Bicycle wheels are amazing. The magic of physics makes them some of the strongest man-made items for their weight and, in bike world, high-strength + low-weight = perfection. The majority of a wheel’s strength comes from the tensioned-spokes connecting the rim to the hub. And it turns out there are a lot of ways to arrange those spokes when building a wheel to cash in on different benefits. In today’s post, we’ll look at the most common spoke patterns out there, what’s right for your ride, and why we build our wheels the way we do.
Like most bike-things, wheelbuilding is full of special-terms, skills, and overwhelming amounts of information. Lucky for us, when it comes to spoke-patterns, things are a little more straightforward. Spoke patterns are generally named based on how many times a spoke “crosses” other spokes from the same flange on its way from the hub to the rim.
So, a three-cross (3-cross or 3X) spoke pattern will mean each spoke crosses three others between the hub and the rim. Check it out! The "green" spoke crosses the 3 "yellow" spokes on its way out.
Basically, as the angle of a spoke relative to the hub gets more tangential (less straight up and down), it’ll end up crossing more of the other spokes, so the “cross number” is usually a good indicator of wheel strength (or time between truing sessions). That’s true because the more tangential the spoke angle, the better they’re able to stand up to the twisting forces exerted on the wheel during acceleration, braking, and really mashing away.
A higher cross-pattern like that does mean you’ll need slightly longer spokes (because the distance from the hub to their rim-hole will be greater), so the wheel will weigh slightly more than a 2-cross or radially laced wheel, but that’s a small trade-off for the improvement in strength.
We use 3-cross spoke-patterns on our Original, Premium, City, and Cruiser lines to give them that don’t-worry-about-it urban utility, and make sure they can hold up to the power your legs are putting down.
Just as you’d suspect, a 2-cross pattern means each spoke crosses two others between the hub and the rim. On identical 32-hole rims and hubs, the 2-cross will be less sturdy and weigh just slightly less than our 3-cross wheels above, so it’s not really worth the trade-off.
However, on a 24-hole hub and rim, a 2-cross pattern makes the spoke-angles nearly identical to a 32-hole 3-cross set up (each spoke just crosses 2 because there are fewer spokes all around the wheel to begin with), so there’s little difference in terms of strength, and you get some weight savings thanks to leaving 8 spokes in the parts’ drawer! The only potential downside is reliability as each spoke is under more tension (with only 24 to share the load instead of 32) so, for racers who can take the time to tune everything between events, a 24-hole 2-cross wheel might be a good move, but for commuters or riders who really run their bikes through the ringer, the durability of the 32-hole 3-cross will outweigh (ha!) saving a few grams.
Racers who are really looking to shave weight and maximize performance, will usually rock a radially laced wheel up front. A radial (or 0-cross) pattern means the spokes go straight from the hub to the rim, like the radius of a circle.
That angle doesn’t make the wheel very strong against twisting forces, so you’ll never see a radially laced rear but, because it uses the shortest spokes possible, the weight savings are unmatched and that “straight up and down” spoke arrangement is also more aerodynamic than spokes twisting all over each other. That’s why you’ll see racers riding radially laced fronts in competition, and that’s what you’ll find on our top of the line Keirin Completes when they drop later this Spring!
But enough science, what if you want to get weird? As it turns out, the only real limits to what you can do spoke-wise are your budget, patience, and imagination.
The internet’s full of DIY wheelbuilding tutorials and creative spoke-patterns, all you have to do is look around and find one that you’d like on your ride!
It’s worth noting that the more “novelty” spoke patterns don’t really offer any improvements in terms of strength or weight, but sometimes you just need a reason to get excited about riding your bike again and some eye-catching wheels might be just what’s missing. After all, the best bike is the one you ride – and the bike you ride is the one you love.
Go nuts, we'll see you out there!