub with a different number spokes than the rim these days. –  Batman Feb 14 at 16:42
    
In addition to a slight increase in weight, more spokes causes a slight increase in air resistance. But the difference is not significant unless you're riding in the TdF. But fewer spokes is "sexy" (to some people). –  Daniel R Hicks Dec 10 at 3:06
    
(If you're not a heavy person, and you don't do loaded touring or ride a lot of rough terrain then 32-spoke wheels are probably fine. I ride 36-spoke wheels but I imagine myself to still be a tourist and I'm a bit on the heavy side. Probably best to not go below 32, but for you there's probably no compelling reason to pick 36 over 32 or vice versa.) –  Daniel R Hicks Dec 10 at 3:09

1 Answer 1

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Lower spoke numbers are primarily of interest to weight weenies (though for a given price, a lower spoke wheel will probably use a heavier rim offsetting the spoke reduction weight savings).

As usual, Sheldon is some good reading. There is also a whole book on how to build wheels well and design decisions, by Jobst Brandt, called "The Bicycle Wheel".

What matters for most people is using a good amount of spokes, good spokes, a good rim and hub, and putting them together well (and how they're put together) - pretty much any wheel is going to be bad if the wheelbuilder messes up/sucks.

Heavier riders often should go with a higher spoke number than a lower spoke number and tougher rims+spokes. According to Sheldon, it used to be that you'd run 36 front, 36 back then we started dropping. On a commuter, I'd emphasize durability, so I'd probably go with the more spoke option.

The best thing to do is talk to a good wheel builder and assess your individual needs. If you got to the point where rim wear was what made you replace the rim, chances are you're fine with whatever you had. If you're replacing the rim, make sure to use new spokes and make sure the hub is in good condition.

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Along with Brandt, you have Gerd Schraner, The Art of Wheelbuilding. I sought out both books when I wanted to learn more on the subject. They're both quite difficult reads, but explain the physics well. –  PeteH Feb 14 at 14:21
    
Weight weenies is a small class. I think less spokes is more common with aero wheels; aerodynamics affect all riders. Unlike weight which only matters when accelerating or on steep gradient. –  imel96 Feb 20 at 2:47

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