This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of plain gauge and double-butted spokes.
Plain gauge spokes
Plain gauge spokes are the same thickness from one end to the other.
Double-butted spokes are thinner in the middle and thicker at both the elbow and the threaded part. The main goal behind double-butted spokes is to save weight.
The Advantages of Plain Gauge Spokes
- Availability + Low Price
Plain gauge spokes are cheaper and widely available at bike shops. Those properties make them a logical choice for entry-level and intermediate bicycles.
Since straight gauge spokes are the same diameter from one end to the other, the user can cut them to a custom length and re-thread them via a spoke-threading machine. Thus, straight gauge spokes are good for custom projects and e-bikes using hub motors.
Double-butted spokes don’t offer that option because the middle of the body is slimmer than the ends. Therefore, a double-butted spoke can only be used in the length that it comes. If you cut it and re-thread it, the threaded part will be weak and too slim for regular nipples.
- Greater Lateral Stiffness
The lateral stiffness of a wheel determines its ability to withstand rim buckling. Hence why wheels susceptible to such damage (e.g., BMX wheels) are often built with straight gauge or single-butted spokes.
- More Suitable For Heavier Riders
The extra stiffness of plain gauge spokes makes them more suitable for heavier riders.
Having said that, a quality set of double-butted spokes can work just fine for people on the heavier side too.
The Disadvantages of Plain/Straight Gauge Spokes
Due to the extra material on the spoke, straight gauge spokes end up heavier than their double-butted rivals.
The table below compares the weights of popular straight gauge and double-butted spokes:
|DT Swiss Champion Straight Pull||6.81g||DT Competition Race||4.9g|
|Sapim Leader Straight Gauge||6.72g||Sapim Laser||4.32g|
|Condor Spokes Straight Gauge||7.4g||Sapim Race||5.95g|
|Wheelsmith Straight Gauge Spokes||9.75g||DT Revolution||4.47g|
As you can see, plain gauge spokes are a few grams heavier per piece than double-butted spokes. This may not seem like a lot, but the effect multiplies.
For example, if one uses DR Competition Race double-butted spokes to make a 36-spoke wheel instead of DT Straight Pull, the wheel will be 36 x (6.81g-4.9g) = 36 x 1.91g = 68.76 grams lighter which adds to 137.52g for the entire wheelset.
Of course, 138 grams don’t mean much in the world of recreational cycling, but they are important on the competitive scene and to people trying to have the lightest possible bicycles.
- A Shorter Life Cycle
During riding, spokes flex in a cyclic fashion. As a result, the metal fatigues and if given enough time a break may occur.
The most susceptible place is the J-bend connecting the spoke to the hub due to the friction against the flange and the stress endured during the manufacturing process.
Since plain gauge spokes have a stiffer middle section a lot of the flex that occurs during riding goes to the J-bend.
As a result, plain gauge spokes have a shorter fatigue cycle. That said, the quality of the spoke, the hub and the lacing of the wheel play an important part too.
Conversely, double-butted spokes have a thinner and subsequently flexier mid-section mitigating some of the stress during riding and thus minimizing the strain on the J-bend.
Hence why double-butted spokes are considered more durable all things being equal.
The Advantages of Double-butted Spokes
As already mentioned, a double-butted spoke is a few grams lighter than a straight gauge one.
This result is a wheel that’s about 5% or so lighter than its counterpart built with plain gauge spokes.
- A More comfortable Ride
Double-butted spokes have a flexier mid-section and subsequently offer a more comfortable ride.
- Easier to Work With
Double-butted spokes are not as rigid and flex more. This makes them easier to work with when lacing a wheel.
- Better Stress Distribution
Double-butted spokes elongate more and shift some of the localized stress to the adjacent spokes.
- More Aerodynamic
Double-butted spokes are slimmer and thus more aerodynamic.
The Disadvantages of Double-butted Spokes
- Reduced Lateral Stiffness
Even if a wheel is tensioned to the maximum, double-butted spokes are simply too thin to offer the same lateral stiffness as straight gauge models. Therefore, a wheel built out of double-butted spokes is more susceptible to rim buckling.
On average, double-butted spokes cost more than plain gauge spokes and aren’t as readily available at bike shops.
- Pre-set Length
Unlike single-butted and plain gauge spokes, double-butted spokes cannot be shortened to a custom length and then re-threaded because the mid-body is much thinner than the ends.
FAQ: Are Double-butted Spokes Stronger?
The two main terms describing the strength and durability of a material are its ultimate tensile strength and modulus of elasticity.
The Ultimate Tensile Strength shows how much force a material can withstand before breaking.
The Modus of Elasticity indicates how much force a material can withstand before deforming.
If the ultimate tensile strength and the modus of elasticity of the materials used for the production of straight gauge and double-butted spokes are identical or close to each other, straight gauge spokes will be stronger thanks to their greater cross-sectional area.
For example, a 1.8mm double-butted spoke is 19% thinner than a 2mm straight gauge one.
All things being equal, a thicker spoke is a stronger one.
The more aggressive the butting, the greater the strength discrepancy becomes.
However, there’s a catch.
Spokes rarely if ever break in the middle. In most cases, the failure occurs near the ends (the J-bend is the most likely to snap) unless there’s external damage.
And since double-butted spokes are known to mitigate some of the stress by flexing, they may end up being more durable in the long term and thus appear stronger while actually being weaker when it comes to total loading.
Or in simpler terms, straight gauge spokes offer the highest possible strength whereas double-butted spokes have an edge when it comes to longevity.
Summary: What You Need To Know
- Straight gauge wheels are stiffer laterally and can sustain more total stress than double-butted models. This makes them better for heavier individuals, heavily loaded bikes and bike disciplines involving contact and rotations (e.g., freeriding, BMX, dirt jumping).
2. The downsides of straight gauge spokes are that they’re heavier, do not flex a lot and thus the ends fatigue faster.
3. Double-butted spokes make for a more compliant wheel and mitigate some of the stress by spreading it across neighboring spokes.
4. Double-butted spokes are lighter, arguably more durable and more aerodynamic as well.
5. Straight gauge spokes are better suited for budget builds whereas double-butted spokes are more performance-oriented.