This page has general information that applies to all lacing patterns. It covers the similarities and differences between front wheels, single speed rear wheels, multi-speed rear wheels (those with freewheels or freehubs), and internally geared rear wheels (such as those with 3 or 7 speeds). It covers what types of lacing patterns you can use with these wheels, and what lacing patterns you should avoid.
Front wheels can generally be laced with either a crossing or radial pattern, the exception to this are front wheels that have disc or hub brakes. Multi-speed rear wheels can be laced with the standard of both sides cross laced with the same pattern, or with a mixed lacing where each side has a different lacing pattern. A very common mixed lacing pattern for rear wheels is where one side is cross laced and one side is radially laced, which is commonly called half radial lacing. Other mixed lacing's are also possible, such as one side laced 3-cross and one side laced 2-cross. Mixed lacing's are discussed more in the STRONG REAR WHEEL LACING chapter. A single speed or internally geared rear wheel can be laced with either a standard or mixed lacing pattern, however there is nothing about one of these wheels that will have any benefits from a mixed lacing, and it could actually weaken the wheel.
Typically a rear wheel that has crossed lacing's on both sides has 1/2 of the spokes responsible for driving the bike, a half radial rear wheel has 1/4 of the spokes responsible for driving the bike. The exception to this would be a rear wheel with a different spoke count on each side, such as ones currently made by Campagnolo ®.
All of the spokes in a wheel undergo stress cycles for everything that affects the wheel while it is being ridden. A 700c wheel rotates about 770 times per mile traveled, 480 times per kilometer (the exact number of rotations depends on the tire size). The weight of the bike and rider reduces the static build tension of the spokes at the bottom of the wheel, and increases the tension on the spokes at the top of the wheel. For each rotation of the wheel, each spoke has it's tension cycled twice, once when the tension is increased as the spoke circles from the bottom to the top, and once when the tension gets decreased as the spoke circles from the top to the bottom.
Road shock, braking forces, and drive torque in rear wheels all add stresses to the wheel. All of these stresses affect all of the spokes at the same time, whether the stress is a shock stress (from road roughness) or a cyclical stress (from the rotation of, or drive power to, the wheel). Drive torque stresses essentially affect all of the spokes the same amount, while shock stresses affect the spokes the closest to, and the furthest away, from the shock the most. Spokes can experience hundreds of thousands of stress cycles in their lifetime. These stress cycles cause the spokes to age.
Spoked wheels have triangular force vector patterns, both physical and non-physical, with the main components being the spokes, the rim, and the hub. Crossed lacing patterns have more of these force vector triangles than radial lacing. Also in crossed lacing patterns, the outermost cross, where two spokes come into physical contact, cause the crossing spokes to bend away from the direct force vector from the hub to the rim along the spoke.
Even though a triangle is the strongest shape possible for an object comprised of individual pieces, when you combine the stretchability of the spokes with deformation of the rim and the bend in the spokes path from contact with the spoke it touches, you end up with a formation that has some give. This give allows a cross laced wheel to absorb the shock and stresses seen when the bicycle is ridden. The greater the number of spoke crossings, the larger the physical and force vector triangles become, and the more give the wheel has. Smaller spokes are stretched more easily, this applies to the thinner section of butted spokes as well, which will give a wheel made with thinner, or butted, spokes a plusher ride due to the increased give of the system. However, a spoke that is too small can be overstressed easily, this is discussed more at the bottom of this chapter.
The figure to the right represents a spoke in a cross laced pattern and it's major force vectors. The spoke is the BLACK line, the spokes main force vector to the center of the hub flange is the GREEN line, and the effective torque transfer force is the RED line. This triangle creates a torque transfer angle, represented by the BLUE arc labeled "a", which is a major factor in the wheels ability to transfer drive and/or braking torque between the hub and rim. The closer this torque transfer angle is to 90 degrees, the more efficiently the spoke transfers torque. Another way to think of it is that this torque transfer angle in association with the torque force vector (the RED line) creates a leverage factor. The greater the leverage factor the stronger the wheel for transferring torque. The leverage factor is at it's highest when the torque transfer angle is 90 degrees. The greater the number of crosses the stronger the wheel is for transferring torque, up to a point. If you laced a wheel with so many crosses the torque transfer angle passed the 90 degree point, the leverage factor decreases. The torque transfer capability is then the same as the spoke it directly crosses. This angle can appear to be backwards, a radial wheel has this angle at 180 degrees. Each incremental cross pattern (1-cross, 2-cross, etc.) then reduces the value of this angle. A pattern with too many crosses results in an angle less than 90 degrees. The lacing that gives the best torque transfer has an angle that is close too, but not less, than 90 degrees.
Dish is a term that is usually misunderstood, even though everyone knows what it refers to. Many think dish only applies to multi-speed rear wheels and front wheels with disc brakes. In reality all spoked wheels have dish, and dish really has nothing to do with the drive or braking system on the wheel. A spoked wheels actually has two occurrences of dish. What dish really means is the distance from the rim to the hub flange at the points where the spokes anchor, as shown below.
The figure to the right shows how dish is determined. Imagine that the rim and hub are of a built wheel, the spokes are not shown. The dish is the distance from the center of the hub flange, the RED line, to the center of the spokes anchor on the rim, the BLUE line. There is also dish for the side of the wheel that is not referenced. The larger the value of the dish the greater the lateral strength of that side of the wheel.
When people normally talk about dish they are discussing the difference of the dish values of the two sides of the wheel. This difference can also be called offset. In a wheel with a very small offset, such as a front disc brake wheel, it is better to lace both sides with the same pattern and balance the offset (center the rim in the wheel) with slightly different spoke tensions and/or different sized spokes. When the offset becomes large, such as with modern 9 and 10 speed rear wheels, it can do the wheel benefit to have a mixed lacing.
Wheels with a large offset have great differences in the lateral strengths of each side of the wheel. The different force vectors caused by a mixed lacing pattern can compensate for the main force vectors and lateral strength differences caused by the dish offset. Different lacing patterns have different amounts of lateral strength, and they have differences in all of the different force vectors created by, and controlled by, the spokes. Mixed lacing patterns utilize these differences to increase the strength of the wheel when compared to standard rear wheel lacing's where each side has the same pattern.
Typically a front wheel has two equal amounts of dish, with the exception of front disc brake wheels that usually have a small dish offset. Since the difference in the dish values of a disc brake front wheel are very small, a mixed lacing pattern is not something that will do the wheel any good. Having a front disc wheel with mixed lacing, such as half radial, would give the wheel more imbalance than the wheel would have if it was laced with a standard lacing. The wheel could end up being weaker wheel.
A common mixed lacing for mass produced rear wheels is the half radial lacing. Most of these wheels have the non drive side radially laced. This is really the wrong side to lace radially in a half radial rear wheel. Radial lacing has the highest lateral strength of any lacing pattern. Not only are the spokes shorter, the attachment point at the hub gives the spokes an anchor point the greatest distance away from the exact center of the wheel. If you wish to make a half radial rear wheel you should make it radially laced on the drive side. This will give the drive side the highest lateral strength it can have. (The spoke heads should be on the inside of the flange.) Claims that you need cross lacing on the drive side for increased power transfer are wrong. A rear hub is so strong and stiff that there is no way it would absorb any drive power if the power had to travel the short distance from the drive side flange to the non drive side flange.
One thing every wheel builder needs to know is that drive and hub braked wheels cannot be fully radially laced. It would work, but it puts the spokes and the hubs under a high stress situation that shortens spoke life and could cause the spokes to 'pull out' of (tear through) the hub. Drive wheels will turn out to be 'spongy' under power, that is the wheel would have wind up and will not transmit drive torque efficiently. The pedals would feel as though they were a big rubber sponge. The wind up will be the worst under high power situations like sprints, starts and hill climbs. A wheel with the braking at the hub will also suffer from wind up during braking, and the harder you applied the brake the worse the effect will become. During braking the wind up could cause brake modulation, and under really hard braking the modulation could cause the wheel to unexpectedly lock up.
In a cross laced pattern on a rear wheel there are 'push' spokes and 'pull' spokes. The 'pull' spokes are the spokes that transfer all the drive power. The power that enters the hub increases the tension at the hub end of the spoke. The spoke then transfers this tension to the rim. Since the rim isn't attached to the ground the rim starts turning. This all happens instantaneously. The 'push' spokes don't really push, but their build tension is reduced from the reaction to the increase of the tension on the 'pull' spokes (every action has an equal an opposite reaction law of physics). A hub braked wheel has the same principle, only the direction of the force on the spoke is reversed, it's traveling from the rim to the hub.
If you fully radially laced a rear or hub braked wheel, there would be no 'pull' spokes. The torque forces at the hub and rim would cause the hub to turn in relation to the rim. The spokes will turn at the hub and pivot on the rim until the force of the increased spoke tension equals the force of the torque being transferred. The harder you pedal or brake the more the spokes will stretch. A cross lacing doesn't have this stretch problem because of the triangular shape of the force vectors acting on the spoke
The drive torque transfer ages rear wheel spokes. If you have ridden a wheel for many years and it will no longer hold true, this is because the spokes have aged in the wheel from transferring drive torque and they easily stretch. The 'pull' spokes undergo hundreds of stress cycles each mile, or kilometer, the bike is ridden. The harder and faster you ride, the higher the stresses on, and the shorter the life of, the spokes. Also the fewer spokes a drive wheel has the faster it will suffer from this fatigue.
More information about the dynamics of the forces that affect the torque transfer and ride quality of a cross-laced wheel in comparison to a radially laced wheel, and information about the lateral strength differences, are discussed here: TRIG PAGE; CROSS - LACED WHEEL STRESS FACTORS.
Spokes are a very important part of the wheel. You need to choose the right spoke for the application. I always lace the driven side of a rear wheel with 14 gauge spokes. I would never lace a non-drive side with less than a 14-15-14 spoke. 15-16-15's are really only useable with front wheels, but only if the front wheel has 28 spokes or more, and then only if you are a light person. Low spoke count wheels need heavy spokes. If you replace a spoke in a low spoke count wheel, if you have a choice, you should always use the strongest spoke. Spokes all work together, and the forces they control while they hold the wheel together are unfathomable. One should never underestimate the importance of the spokes.
In a cross laced wheel, since the spokes come off the rim at an angle relative to the major force vectors holding the wheel together (reference the figure at the top), the tension on the spoke and nipple threads is uneven side-to-side. This is one aspect that allows cross laced spoke threads to be greased so they don't seize as the wheel ages. Another aspect is that since the spokes cross others they are not free to vibrate. Any vibration a spoke sees from shock gets dampened by the spoke it crosses, just like lightly placing a finger on a guitar string will stops it's resonance. When you grease the threads in a cross laced pattern it makes the wheel easier to build initially, and easier to true when the wheel needs service. It prevents the spoke and nipple threads from cold welding together which can make truing difficult or impossible without replacing the spoke.
In radially laced wheels, the spokes are in line with the main force vectors holding the wheel together, so the spoke threads have even tension all the way around. Any vibration from road shock will also resonate freely. When you combine the evenly tensioned spoke threads with the shock and vibration the spokes see, you end up with the potential that the spokes will loosen in the nipples. Greasing radial spokes will hasten this action. Either a spoke prep or nothing at all should be used for a radially laced spoke, either in a full radial wheel or in a complex pattern like a Crow's Foot. It is also not a good idea to grease spoke threads in a 1-cross lacing, or any spoke that does not physically touch another spoke in a crossing away from the hub.
GENERAL WHEEL LACING
REAR WHEEL FACTORS
RADIAL LACING INFORMATION
CROW'S FOOT LACING
STRONG REAR WHEEL LACING
LACING A WHEEL OFF-CENTER
LACING PATTERNS THAT ARE
DIFFICULT OR WOULD NOT WORK
AND OTHER THINGS TO AVOID
SPOKE LENGTH TOLERANCE
FIXES FOR SOME PROBLEMS
CUSTOM LACING PATTERNS