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Explain spokes to me...please!

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I have seen spokes listed as 10,12,14 and 15 gauge. 120, 105 and 80 gauge. ".105", ".120" (I'm assuming inches) and others.


I do know that most of the time the spokes are listed by their lengths.


I have a number of old steel rims that have big spokes and then I have a couple of rims that have some "big ass" spokes that I think are probably motorcycle or moped spokes. I can identify at least four spoke thicknesses in rims that I own.


What is what? Does someone have a chart, conversion table or something that will shed some light on this subject?

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from sheldon's site...






  • A measuring instrument, most commonly in bicycle contexts, a device for measuring the air pressure in a tire.
  • A measurement of thickness, particularly of wire. The major use of gauges in bicycle technology is for spokes. There are several different national systems of gauge sizes, and this has been a great cause of confusion. A particular problem is that French gauge numbers are smaller for thinner wires, while the U.S./British gauge numbers are larger for thinner wires. The crossover point is right in the popular range of sizes used for bicycle spokes:

    U.S./British 14 gauge is the same as French 13 gauge

    U.S./British 13 gauge is the same as French 15 gauge


    Newer I.S.O. practice is to ignore gauge numbers, and refer to spokes by their diameter in millimeters, usually rounded to the nearest tenth of a millimeter.:

    U.S./British 13 gauge is 2.3 mm

    U.S./British 14 gauge is 2.0 mm

    U.S./British 15 gauge is 1.8 mm

    U.S./British 16 gauge is 1.6 mm

    U.S./British 17 gauge is 1.4 mm

    The gauge system is basically obsolete as explained in this excerpt from "Machinery's Handbook" 21st edition, 1980 p463:



    The thickness of sheet metals and the diameters of wires conform to various gaging systems. These gage sizes are indicated by numbers and the following tables give the decimal equivalents of the different gage numbers.Much confusion has resulted from the use of gage numbers and in ordering materials it is preferable to give the exact dimensions in decimal fractions of an inch... [
    millimeters preferred nowadays-SB


    ...the decimal method of indicating wire diameters ...has the advantage of being self-explanatory, whereas arbitrary gage numbers are not. The decimal system of indicating gage sizes is now being used quite generally, and gage numbers are gradually being discarded. Unfortunately there is is considerable variation in the use for different gages. For example a gage commonly used for copper, brass and other non-ferrous metals may at times be used for steel, and vice versa...


    The wire gage system used by practically all the steel producers in the United States is known by the name Steel Wire Gage or to distinguish if from the Standard Wire Gage (S.W.G.) used in Great Britain it is called he United States Steel Wire Gage. It is the same as the Washburn and Moen, American Steel and Wire Company, and Roebling Wire Gages. The name has the official sanction of the Bureau of Standards at Washington, but is not legally effective. The only gage which has been recognized in Acts of Congress is the Birmingham Gage...the Birmingham Gage is, however, nearly obsolete both in the United States and in Great Britain, where it originated...


    In Great Britain one wire gage has been legalized. This is called the Standard Wire Gage (S.W.G.), formerly called Imperial Wire Gage.


    The U.S. system, S.W.G. and Birmingham gages are all the same for 15 gage, 0.72" (1.8288 mm.)

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Thanks! That's a great start.


So...I guess I should get another set of calipers that measures in mm or I guess I could do the math. I'm afraid I trust my math skills more than my prowess with the calipers in such small dimensions.





Here are a couple of quick conversion formulas to help with measurements in fractions.


Inches to millimeters just multiply by 25.40. Example (0.120" x 25.40=3.048mm)


Millimeters to inches just multiply by 0.03937 Example (3.048mm x 0.03937= 0.1199976") rounded it off its 0.120


Courtesy of the Pittsburgh institute of aeronautics. Aircraft mechanic's specifications handbook. wink.gif

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Thanks guys. I'm going to do some playing tomorrow and find out how many variations I have.


So...if I hear 120 gauge...then I should think ".120 inches" and 80 gauge, ".080 inches" and when regarding the two digit numbers use the chart?


Now...where can you buy the big fellars?


I have a number of rims to lace and I have one project that could be quickly finished with only one spoke/nipple.

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Thanks guys. I'm going to do some playing tomorrow and find out how many variations I have.


So...if I hear 120 gauge...then I should think ".120 inches" and 80 gauge, ".080 inches" and when regarding the two digit numbers use the chart?


monster, no. as the chart shows, the "gauge" of the wire is an assigned number to correspond with the wire width as measured in inches (hundreths), the commom race spoke being 14 gauge which is .080 inches. the 12 gauge spokes are .105 inches, so i am guessing a .120 inch spoke would be very heavy gauge wire, and probably 10 or 11 gauge. if you are looking for .105 sized, or 12 gauge (heavy duty, like for early spoked wheels) i have a nos set in the bag of chromium asahis with nipples to sell you. if you want .120 you may need to strip some old cycle wheels !

Edited by vettefan
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Just like electrical wire, the lower the #, the thicker the wire.

Spoke technology has come a long way. For all intended purposes,

when buying spokes you're pretty much gonna deal with 10 thru 17

gauge spokes. Theres bladed spokes, double butted (thick at the ends

and thin in the middle), straight gauge (same thickes throughout),

carbon fiber & straight pull (they don't have the j-bend at the end

for use with special hubs. There's just as many variations on the nipples

as well, length, brass, aluminum alloy, hex head, splined, self securing.

For those special conversions there's also spoke washers and nipple washers.

Spoke washers for using smaller gauge spokes in large holed hubs, and nipple

washers for helping seat the nipples in the inside curve of some rims.

For most BMX applications your gonna stick with straight gauge 10,12 or 14

gauge in varying lengths. Older really heavy, heavy duty rims will use the

super thick 10 almost like motorcycle spokes. Most heavy duty rims, like older

Schwinn Cruisers will probably use the thick 12 gauge. The majority of rims

on most 20" BMX will most likely use 14 gauge.

If you're building a wheel and you have some spokes that are too short,

sometimes you can make them work by using longer nipples. You can also

make your spokes longer by reducing the number of times that you cross them.

If you do a 2x then the spokes will be shortest, if you do a 3x (most common)

it will require a longer spoke, and 4x will require the longest spoke.

So, if you are lacing up a rim two cross (not very common) and the spokes poke

through the rim a lot, you could try lacing it up three cross, then you would see

that the spokes don't poke through the rim as much. If you have built up a

wheel and you are happy with it, but the spokes poke through the nipple head

way too much, so much so they could pierce the tube, you would use a

spoke nipper, a special cutter that cuts the end of the spokes after

the wheel is laced. Sometimes this requires finishing as it may still leave

a sharpened edge, so you would need to file, or dremel them down with a grinding

bit. This is fine too, but makes it almost impossible to dissasemble and

reuse the spokes in the future. Using used spokes!? Not recommended, but

this hobbies about scrounging! We're not Nasa here, so go ahead and reuse

anything you can.

Spoke length? Are you building for light weight or strength? A radial laced

wheel will have the shortest spoke length possible and the shortest nipple

all to reduce weight, but will not be as strong. A 4x laced wheel will

be super strong, but will have more material and be heavier. Want a heavy

duty strong wheel, but not super heavy duty? Then try a thinner gauge spoke.

Depends really on your application. So you have some cool spokes from a 26"

and you want to use them on your 24" or 20" wheel? No problem. No need to

cut and rethread, you can wrap or twist them around each other. Not very

conventional, but produces a cool effect. If there's a will, there's a way.

Spokes too thick? No problem, drill out the holes in the hub flange or

drill out the holes in the rim. Remember, it's only NOS once.

So finally, get yourself a spoke ruler.


It has inches and mm for those

quick length conversions and a diameter checker. Learn to use it correctly.

This tool is less than $10 and invaluable! For the beginner or pro.

Makes rebuilding a breeze. If you're simply relacing with new spokes all

you need do is pull one spoke and measure length. Then reorder new spokes.

Really speeds things up if your replacing, you only need one spoke intact,

then you can just snip the rest and you've dissasembled your wheel in

60 seconds! Beware of snipping, those suckers can fly when cut under tension.

Also, if you're using different hub/rim combos when rebuilding, it may

require a different length. Uh, oh.. ordered the wrong length? See above,

modify build with longer or shorter nipples, lace using a different cross

pattern, try a different hub with bigger or smaller flanges, wrap or twist

the spokes, cut and rethread, or nip the end after building and dress the end.

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