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I'm looking at a couple of cruiser bikes on Craigslist. I want to take them to my beach house for guests. How can I tell if the rims and spokes are steel or aluminum? The steel spokes on an expensive cruiser recently started rusting and popping and I don't want that to happen again.

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    I can't imagine aluminum spokes on any bike -- they'd fail in about 10 minutes. What you want is stainless steel spokes, but it's not that easy to tell stainless from regular steel. (Stainless steel is less attracted to a magnet than regular steel, but it may be hard to judge.) A rim you can pretty much tell by sight, or use a refrigerator magnet to detect steel vs aluminum. – Daniel R Hicks May 23 '15 at 17:39
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    @DanielRHicks Mavic has made racing wheelsets with aluminum spokes at least from early 2000s. They break more often and have higher wind resistance than steel spokes, but not too bad to stop people from buying them. And yes, stainless steel is the answer to original question. – ojs May 23 '15 at 18:27
  • Stainless steel spokes is the way to go (steel and titanium are OK. Carbon fiber, plastic and aluminum spokes are no-no's). – Batman May 23 '15 at 18:45
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    Actually plastic spokes as in bmx wheels might be a solution. :) – RoboKaren May 24 '15 at 5:08
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    Doesn’t almost everything rust on a beach? Salt water is very corrosive. Even alloys which should rust slowly or not at all will suddenly start to rust. I don’t think the problem is limited to the spokes but includes all those small and big steel parts. Eyelets of the rims, brake cables, screws, the frame itself … – Michael Jun 21 '15 at 6:30
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You want stainless spokes and aluminum rims. As suggested in the comments you can check the rims with a magnet – and also by appearance steel rims will probably be shiny. But steel rims are kind of rare, most likely you'll have aluminum on any reasonably priced bike.

For the spokes it may be hard to tell with a magnet. I think the easiest way to tell would be to look closely. Stainless spokes will have no finish and will be "good looking" – no, or minimal rust (sometimes steel from machining will leave some residue that will rust, but it will be superficial, color but no significant oxidation). Steel spokes will have some kind of surface finish to prevent rust. You can probably see the finish and some rust or minor damage to it. Finally look at the heads of the spokes. Name brand spokes like Wheelsmith, DT, or Sapim will be marked. Wheelsmith uses a 'W', I think DT uses 'DT', and I'm not sure about Sapim. If you see one of those marks it is a decent chance that the spokes are stainless – as long as they aren't the dull gray of a galvanized (zinc coated) spoke.

  • Stainless is bright, gal is dull. Steel makes a bright noise when you pluck it, aluminium (aluminum to some readers) makes a dull noise and also looks dull unless it's anodized. – andy256 Jun 21 '15 at 5:59
  • @Michael mentioned it in a comment on the question: Near a beach house one salty mists might be present. These are corrosive to the most common types of stainless steel (eg A2). A salt-resistant steel would be A4. (The latter has Mo added for Chlorine stability). – gschenk Feb 22 '17 at 21:54

protected by Community Feb 23 '17 at 13:50

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