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Recently I had to replace a hub on the front wheel of my workhorse bike. That meant unlace it and lace it again. Since the hubs were identical, I used the same old spokes, same not-so-old rim and same lacing pattern (3-crossings).

However, I noticed (already noticed it many times) the contact point between spokes around the 3rd crossing (where they actually touch one another) was a bit stained (even being stainless steel spokes) and a tiny bit worn.

I know it is traditional to cross the spokes this way, and Sheldon Brown explicitly advises to BEND the spokes against one anoter (which I heartily recommend everybody to do, increases wheel durability very very much.)

BUT since there are so much fancy wheels and even alternative lacing patterns (radial lacing, for example) where the spokes go straight from hub to rim, I wonder if it is really necessary to interlace the spokes in the first place.

Anyway, I can number some hypothetical pros and cons of INTERLACING:

PROS:

  • Provides an extra contact point for the spoke, reducing mobility and flexion, and improving lateral stability;
  • Reduces resonance noises;
  • Allows for fixation of spoke-cards ;o)

CONS:

  • Makes assembly a bit more difficult;
  • Creates a potential stress point due to friction and flexion;
  • Creates an initial bending around the contact point, which might allow for fatigue-inducing flexion around the spoke elbow;
  • Makes cleaning a lot more difficult.

EDIT: due to the confusion that arose between crossing vs. radial (which wasn't what I meant) and different ways to lace the same crossing pattern (what I intend actually), I made a drawing (out of scale) showing the two possibilities. At left, the "physically touching crossing". Please note that in the frontal view (bottom left) the spokes are not actually twisted against one another like the view might induce to think, but are only flexing against one another).

enter image description here

I am very prone to lace my next wheel without physical crossings, since there seems to be enough evidence it is not actually necessary. Some months later, I could be sure if that works or not. But even if it is not necessary, it might still be better.

So, have you any information/link/knowledge/experience about?

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I gather that you're not questioning crossed vs radial lacing, but rather the practice of crossing the spokes on what seems like their "wrong" side. –  Daniel R Hicks Mar 8 '12 at 16:10
    
@DanielRHicks exactely! It is the practice of passing the crossing spokes (usually in the last crossing before getting to the rim) one behind another, so that they get pressed against one another. –  heltonbiker Mar 8 '12 at 16:28
    
I found this discussion after googling pretty much exactly the same question. The reason for me doing so was that I have never really seen the point in NON-weaved lacing, as I imagine the extra weave helps to spread transverse loads throughout more spokes. I always assumed non-weaved lacing was a money saving option on cheap factory built wheels. Recently I have noticed many high end wheels (Notably High end road race wheels, and Mavic Deemax super strong dh mtb wheels) built non-weaved, and can not fathom why. This forum has simply solidified my view that weaving is better, with no real disad –  gabe Nov 11 '13 at 13:12
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11 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Probably the best source for answering this is Jobst Brandt's The Bicycle Wheel, the definitive text on the wire-spoked wheel and an essential for anyone interested in the art of wheelbuilding. Excerpted from page 68 of the 3rd edition:

Spokes in a crossed pattern are usually interlaced at their last crossing before reaching the rim. Spokes coming from between the flanges are laid over those from outside the flanges. Interlaced spokes take up each other's slack during severe radial loading and reduce the chance of spokes becoming loose. If spokes become loose, their nipples can unscrew. Radial spokes cannot be interlaced and therefore, lose alignment from road shock more easily. Interlacing also gives more clearance between the spokes and the derailleur on rear wheels.

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Actually I am not comparing crossing vs. radial, but "touching" crossings vs "passing-by" crossings. –  heltonbiker Mar 8 '12 at 16:30
    
I deeply respect Jobst Brandt's legacy, but I have serious concerns about the accuracy of his rationales throughout this book, which I have already read. –  heltonbiker Mar 8 '12 at 16:58
    
I've clarified my answer above to reflect the actual question. –  lantius Mar 8 '12 at 17:26
    
Excellent! I'm not sure I agree with everything (I cannot help, sorry), but the clearance point is great, and the quasi-instantaneous unloading problem deserve some serious thought. Thanks! –  heltonbiker Mar 8 '12 at 18:00
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Vintage English bicycle wheels (1950-1960) sometimes had a 3-cross NOT-interlace pattern from the manufacturer (I own one). Interlacing did not become "standard practice" (accepted without question) until the mid-1960s. Interlacing is now "always" done, perhaps because there is little disadvantage while providing the advantage of additional lateral stiffness.

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The Shimano XTR M988 Trail Wheelset is built with the spokes crossing but not interlaced, they just pass over without contact and after a fair bit of riding (and not gentle) they seem adept in corners and rigid as any other wheelset I have ridden. Possibly down to the rim technology though? I am now in the process of builing a wheelset using the same technique but using lightweight components for my XC bike. Hopefully I'll get the same results from this project....

It only ever seems like an additional stress point when they are interlaced although the derrailleur clearance is a decent point.

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I think a 2 cross is stronger than a 0 cross but it doesn't always look as cool especially on a low spoke count wheel. 0 Cross is for the front only. Sometimes maybe you only have shorter spokes around. Radial will not be as forgiving of a bad build. Here is my latest compromise on the rear wheel as I am trying to evolve the Holy Grail of wheels. 16 spokes 2 cross on the drive side. 8 spokes 0 cross on the non drive side(nds). All 24 spokes have the same tension on the meter. If there is any future truing to be done, only the 8 nds spokes will be adjusted.

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I'm not sure that this actually answers the OP's question. It may have been better placed as a comment. –  jimirings Jun 16 '13 at 1:45
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The main problem in this type of debate is that most people will just quote "accepted" wisdom without personal experience. I will say at the outset that my own experience is limited to small wheeled folding bicycles. I have built wheels for several of these over the years and I always laced them until I came across a set of wheels that had been manufactured without any spoke lacing at all; they simply crossed over at the usual lacing points. I have ridden on these for 3 years now without any of the detrimental effects mentioned above.

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I've built a small (20") wheel with a large flanged (internal geared) hub, and found it far easier not to interlace the spokes, and didn't have any problem with the resulting wheel. I'd hesitate to say that there's no point on any wheel though. –  armb Mar 22 '13 at 10:21
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One-cross crosses too close to the hub to interlace. Otherwise, it's wise to interlace the last crossing, for the reason Brandt points out.

Keeping the spokes under tension is the whole challenge of wheelbuilding. It's what keeps the wheel from going out of true and, in the worst case, tacoing. Note that it's not the spoke, but the rim/nipple interface, that limits how much tension can be put on the spoke. If you don't interlace, you're giving up that last bit of insurance against untensioning a spoke.

The only argument against interlacing would be if spokes habitually broke at the place where they crossed. I personally have never seen that.

Regarding tying and soldering, I think Brandt is correct to debunk the practice. In all the tied-and-soldered wheels I've seen, the spokes easily slide against each other, so I don't see how it can improve wheel stiffness. (Brandt shows this empirically.) The only argument in its favor is that it keeps a busted spoke from flopping around, meaning you could possibly keep riding the bike with a busted spoke. (This might explain why you still see them in the cobbled classics. Although more and more teams are simply using standard carbon wheels.)

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I can't comment on doing a whole wheel this way, but I have seen wheel repairs done this way while touring. It did not work, I suspect for the reason that Jobst points out. The nipples unwound after a few days (at about 100km/day with perhaps 100kg load). Doing the spokes up tighter just broke spokes and stripped nipples. The mutual tensioning effect is IMO important, and super-gluing the crossings together after the wheel was tensioned merely broke the superglue. I suspect that was because of limited contact area rather than huge strain, though. But it didn't work as a post-hoc fix. But that was not a controlled experiment.

I've read both Jobst's and Gerhard's books, and they're both worthy books. Jobst's has the advantage of being shorter. Unfortunately Sheldon's rec.bicycles.tech and the bicycle science mailing list discussions never really managed to get solid data on this, and the Journal of Human Power has not had an article that covers it either. Jobst measured the (lack of) change from tying and soldering but apparently not the change from lacing.

I'm about to relace a wheel this weekend and I'll consider lacing it as suggested. Mostly because it's a low-cost experiment for me (symmetric hub gear wheel, so easy to relace) and I'm curious. Currently it's breaking spokes at the nipple because the holes in the rim are not angled correctly, so I'll be fixing that too. But unless the pattern is a disaster it will take a few years years to find out whether it's any good (I only do 5000-6000km/year).

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Very nice contribution! Excellent points! –  heltonbiker Mar 9 '12 at 14:08
    
superglue is brittle and will tend to break at even the slightest flexing - it would be surprising if it lasted for even a short ride. It also doesn't stick as well to metal as to some other materials. –  Chris H Nov 12 '13 at 10:30
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Very interesting question.

When two spokes are touching, then they're pulling against each other. They're like two adjacent links in a chain; when the chain is under load, both the links are subject to the same amount. So this might help spread the load better; but I have no idea if this effect is actually significant, since as you said, radial wheels work just as well.

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Well, radial wheels don't work as well, in several regards. Of particular relevance is that broken spokes are more likely on radial wheels. –  Daniel R Hicks Mar 8 '12 at 18:20
    
The only way to settle this is with an experiment. Build 2 groups of wheels: 1) traditional cross pattern, and 2) cross pattern without touching, as described above. (Maybe a third group with radials.) Put each wheel on some kind of machine that simulates all the abuse that a bike wheel can be exposed to. Then check the wheels for damage. I don't have the time or the money to do this - maybe there are some engineering students reading this who are looking for a project. –  Mike Baranczak Mar 12 '12 at 0:05
    
Except that it would be difficult to design a test that would reproduce "real life" very well. (And you'd have to decide which "real life" to reproduce.) –  Daniel R Hicks Mar 12 '12 at 1:41
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I can't speak specifically to "touching" vs "passing", as you have put it, but it would seem to be a similar rationale to tying & soldering wheels, which is supposedly done to increase stiffness, and prevent spokes from rattling in the event they break. This article (by Jobst Brandt, for better or worse) seems to dispute the stiffness claim, but I don't think it changes the rationale much.

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I have a "much better book" by Gerd Schraner, "The Art of Wheelbuilding", wich I consider a true Evangelion, which mentions the soldering as the cherry on the cake for a perfect wheel. But again: would it? –  heltonbiker Mar 8 '12 at 17:22
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I think radial spokes are generally recommended only for front wheels, because they're weaker than normally-laced wheels especially under the asymmetric torsion applied to the rear wheel.

WRT the drive forces: trailing spokes are necessary to transmit the drive force from the hub to the rim; radial spokes would make this transmission very spongy as the hub would rotate first, stretching the spokes slightly towards a tangential pattern before the force affected the rim.

You mention lateral stability as a possible, but not decisive, pro, but really I'd consider it essential, especially for accurate cornering.

As for outright strength, consider than any wheel will tend to bear most of its load through the topmost few spokes. On a radially-laced wheel, those spokes will be seated in adjacent holes, focussing all the force on the smallest possible section of flange. A tangentially-laced wheel will spread the load more evenly over the whole top half of each flange.

Perhaps more accurately, since the wheel is pre-tensioned, consider the spoke deformation under unloading. You need enough tension in each spoke that the minimal tension (at the bottom of the wheel, when the rim is slightly compressed) is still high enough to prevent the nipple unscrewing. Assuming the rim deformation is the same, a shorter spoke needs to contract by a larger fraction of its length than a longer spoke, which means more elastic deformation so higher maximum tension for the same material and cross-section.

So, a tangentially-laced spoke, at pretty much the maximum workable length, not only spreads its load more evenly over the hub flange, but requires a lower maximum tension in the first place.

As for both of your flexion concerns, I suspect the reverse is true. A true and correctly-tensioned wheel's spokes shouldn't be moving, and if anything the crossing will hold the elbow seated more firmly in the hole.

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Actually I am not comparing crossing vs. radial, but "touching" crossings vs "passing-by" crossings. –  heltonbiker Mar 8 '12 at 16:30
    
Man that was a long post for a misunderstood question :-) –  Useless Mar 8 '12 at 16:33
    
I've done that myself, already... Anyway, if you want to edit your question, please keep the radial vs. tangential part, it is very sense-making. Thanks! –  heltonbiker Mar 8 '12 at 16:56
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Radial patterns are lighter weight (and potentially more aerodynamic), but are, in my experience, orders of magnitude more likely to result in broken spokes and taco'd rims when spokes do break.

You also don't want to do radial spoking on rear wheels, since radial spoking will allow the hub to rotate relative to the rim while under drive tension.

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Actually I am not comparing crossing vs. radial, but "touching" crossings vs "passing-by" crossings. –  heltonbiker Mar 8 '12 at 16:31
    
Ah, my apologies. –  Stephen Touset Mar 8 '12 at 17:19
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