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This place needs an enema
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Maybe a year ago I became aware of a new technology being used to make bicycle spokes.


By and large spokes are made from steel these days, primarily because steel makes for such a great blend of weight, cost, and durability. Experimentation with aluminum and composites has happened and will continue to -- that's how the breed improves.


Spokemakers have, in recent years, embraced straight pull spokes (of steel and aluminum) for reasons of, um, marketing, best I can tell. They haven't been proven to do anything better than j-bend spokes, other than introduce a confounding choice onto an unsuspecting and largely uneducated public. I think the conversation probably went something like this:


Marketing hack A: "How do we sell more of something without actually improving it?"

Marketing hack B: "Divide, confuse, and conquer? Oh, plus new colorways!"


My perspective is that straight pull spokes are a "solution" to a non-existent problem.


Ahem. Did I digress?!


I'm writing today about Berd spokes. You can read their shpiel here -- it's the same stuff I read when I first heard about them. The reading isn't particularly compelling, but it's informative enough if you pay attention. Basically, these spokes knock a good chunk of mass off of any wheel when compared with steel spokes, they don't give up any strength or stiffness in so doing, and they add a measure of dampness to a wheel.





Lighter, stronger, and more comfortable? What's the catch?


Glad you asked. The catch is in cost per spoke, as well as in increased labor time to build each wheel. Which also adds more cost to each wheel. Basically, a wheelset built with these spokes is expensive relative to any other spoke available.


Your next question is undoubtedly some variation on "How much?" immediately followed by "Are they worth it?"


The answers are "quite a bit" and "it depends".


Let's not get ahead of ourselves...


My ears perked up when I learned that the source material is Dyneema, which I know and trust from the HMG packs that Jeny and I have used for years. The stuff is incredibly light and unbelievably abrasion resistant. I know there are a lot of other attributes that are important in a pack, but for me those are the big two. After years and years of abusing our HMG packs -- bushwhacking through alder and devils club in AK, grinding and dragging them through dry scrub oak and wet slot canyons in the Colorado Plateau -- and them being dirty but otherwise none the worse for wear, I've come to think of Dyneema as an incredibly impressive material.


"Sure", you're saying, "for a pack". But, good enough for bicycle spokes?


Read on.


It takes a good chunk longer to build a wheel with these spokes. Some of that is in the lacing process, as the loop at the head of the spoke needs to be pulled through the spoke hole in the hub, and this isn't as easy as it sounds. Then you slip a little 'rod' of Dyneema through that loop, pull the spoke tight by hand, then move on to the next one. It isn't complicated -- is actually anything but -- it just takes a little more time than you're used to. Home builders that love the process of building their own wheels will get to spend more time enjoying that process.





There is additional time required in the tensioning process, because the material these spokes are made from has inherent stretch. Basically you need to bring the wheel up to ~final tension, do some stress relief cycles, tension it again, stress relieve again, tension once more, then hang it up for a few days and let the spokes elongate. You do not finish a wheel built with these spokes in one sitting.





Come back to it a few days later, get it true/round/dished to spec, *then* balance it out at final tension. The guys at Berd will help you with the nuances of your spoke calc, and they'll also provide numbers appropriate to whichever tensiometer you're using. Expect to take 2+ hours on your first one, then maybe a little less on each subsequent. I can't see how you'll ever get build time equivalent to a steel spoked wheel, nor do I think it's important that that happens.





I only have hundreds of miles on these spokes, on two different bikes, so the jury is still out on long term durability. Once I have thousands of miles I'll feel more confident in saying what they can and cannot handle as far as abrasion and impact.


https://vimeo.com/264363354


I did take a sharp shears to one, under tension, just to see how it would react, as sort of a crude abrasion test. It took several hacks at the thin section of the spoke to get it to cut, and even then it wasn't like you could cut immediately through the whole thing -- there were several strands that just wouldn't cut completely without several hacks and a lot of effort. In the video above I am not 'lillydipping' with the scissors -- I'm really cutting hard. The result of this crude experiment is confidence inspiring when considering sharp schist or shale plates that get thrown up, or even just incidental contact with the local square-edged sandstone and granite. Just one indicator, but an impressive one.





The ride is subtly different from anything else I've ridden before. I should clarify that on my first build with these I took an existing wheelset using DT 240s hubs, Derby carbon rims, and DT SuperComp spokes -- a wheelset that I'd ridden over 2k miles already -- and cut out the SuperComps, then relaced with the Berd's. I even re-used the same tires, at the same pressures, such that the only thing that had changed was the spoke material. This single change created a net loss of 110g per wheel. Not a misprint.


I could call them "damp" but you might get the idea that that means "slow". I could call them "quiet" but you might misconstrue that as "muted". Nothing about the ride is extraordinary relative to a normal steel spoked wheel, it's just a little different. I am princess and the pea when it comes to minutiae like this, and it's possible that what I feel when riding the Berd spokes just won't be noticeable to you. Put differently, there is no discernible difference in overall wheel stiffness in any plane, no change in how the overall package handles what you're throwing at it. They are still stiff, strong wheels -- they just got a lot lighter and now seem to absorb more vibration from the trail.


I'm not a hard-core numbers guy so I can't say that they make me feel x% fresher at the end of a ride. And I'm not fast so I can't say they make me faster. But I can say that I like the feel -- enough that I'm lacing another set for myself. The absorption of trail vibrations is noticeable enough that, were I still an endurance nerd out chasing sunsets, I'd emphatically be using these for both training and racing.


I'm building with them for customers effective immediately. Expect to gasp audibly at the price -- $8 per spoke plus extra labor time, on top of hubs, rims, and (probably) shipping.


Don't hesitate with questions.

 

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Formerly of Kent
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I've been looking at these for a while now. When they originally came out, before they were really on the market, they were saying that they'd be offering them at CX-Ray/Aerolite prices.

I saw their recent updates, have seen some of the German brands starting to build wheels with them, etc. Saw the prices, too. Obviously the weight loss was compelling, but the price was hard to swallow.

Might try building up a single front wheel with them to see how I like them. If all goes well, maybe build up a matching rear.
 

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J:
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Threaded connection...how is this attached to threads and what's max tension spec??

Looks like "special" string...can you say something more on the build peculiarities pls...looks quite a bit thicker than any hub drillings. Some of the photos didn't show up, do these use nip's, if not how is tension controlled??
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Why not rear first? I say that simply because I think you'd notice the benefits (both weight and dampness) more there.
 

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This place needs an enema
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Looks like "special" string...can you say something more on the build peculiarities pls...looks quite a bit thicker than any hub drillings. Some of the photos didn't show up, do these use nip's, if not how is tension controlled??

Normal nips, although because of how/where you have to hold the spoke to control windup, you more or less need to true/tension with a thru-the-rim spoke wrench.
 

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Formerly of Kent
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Why not rear first? I say that simply because I think you'd notice the benefits (both weight and dampness) more there.
Got a front 240 laying around.

Although, I also have a 240 laced to a tubular road rim that hasn’t touched a CX course in many moons...


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J:
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Ok I can see the photo now...rigid or ht ride back to back swapping wheels would clear up any questionable "spoke damping" affect, if any.

The stainless steel-to-Berd connection is where I'm still scratching my head a little. What is max tension? edit- and are they saying only carbon rims for these Berd? Aluminum rims over carbon seem the way to go for a more compliant ride imhe
 

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Ride On
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@mikesee Great write up, tempting to try out on the rear of my ht. Have you built up any wheels using Otsos rims? In particular their LITHIC CARBON 27.5+ RIM?


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J:
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Say a rear d killed a coupl'a spokes...do you think these could be threaded in there trailside, w/o removing cassette?
 

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RAKC Industries
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Say a rear d killed a coupl'a spokes...do you think these could be threaded in there trailside, w/o removing cassette?
Just looking at the pictures its hit or miss as to which spoke you break. Since cassettes have aluminum spiders and there is some space but if you get one thats inline with the spider you may not be able to.


If they were $2 a spoke Id have ordered some lol. $8 is insanely steep but looking close at the pics (mike has been discussing with us in another thread) I can see why. Not one part of these is made by readily available equipment. Its all specialized which is why. Probably talking an easy $100k in the tooling to produce these and the time it takes to make each spoke to desired length. My guess would be that a full wheel set of spokes can be rolled and cut faster than it does to just get a set of these cut to length. Then install the ends.

So I can see the costs, painfully steep but not unjustified.

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Say a rear d killed a coupl'a spokes...do you think these could be threaded in there trailside, w/o removing cassette?

I suppose it's possible if you have some tools with you, but not easy and not quick.

edit: On second thought, no -- not without removing cassette and maybe rotor, depending.
 

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Oh boy, I can't wait to get my wheels relaced with Polylights. @mikesee, you mentioned several stress relief cycles during several days course, which does not align with the building manual that only suggest to stress relief spokes before final pass and to tension the spokes one day later. Did you find Berd's instructions insufficient or decided to play it safe and go along with your wheel building experience?
 

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J:
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Glow in the dark..

I suppose it's possible if you have some tools with you, but not easy and not quick.

edit: On second thought, no -- not without removing cassette and maybe rotor, depending.
A bigger loop could make for a trailside wheel fix in bfe(loop over top of the flange), so the spoke could tie thru the loop and hold itself in place w/o the little piece. Just need to poke the loop thru and fish it out...they definitely have an interesting look, wonder what colors will be available
 
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