Shawn asks: Most wheels seem to come with straight pull spokes, but I hear some mechanics say they aren’t as good as J-bend spokes. What’s your opinion?
Straight pull spokes were invented to accomplish two things: Eliminate the weak point at the bend in a traditional spoke and to make wheel building faster. These are great benefits to have, but straight pull spokes have some drawbacks too.
A lot of bike shops don’t keep them in stock because a significant percentage of wheels that feature straight pull spokes also use proprietary spokes, which means the shop has to carry a huge spoke inventory to keep everyone covered. However, we’ve taken on the expense of carrying many of Shimano and Mavic’s proprietary straight pull spokes, but even we don’t have everything.
Another issue with straight pull spokes is that they can sometimes spin in the hub flange. This means that it can be difficult to get a round spoke to a high tension or to loosen a frozen spoke nipple. This kind of issue doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens enough to be frustrating. The exception here is that if the spoke is bladed, you can easily keep the spoke from spinning in the hub by using a bladed spoke holder tool.
A third drawback of straight pull spokes is that they are difficult to use when building custom wheels because there are no available universal straight pull spoke calculators due to the differences in various straight pull hub designs. Calculations can be done, but it requires a lot of extra steps and a good amount of experience building custom wheels with straight pull hubs to get it right.
A fourth drawback is that with a straight pull hub a wheelbuilder has only one option for the wheel’s spoke lacing pattern, the one built into the hub. This means the wheelbuilder can’t tune the wheel’s weight, stiffness, or ride quality by altering the number and type of spoke crossings.
These are all reasons why mechanics generally don’t like straight pull spokes, myself included. Also, I’ve found that the increase in durability offered by straight pull spokes compared to J-bend spokes is minimal. A good wheel build with high quality J-bend spokes in my experience is just as durable out in the real world as a wheel built with straight pull spokes.
So I generally recommend choosing wheels with J-bend spokes, and if you do go with a factory built wheel equipped with straight pull spokes, choose one with bladed spokes so that you can avoid the problem of spokes spinning in the hub flange during truing.