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Why is the proper spoke tension so important?

Find out why the proper spoke tension is so important and why we take a “fingerprint” of each of our wheels before it leaves one of our plants.

«Spoke tension; The hidden force that makes your wheel durable, provides precise steering, and gives you the ability to accelerate.» The art of wheel building is to set the spoke tension as close as possible to the given maximum while keeping the deviation of the tensions between them as low as possible.

Spokes tension without tire
Illustration 1: Spokes tension without tire

Illustration 1 shows the spoke tensions of a rear wheel with 28 spokes. The black circle shows the tensions of the spokes of the right side (drive side) in N and the red curve shows the tension of the left side (non-drive side). Here it can be seen that individual tensions, per side, differ only minimally from each other.

Spokes tension with tire
Illustration 2: Spokes tension with tire

Illustration 2 shows that by mounting the tire the spokes tension drops. The tire pressure presses on the rim and thus has an influence on the individual spoke tensions.

loaded wheel
Illustration 3: loaded wheel

Illustration 3 shows the tension of a wheel statically loaded with the weight of a rider. If the wheel is well and equally preloaded, the load is distributed to almost all spokes in the upper half of the wheel. The tension of the individual spokes increases there. In the area of the contact patch, the tensions of a few spokes decreases slightly. This means that, during a wheel rotation, each spoke is maximum loaded and unloaded once. This happens about 450 times on a one kilometer long track. If the preload is too low overall, this can lead to spokes being completely unloaded. As a result, the spokes can loosen further and these are charged heavier. The wheel is more unstable overall and the material tires prematurely. On the other hand, if the tensions were too high at peak loads, e.g. In a landing after a jump, the force on the spoke would be too high and the spoke would plastically deform. This over-stretching of the spokes reduces the tensions and the wheel loses stability.

DT Swiss Poland wheel building

Only the correct way of building a wheel makes quality components a quality wheel.This is the reason why all wheels are built by hand at DT Swiss. With the highest precision and the smallest possible tolerances, which would never be reached by a conventional machine, every week hundreds of wheels are built up in Switzerland, in Poland, in Asia, and in America by hand.

DT Swiss takes a “fingerprint” of each wheel before the wheel leaves production. In addition to the tension of each spoke, this fingerprint also includes the centricity and concentricity of the wheel. A wheel leaves the DT Swiss factory only when its fingerprint meets our strict requirements. The fingerprint of each wheel is saved, along with the name of the wheel- builder, in our database. All of these controls ensure the highest level of quality in DT Swiss wheels.

You can find further information about the production of spokes on our website.

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There are 14 comments on this post
  1. Rob Rudman
    April 26, 2018, 6:31 pm

    I have only built Wheels like this . There are very few master wheel builders left in the world & it is very secretive art/trade . I sometimes post things on Quora about Wheels & hope to self publish a “how to” book on the subject in a few years time .
    ( I’ve been doing specialist building for close to 40 years – )

    • DT Swiss
      April 27, 2018, 9:45 am

      Hi Rob,

      you are right. It is a science to build up wheels correctly.

      We are looking forward to get one of your books. Let us know if it finish.

      Best regards,

      Sandro
      DT Swiss

  2. Iacob Gheorghita
    May 04, 2018, 8:09 am

    I’ve bought a road wheel set: “DT Swiss P 1800 SPLINE® DB 32 Road” from http://www.bike-components.de
    (W0P1800AIDXSA06204 + W0P1800NIDUSA06202).
    Delighted so far after 350 km.
    I am searching for detailed spoke tension recommendations. I was unable to find them in the 2018 DE Swiss TechBook.
    I’ve read the manual and I saw that the maximum spoke tension should be:
    FW 950-1200N (average 1000-1150N) for the highest tightened side (the drive side) and … for the RW.
    My question is: which are the values for the non-drive side?
    So, please be so kind to provide me these data.

    Kind regards,
    George

    • DT Swiss
      May 07, 2018, 8:49 am

      Dear George,

      we mention the values for the higher tensioned side only because the values on the opposite side follow automatically.
      As an approximate tension you can calculate 60% of the higher tensioned side to get the target for the opposite side.

      Kind regards,

      Kai
      DT Swiss

  3. Relja Novović
    May 11, 2018, 11:52 pm

    “That the bottom spokes support the wheel need not be taken on faith. An
    experiment will show that only a few spokes at the bottom of the wheel are
    affected by a vertical load. ”
    – Jobst Brandt – “The Bicycle Wheel”

    It matches my measurements – both 36 spoked wheels, and 24 spoked ones on a stiff rim, show no measurable change in tension of all the spokes when a vertical load is applied, except for the few bottom spokes.

    This article says claims it’s different and shows measurements of tension increase even in top spokes when a vertical load is applied.

    It also claims that a top spoke could plastically deform if too much force is applied. For all I know, it would take a vertical impact so high that the rim would deform first, and the wheel would buckle from a total loss in tension of bottom spoke(s), without any damage to the top spokes.

    I am a bit confused, read the post several times – can’t figure it out. 🙁

    • DT Swiss
      May 23, 2018, 3:00 pm

      Dear Relja,

      it is a physical fact that top spokes are stretched under their load during riding whereas bottom spokes are less tensioned at the same time.
      This constant change in stress and relief leads to a certain amount of “life” in the wheel.
      The change in tension while riding is significantly higher in an unequal tensioned wheel which can lead to different issues, mainly nipples getting lose.
      And from there to an even less tensioned wheel which can completely fail in the end.

      The plastic deformation of the spoke is an excessive picture to explain the worst case, it is clear that a rim would crack/buckle before the spokes would permanently deform.

      Kind regards,

      Kai
      DT Swiss

  4. Ryan
    June 02, 2018, 4:20 am

    Would you tension a wheel higher/lower if it were designed for a lighter rider on a road or a heavy rider doing downhill? Also, curious how much the spokes ‘stretch’ when under load? Thanks, Ryan.

    • DT Swiss
      June 06, 2018, 5:04 pm

      Hi Ryan,

      basically riders weight is a certain indicator but within the range of max./min. tolerance spoke tension is also depending on personal preferences.

      The amount of how much a spoke stretches is depending on the type of spoke, a Champion spoke with 2.34mm diameter is way less flexible than a Revolution spoke.
      Spokes stretch within the range of a few tenth of a millimeter, depending on their basic tension in the wheel.

      Regards,

      Kai
      DT Swiss

  5. Adrian
    June 06, 2018, 12:29 pm

    Hello, I have purchased a new wheel set road dicut disc 1400 and I got a bit of sound from the rear wheel. It is coming from the place where the spokes are touching, on the crossing point. It is a clicking sound a bit annoying :-)). I am 68kg, what is the max tension for the spokes in order to get rid of this sound? Or other suggestions. Thanks, Adrian

    • DT Swiss
      June 06, 2018, 4:47 pm

      Hi Adrian,

      maximum spoke tension is 1250N (without tire or at least with tire deflated), creaking noise from spoke crossings can be reduced by application of a little grease at the crossing. (Carefully wipe off excessive grease to avoid attraction of dust) If the noise issue continues we recommend to have the wheels checked by an official DT Swiss Service Center, noise could also be caused by misaligned washers in the rim.

      Kind regards,

      Kai
      DT Swiss

  6. Alberto Meneghini
    July 11, 2018, 9:29 am

    Dear all,
    I am using a hub power meter and I need to make a specific wheel. My choice was RR511. There are no special problems with the rear wheels, I have been running for 1 year.
    One week ago I decided to make the front wheel . RR511 28 holes radial layout.
    All particulars are original DT-Swiss .
    My doubt is about tension of spoks.
    Only when I pedal stand up ( for example on climbs ) I hear a metallic “clik” , metallic creaking from wheel .

    What is your suggestion ?

    • DT Swiss
      July 16, 2018, 4:03 pm

      Dear Alberto,

      the clicking noise comes most likely from misaligned washers or/and low spoke tension.

      If the washers are not perfectly positioned in the rimbed or/and spoke tension is too low the wheel can slightly flex and cause this kind of noise.
      Make sure spoke tension is around 950 – 1050 N and also check that washers are properly aligned in the rim bed.

      Kind regards,

      Kai
      DT Swiss

  7. ED
    August 19, 2018, 1:37 pm

    Hello.

    I can’t find the tensions (max-min-average) of DT SWISS CHAMPION 2.0, for front and rear use.

    Kind regards

    • DT Swiss
      August 20, 2018, 9:10 am

      Hi Ed,

      not the spokes are relvant for the max-min spokes tension, it is the kind of wheel building (disc or non-disc).

      You can find the values for our SPLINE wheels in this manual under point 6.1.

      The complete tension of our Champion spokes can be found in the Tension Manual.

      Kind regards,

      Sandro
      DT Swiss

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