This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of titanium and double-butted spokes.
The Advantages of Titanium Spokes
One of the strongest features of titanium spokes is their weight. They’re lighter than “ordinary” plain gauge spokes and a set can lighten a wheel by roughly 76g/2.6oz per wheel.
However, when it comes to double-butted spokes, the weight savings are smaller and in some cases close to nothing because double-butted spokes are slimmer in the middle than regular spokes.
At the end of the day, 152g total weight savings are too little to matter to recreational cyclists.
For that reason, Ti spokes are more commonly used by professional riders who change their bike set-ups often and receive free parts through a sponsorship deal.
- Resistant to the Elements
Titanium components have a remarkable resistance to corrosion because the material forms an external protective layer when placed in an aerated environment.
Thus, a titanium part can be left exposed to water and salt for an enormous amount of time without experiencing any corrosion.
Stainless steel is also resistant to corrosion but not to the same degree and will rust if given enough time.
- Trendy Appearance
Titanium looks cool. And some people may like it enough to put it on their bikes just for appearance goals.
The Disadvantages of Titanium Spokes
A pack of 36 double-butted spokes of decent quality can be had for USD20-30. Titanium spokes are a lot more expensive costing between USD 3-5 per spoke. Thus, one wheel of 36-spokes will end up USD 100-180.
The difference is substantial. Hence why Ti spokes are more common among riders who don’t mind spending maximum money on their builds and sponsored athletes. Average people would rather invest the saved cash in other components than Ti spokes.
- Low availability
Ti spokes are a premium product. Subsequently, there are fewer available models. This results in replacement issues. For example, none of the local bike shops where I live readily sells titanium spokes.
- Low Elastic Modulus
The modus of elasticity (a.k.a. Young’s modulus) describes the material’s elastic behavior.
Materials with a higher modus of elasticity flex less and are more difficult to deform.
Titanium’s modus of elasticity is about 116Gpa whereas that of steel is 200 GPa.
Therefore, titanium flexes and deforms more easily than steel. Hence why some people consider wheels with titanium spokes a bit too flexy and insufficiently robust, especially when riding street.
- Low Density
Titanium has a remarkable strength to weight ratio which allows the production of very light and yet strong components. There’s a catch however.
Titanium is not as dense as steel. In order for a titanium component to be notably stronger than its steel equivalent, it has to be thicker too. One pound of titanium is tougher than one pound of steel but also twice as large.
Thus, it’s easier to make a strong and aerodynamic spoke out of steel than titanium because steel offers strength and slimness in one package. And if a spoke is too wide, than the wheel loses its aerodynamic properties.
Another downside of titanium is that it’s softer than steel and therefore less resistant to direct impact such as grinding. Hence why titanium knives lose their edges faster.
In the bike world, this means that titanium spokes are more likely to get scratched and cut upon direct contact. This is more problematic for bike riding involving contact (e.g., BMX, dirt jumping).
- Thread Galling
Combining titanium spokes with aluminum nipples often results in thread galling – abrasive wear occurring when two metals are in contact with one another.
Thus, it’s often recommended to combine titanium spokes with brass nipples.
But because brass nipples are heavier than aluminum ones, the weight of the wheel gets very close to that of a model built with steel spokes and aluminum nipples.
The Advantages of Double-Butted Spokes
- Light and Affordable
First, a little bit of information on plain gauge, single-butted and double-butted spokes:
Plain gauge spokes. Plain gauge spokes are the same diameter from the elbow to the thread. They’re strong, but heavier due to the extra material.
Single-butted spokes. Single-butted spokes have a thicker diameter at the elbow and a slimmer body all the way to the end.
Double-butted spokes. Double-butted spokes have a mid-section that’s thinner than both the elbow and the threaded end.
The purpose of the butting process is to create strong and yet light spokes. Hence why manufacturers remove material from the least stressed sections.
Double-butted spokes are very light (sometimes lighter than titanium spokes) and less expensive. A top-quality double-butted spoke can be had for USD 1 per unit.
Thus, if you’re looking for a light and more affordable solution, double-butted spokes win the competition against their titanium rivals.
- Stronger, Lighter, Aero
As already mentioned, titanium needs extra volume to match the strength of steel. If a titanium spoke is as thin as a steel one, then the titanium one will be more brittle.
This allows double-butted spokes to be as strong or stronger than titanium models while also being lighter and slimmer. The slim profile makes them more aerodynamic too.
The Disadvantages of Double-butted Spokes
- More Susceptible to Corrosion
Titanium has a greater resistance to corrosion than stainless steel. Having said that, stainless still is plenty corrosion resistant for the needs of most people. A spoke is a lot more likely to break at the elbow due to overuse than to corrosion.
- Thread Galling
Stainless steel is also susceptible to thread galling. Hence why people recommend the use of brass nipples instead of aluminum ones even when building a wheel with stainless steel spokes.
- Non-Custom Length
Unlike plain gauge and single-butted spokes, double-butted spokes cannot be cut to a custom length and rethreaded because their threaded end is supposed to be thicker than the rest of the body.
Stainless steel spokes look ordinary compared to their titanium rivals.
Summary: What You Need To Know
- The main advantage of titanium is its supreme corrosion resistance and strength to body weight ratio.
- Titanium spokes can potentially result in a slightly lighter wheel. Wheels built of double-butted spokes are surprisingly close, though.
- Titanium spokes are nice but also expensive without offering a substantial performance boost.
- Truth be told, most people will not experience a notable benefit from using titanium spokes. Double-butted spokes are cheaper, often stronger, and readily available.