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Background: I'm overhauling/refurbishing my second road bike that I use mainly for training. It needs new wheels.

I found a couple of nice used 2011 wheelsets that were spares for a women's bike team and saw very little use. The rear wheels are 28 spokes; I have a choice for the front wheels. Either 20 spoke or 24 spoke. What should I think about to make the choice? (clinchers)

I weigh 160lbs if that matters.

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3 Answers 3

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A 160 pound rider will have no issues with pretty much any quality wheel set on the market now, but if your primary use is as a training wheel set, get the 24 spoke count set.

It hurts nothing, and may affect the time between maintenance cycles slightly.

If you will use the wheels for events, it may be worth the slightly reduced weight and generally minisculely higher performance of the lower spoke count wheel.

If you were a heavier rider, I'd say avoid the lower spoke count wheel, but you'll have no problems regardless, assuming the wheels are in good shape when you get them.

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Also, considering the more-spokes configuration could be heavier and/or less efficient, training with such a bike might be a strategical option to make more effort and get stronger. –  heltonbiker Apr 9 '12 at 4:34
    
These are hand-built, U.S. made wheels used by a women's bike team. They were used lightly, look brand new and the team mechanic assures me that they're in top shape. Since I probably outweigh any of the team by a good 20+ pounds, I couldn't decide between the 20's or the 24's... The team is upgrading to the 2012 models, so I'm getting the practically new wheels for less than 1/3'rd the price of new. –  user313 Apr 10 '12 at 18:24
    
If they're quality, hand built wheels, either will do. 24's for endurance or training, 20's for lots of climbing. –  zenbike Apr 10 '12 at 18:26
    
I climb a lot. My training rides take me into the foothills of the Cascades somewhat frequently. –  user313 Apr 10 '12 at 18:29

If the bike is used mostly for training, you'll probably want to give high priority to reliability. In general, more spokes is better than fewer both because they're stronger and also because they're easier to true; 2-cross (or 3-cross) spoke patterns will be stronger than radial or "mixed" spoke patterns (for example, radial on one side and 1x on the other); rims with eyelets will be stronger than rims without; clincher rims will give you more choice about heavy-duty or puncture-resistant tires and tubes than tubular rims; aluminium rims will be more cost-effective than carbon; standard round spokes will be easier to find replacements for (should you need them) than bladed spokes.

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To quote Sheldon Brown:

Traditionally, most bicycles have had 36 spokes in each wheel. British bicycles, for years, used to use 40 spokes in the rear, and 32 in the front. This was a better system for the consumer, because the strength of the wheels was in better proportion to the stresses on them. It makes things easier for the manufacturers, however, to use the same number of spokes front and rear. This results in a front wheel that is needlessly heavy, and/or a rear wheel that is not as strong as it should be.

In the last decade of the 20th century, 32-spoke wheels became increasingly common. Manufacturers tout this as an advantage, because it saves a very small amount of weight (they don't mention that it is also cheaper!) For most cyclists, the reduced strength and reparability of 32 spoke rear wheels is a greater detriment than the very tiny improvement in performance they offer.

And:

In recent years, the same scam has been extended, as the industry tries to see how few spokes they can get away with before the reliability gets so bad that consumers revolt!

These days it is common to see mass-produced bikes and aftermarket wheelsets with 24 or fewer spokes in each wheel. These are represented as "premium" wheels, though they generally have off-brand hubs that are a lot cheaper than genuine Shimano or Campagnolo hubs.

Naive consumers often fall for this scam, thinking the wheels must offer higher performance due to having fewer spokes. They don't realize that these wheels make up for the lost strength of the missing spokes by using substantially heavier rims! These trendy wheels look lighter than traditional wheels, but they aren't. Some of these wheels are unreliable -- and dangerous because if one spoke breaks, there are too few others to keep the rim stable.

Many of these wheels also have nonstandard spokes that can be hard to find when a replacement is needed.

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Here you can see a bike using the exclusive new Citroën Monospoke Wheelset: sheldonbrown.com/nanodrive/bianchi-quarter.jpg –  heltonbiker Apr 9 '12 at 2:26
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While Sheldon Brown's site has good information on many subjects, this is one thing on which he is just plain wrong. It may have been accurate, or at least arguable, when written, but is so out of date as to be laughable at this point. When this was written, an average wheel set was 2200 grams. Now, with factory engineered wheel sets, and better engineered materials 1100 grams is common, and my Xentis Squad 2.5 CCL wheels are at that weight, with high lateral stiffness, and carrying my 120 kilo weight 2 years now without issues. –  zenbike Apr 9 '12 at 2:52
    
@heltonbiker -- It's a good thing the spokes are on the top. ;) –  Daniel R Hicks Apr 9 '12 at 3:42
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@heltonbiker: I agree that making sure there are parts available for your wheels is important. Speaking as the service manager of a busy work shop, even a standard, generic round spoke comes in so many specific sizes that it is only luck if you find what you need in stock, and many manufactured wheel's parts are as commonly stocked at this point as the "universal" parts. –  zenbike Apr 9 '12 at 6:50
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One point to consider is the exaggeration of the issue of weight in a bike generally. Unless you're trying to be a competitive racer (or you're riding a 40-year-old Raleigh), the difference in weight between a fancy wheel and a more or less standard one is inconsequential. –  Daniel R Hicks Apr 9 '12 at 11:18

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