This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of 28 and 32-spoke wheels.
The Advantages of 28-spoke Wheels
The main incentive behind wheels with fewer spokes is to increase the aerodynamic properties of a wheel. 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. For that reason, time trial bikes often use disc wheels (no spokes) for the rear.
All things being equal (spoke, rim shape…etc.), a 28-spoke wheel is more aerodynamic than a 32-spoke one.
The improvement matters only in a racing situation. If a bicycle is used for commuting and touring, dropping 4 spokes to increase aerodynamics is akin to putting a spoiler on a tractor.
Some people consider wheels with fewer spokes more aesthetically pleasing than models with 32 or 36 spokes.
The Disadvantages of 28-spoke Wheels
- More likely to complain
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.
The reduced rotational rigidity is not appreciated when climbing because the wheel increases its rolling resistance each time it gets out of round.
Also, an overly-compliant wheel at the front could flex excessively because the front wheel is extra stressed during aggressive braking and turning.
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.
- Truing is more difficult
The lower number of spokes reduces the options for a wheel builder to adjust the wheel.
- Rims and Hubs Are Harder to Find
28-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 28-spoke model has to use thicker and thus heavier spokes and rim.
As a result, some 28-spoke wheels are not always lighter than wheels with 32 spokes. In some cases, a 28-spoke wheel may even be heavier than a 32-spoke one due to the extra material.
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 28h 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.
FAQ: What is the weight limit of 28-spoke wheels?
The factors that determine the weight limit of a wheel are:
- Rider’s weight
- Riding style
- Wheel quality
The heavier the rider, the more weight the rim has to support. However, the riding style and the terrain on which a bike is used are crucial too.
For example, a 220lbs rider who uses a bike for commuting and without performing hops and tricks wouldn’t stress the wheels as much as a 160lbs cyclist who rides aggressively and takes huge drops.
The wheel quality is also very important. If the rim is weak, a 28-spoke wheel could go out of true on every ride. If the rim is solid and the build quality is on a high level, a 28-spoke wheel could survive a season of mountain bike abuse.
Hence why it’s difficult for a manufacturer to provide a specific weight limit.
That said, if you intend to use a wheel for “heavy-duty” riding, and you weigh over 220lbs, it will be wiser to mount a 32 or even a 36-spoke wheel.
This doesn’t mean that a 28-spoke wheel cannot support a rider over 220lbs. It can. But for longevity reasons and less truing frustration, a wheel with more spokes is recommended.
Another incentive to go with a 32-spoke wheel is stiffness. Even if a 28-spoke wheel can support your weight just fine, it may flex too much for your liking.
Some companies list the weight limit of their wheels in the specification. Most of the time the limit is between 85kg/185lbs and 100kg/220lbs. If the weight limit isn’t listed, you can contact the manufacturer online or in person and ask.
More often than not, the answer is 100kg for a set of 28 and even 32-spoke wheels.
A bike wheel fails due to a dynamic load rather than a static one.
For example, a strong rear wheel will be able to support a rider plus a passenger on a rear rack without breaking if the road is smooth.
However, if the bike hits a pothole, the dynamic load would be several times greater than the static and will cause a wheel failure.
For that reason, it’s difficult to come up with a specific weight limit number which is why most companies give a general range.
Summary: What You Need To Know
- Wheels with 28-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.
- 28-spoke wheels are better suited for racing bikes trying to provide the rider with maximum aerodynamic advantage. A common setup is 24/28 – a 24-spoke wheel at the front and a 28-spoke wheel at the back
- 28-spoke wheels provide 4 fewer “knob adjustments” and are therefore more difficult to true and keep true.
- While 28-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.
- 28-spokes can support heavier riders, but in general, it’s recommended to use a wheel with more spokes if you’re over 220lbs and intend to ride the bike aggressively.