This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of 24 and 32-spoke wheels.
The Advantages of 24-spoke Wheels
The main motivation to put fewer spokes on a wheel is to make it more aerodynamic. By itself, a spoke doesn’t add much to the profile of a bike. However, spokes come in large numbers and rotate which each revolution of the wheel.
The greater the number of spokes, the more drag the wheel creates. Hence why time trial bikes often use disc wheels (no spokes) for the rear.
When all parameters are equal (spoke type, rim shape…etc.), a 24-spoke wheel is more aerodynamic than a 32-spoke unit.
That said, this improvement matters only in a racing situation. If a bicycle is used for commuting and touring, dropping 8 spokes to increase aerodynamics is an illogical move.
Some cyclists consider wheels with fewer spokes more aesthetically pleasing than models with 32 or 36 spokes.
The Disadvantages of 24-spoke Wheels
- Less Robust
Wheels with fewer spokes have less “coverage”. Or in other words, fewer sections of the rim are supported by a spoke. As a result, it’s easier for an object to inflict damage directly onto the rim.
The result is a wheel that gets out of true more frequently or a bent rim that needs to be replaced or put back into proper shape if possible.
- Excessive Compliance
Wheels with fewer spokes lose stiffness. Some people like that feature for long-distance riding because it increases comfort while others hate it.
Of course, the stiffness of a wheel is not dependent solely on the number of spokes. The material of the spokes, their tension, and the rim matter too.
- Tricky Truing
The lower number of spokes reduces the options for a wheel builder to adjust the wheel.
- Rims and Hubs Are Harder to Find
24-spoke wheels are still somewhat exotic. As a result, it could be harder to find replacement parts at some locations.
- Heavier Spokes and Rims
To match the strength of a wheel with more spokes, a 24-spoke model has to use thicker and thus heavier spokes and rim.
Hence why some 24-spoke wheels are not lighter than wheels with 32 spokes.
The Advantages of 32-spoke Wheels
If two wheels use the same spokes and rim, the one with more spokes will always be stronger.
The spokes of a wheel act as pillars supporting the rim. The greater the number of spokes, the stronger the structure becomes.
The importance of each spoke diminishes as the number of spokes increases. Consequently, the failure of a single spoke has a smaller impact on the wheel. For that reason, bikes used for commuting and touring often use 32 or 36 spokes, at least for the rear wheel.
- Easier Truing/Maintenance
More spokes not only reduce the chance for a spoke to go out of the true, but they also give the wheel builder more “knobs” for adjusting the wheel.
- Easier To Find Replacement Parts
Hubs and rims with 32-spoke eyelets are more common than 24h models. As a result, one enjoys a greater variety of replacement parts.
This is another quality that makes 32-spoke wheels better for long-distance riding since the rider may find themselves at a destination where exotic hubs and rims aren’t an option.
- Cheaper and Widely Available
A fairly strong 32-spoke wheel can be had for a reasonable sum.
The Disadvantages of 32-spoke Wheels
Truth be told, 32-spoke wheels have no notable disadvantages in comparison to 28-spoke wheels.
The major one is aesthetics and the feeling of novelty. People often want the new thing not because it’s necessarily better but because it’s “racier”, “shinier” and trendy.
Summary: What You Need To Know
- Wheels with 24 spokes are more aerodynamic than 32-spoke wheels by a slight margin.
- If the rim and spokes are of similar quality, 32-spokes wheels will be stronger thanks to the extra spokes/pillars.
- 24-spoke wheels are better suited for racing bikes trying to provide the rider with maximum aerodynamic advantage.
- 24-spoke wheels have fewer “knob adjustments” and are therefore more difficult to true and keep true.
- While 24-spoke wheels have fewer spokes, they don’t necessarily weigh less than 32-spoke wheels because the rim and the spokes have to be thicker to compensate for the reduced number of spokes.
- 24-spokes can support heavier riders, but in general, it’s recommended to use a wheel with more spokes if you’re over 200lbs and intend to ride the bike aggressively.