36 or 48 spokes ?

I think that was true of old school, skinny, lightweight rims, which is what I learned to build wheels with - you could easily get the spoke tension high enough that the rim couldn’t support any more, and was close to potato-chipping. And getting close to that limit was the sign of a well built wheel. Even with those rims, more spokes meant shorter distances of unsupported rim, and you could get higher tensions safely.

But typical modern deep dish aero road rims, and wide mountain / uni rims, are a whole lot stronger, and it’s usually the spoke that’s the limit, not the rim. You can get the spoke tension up to the point where it’s hard to work with because of windup, or it threatens to pull right through the rim’s spoke bed, without reaching the overall rim limit. You can certainly get beyond the manufacturer’s recommendations on spoke tension. So more spokes lets you get more overall tension without getting the individual spokes past the limit.


Extra spokes are needed to keep the wheel from hitting the frame should something break, and to facilitate field repair.

Thanks, that clears everything up. ?

A wheel can be built strong enough with fewer spokes than

conventionally used, but the fewer spokes there are the more it deforms when something fails. If there are too few it will become unridable, nor will the rider be likely to be able to simply whip a spare out of the seat tube and stick it in.

I still disagree. I have 2 32 hole wheels and 36 spoke wheels. I have broken more spokes on my 36 spoke wheel than any other

I’m not saying 32 isn’t enough, I’m saying the adequate

number of spokes depends on the behavior of the wheel in failure, not normal operation.

Not really - not if the wheel doesn’t fail in the first place. I’ve ridden home on a bike wheel with 17 spokes in, and it wasn’t significantly worse than one with 31 spokes.

This is true, that’s why I use 4800-spoke wheels.

The failure properties of a broken spoke are fine on a 36-spoke wheel. Yes, it deforms more than a 48-spoke wheel would, but less than a 32-spoke wheel would, that’s simple math; the amount of deformation is acceptable.

And if you’re not running rim brakes, it really doesn’t matter anyway.