Condensed Answer: If the spokes and rim are of decent quality, and the spoke tension is adequate, then a wheel with 24 spokes can handle a surprising amount of stress. All things being equal, however, a 24-spoke wheel is inherently weaker than models with 32 or 36 spokes.
Rim and Spoke Strength
If two wheels use identical rims and spokes, then the wheel with more spokes will be stronger. However, this isn’t the case when we compare 24 and 32-spoke wheels.
Wheels with 24 spokes use stronger, heavier spokes coupled with a stronger, heavier rim. Thus, the overall weight of the wheel doesn’t diminish much.
The main reason for making wheels with fewer spokes is to increase the aerodynamic properties of the wheel.
By itself, a spoke has a slim profile and doesn’t increase drag by a large amount. However, spokes come in numbers rotate with each wheel revolution and the effect augments.
The greater the number of spokes, the greater the drag that the wheel and consequently the rider has to overcome.
Hence why some time trial bikes use a disc wheel for the rear. Disc wheels don’t have conventional spokes and are notably more aerodynamic than standard ones.
The Downsides of 24-spoke Wheels
24-spoke wheels have more downsides than advantages:
The cons are:
- Spoke Dependence
Spokes are the pillars of a bike wheel. The more spokes you have, the less each of them contributes to the overall strength of the wheel. Conversely, the fewer spokes you have, the greater the contribution of a single unit.
If you have a wheel with 36 spokes and one of them gets loose or breaks, you will lose 1 of 36 pillars. If you have a spoke with 24 spokes, you will lose 1 of 24 pillars.
Thus, when you break a spoke on a 24-spoke wheel, it’s a lot more likely for the wheel to become unusable, especially if you rely on rim brakes.
Rim brakes operate by catching the rim. When the rim has a weird shape, one of the brake shoes will rub against it while riding. The effect will augment when braking. The brake will be catching and suddenly releasing the wheel. The bike will make a jerky motion that may throw the rider over the handlebars if the front wheel is affected.
Disc brakes, on the other hand, don’t care about a wheel’s trueness as much because they operate with the rotor. That said, if the frame doesn’t have a lot of clearance, a significantly bent wheel may rub against the seat stays.
- Higher Price
A 24-spoke wheel has to be built out of more expensive parts to match the resilience of an average wheel with 36-spokes. Thus, 24-spoke wheels are not the best for budget builds.
- Lower Rotational Stiffness
Some people consider bikes with fewer spokes poorer climbers due to lower “rotational stiffness”.
Or in other words, the wheel with fewer spokes deforms more when ridden at high enough torque up the hill and thus increases the rolling resistance of the bike.
Of course, this isn’t universal truth and depends on the particular wheelset.
- Not Suitable for Loaded Bicycles
24-spoke wheels have zero advantages when it comes to touring. The bike is already loaded and thus the extra luggage makes it less aerodynamic. 8-12 fewer spokes can’t make up for the panniers and/or bags sticking out.
The reduced wheel strength, however, as well as the higher responsibility of each spoke make wheels with 24 spokes a liability for long-distance riding.
- Harder To Find Replacement Parts
The best 24-spoke wheels are proprietary whereas most 32 and 36-spoke wheels are generic. As a result, it’s more difficult to find replacement parts for 24-spoke wheels.
Who are 24-spoke wheels for?
The primary candidates for 24-spoke wheels are competitive riders who value speed over longevity and reliability. Hence why you don’t see 36-spoke wheels in road racing events.
Who are 24-spoke wheels not for?
If you use your bicycle for transportation, 24-spoke wheels are more of a liability. The aerodynamic gains that they provide are of little value to a bicycle used for commuting and touring. If you don’t need a racing machine, standard 32 and 36 spoke wheels are the way to go. You will save money while having more resilient and also cheaper wheels.
FAQ: Are 24-spoke wheels strong enough for someone who is on the heavier side (220lbs +)?
A 24-spoke wheel can support a heavier person. There are people over 220lbs who ride 24-spoke wheels. That said, it’s probably wiser to put a 28 or 32-spoke wheel on the rear if you’re a heavier rider.
Summary: What You Need To Know
- 24-spoke wheels can be quite strong. The lack of spokes is compensated by a stronger rim and more robust spokes.
- 24-spoke wheels are not necessarily lighter than wheels with more spokes because the rim and spokes have to be reinforced. As a result, a 24-spoke wheel may end up being 50-90 grams heavier than a 32-spoke wheel. Ultimately, it depends on the models.
- 24-spoke wheels are more aero and thus designed for speed. They represent a liability when used for commuting and touring. They’re also more expensive.