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I'm having a set of new wheels get built and I am opting for WTB KOM Tough's 29 inch rims with 32 spokes. The inner width will be 25mm.

I'll be using this bicycle for touring/bikepacking/commuting - mainly road and gravel with some trails along the way.

I was wondering if the 32 spokes will be sufficient? I might take off for a year pretty soon so I want to make sure that amount of spokes is fine for big loads too? It might be I need to carry lots of water/food at times in some more remote area's.

From what I read online, the rims are much stiffer nowadays than they used to be and 36 spokes is not as much needed anymore as 10 years ago. Is that correct?

FYI I weigh 60kg so I'm not very heavy.

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    IMHO, the need for 36 spokes is overrated, its 2023, not 1973. Materials engineering, mechanical design and manufacturing tolerances have advanced a lot since then. It is cheaper to add four cheap spokes to a machine build on cheap rims and hubs than hand build with quality components.
    – mattnz
    Feb 24, 2023 at 21:33
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    In remote areas, it is important to have wheels with common spokes (with curved ends) rather than 'system wheels' for which repair spokes are hard to find and require maybe a week for postal delivery. Feb 24, 2023 at 22:03
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    Aside - consider buying spare spokes too.
    – Criggie
    Feb 25, 2023 at 4:04
  • +1 Criggie. Spare spokes (2 of each length is enough), spare nipples, a spoke wrench and the knowledge and skill to replace a spoke.
    – Michael
    Feb 25, 2023 at 7:32

4 Answers 4

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I’ve done bicycle travel on a 28 spoke rear wheel with one of the lightest 622mm aluminium rims you can buy (DT Swiss RR411) and bladed straight-pull spokes (DT Swiss AERO COMP I think). The only issue I had were corroded aluminium spoke nipples in the winter (due to salt on the road). When building the wheel I spent a lot of time getting the spoke tension perfect.

I’m 66kg, the bike is 8.5kg, luggage on the rear rack (including panniers) was about 12kg with an additional ~4kg for water and food. So total weight around 90kg. The worst terrain I’ve used them on was a 5km stretch of really really rough cobblestones.

The 28 spoke wheel felt kind of borderline and I could feel it flex when I was climbing out of the saddle. After the rim and bearings were worn I built a new wheel with 32 spokes which I’m currently using without any issues.

So from personal experience I think a well built 32 spoke wheel is perfectly fine. The WTB KOM Tough rims also look like high quality and if they’ve used the 50g of additional weight compared to the KOM Light for more strength they should be plenty strong enough.

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    "well built" - put that bit in bold. Build quality is by far the most important aspect when it comes to wheel robustness and longevity.
    – mattnz
    Feb 24, 2023 at 2:08
  • Thanks guys. The guy doing it is a professional wheel builder with a good rep. I might ask for the Velocity Cliffhangers with 36 spokes but they might be hard to source. Feb 24, 2023 at 10:09
  • @PristineAsp: 36 spokes and those over-engineered Velocity Cliffhanger rims would be completely overkill considering your body weight. Unless you plan to ride with some very heavy loads in some very rough terrain in remote areas where your life depends on the wheels and you really can’t risk a failure.
    – Michael
    Feb 24, 2023 at 10:36
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My opinion, as a huge fan of 36-spoke wheels (the only case I accept 32 spokes is a 559mm fatbike rim and in this case the spoke density, spokes per inch of rim, is the same as for 36-spoke 622mm rims), is that for your use case you'll probably be fine.

Here are the two important pieces of fact from your question:

  • Rim inner width is 25mm. This presumably means that the tire will be quite wide, so the wide low-pressure tire acts as a suspension and smoothens the bumps on the road
  • You weigh only 60 kg.

I weigh over 100 kg and use 19mm inner width rims with 622-28 tires, which in my opinion should ideally use 36 spokes. I know from experience that in this application 28 spokes isn't enough (unless maybe if the wheel is exceptionally well built).

For 60 kg load with wide reasonably low pressure tires, 32 spokes will do.

However, please keep in mind that this reduces the applications where the wheel can be used. If you later sell the bike (or wheels) to someone who weighs a lot and intends to carry a lot of cargo too, having 36 spokes could be an easier sale.

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The number of spokes is not the only factor contributing to wheel stiffness, strength, and fatigue properties. Hub geometry, spoke type, material, tension, and quality also greatly influence the end result. On the other hand, in case of low-profile rims such as the one you're using, rims do not contribute much to load bearing.

That being said, given your low weight I think you'll be perfectly fine with it. I've done bikepacking with 32 spoked wheels (75 kg of my own mass, 13 kg bike, 20 kg luggage) without any problems. I also have used Fulcrum Racing 3 wheels on my road bike, which had 16 spokes front and 21 back, and I have never experienced much flex even when putting ~1700W during sprinting. Also, in over 30 000 kms done on them on roads of various quality, including some really bad tarmac during races, when they were more abused than used, I broke a spoke only twice - first in a crash during a sprint finish, and second when it was later replaced with a non-factory spoke. It's circumstantial evidence, of course, but I wouldn't worry too much.

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Bikeradar published an article about touring wheels. You can find below the comment about the spoke count:

This is corroborated by Thorn, who says that “it is easier to [achieve] a straight wheel” when truing and “32 holes gives the best chance of getting a replacement rim in the event of a misadventure”.

Meadows says the spoke count “should really be driven by the rider and luggage loading [weight]”, but would generally “advise 32 spokes”, although “36 and 28 are also common”.

So as everyone seems to suggest, for a light rider, 32 spokes seems to be a good number. Quality is also critical, as already pointed out.

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