Thursday, March 14, 2013

Internal Spoke Nipples are From the Devil

One of my favorite tech writers, James Huang from CyclingNews/BikeRadar recently posted an article that resonated with the deepest chambers of my mechanic heart and soul:

Enough with the internal spoke nipples already

While James' article spoke from the angle of carbon tubular wheelsets and the arduous job that must be undertaken once you discover that your wheel is out of true on the evening before an event (as will occur more than once   per the laws of probability which you agree to when you purchase internal spoke nipple wheels... Wait, what? You weren't handed that signature page? Well, the agreement doesn't need your signature to be valid - it is a deal with the Devil, after all...) my beef with internal spoke nipples transcends to clincher wheels too; carbon and aluminum. Here's my reasoning why:

There certainly are some arguments for internal spoke nipples - to save the techno-babble - mostly along the lines of increased rim strength due to smaller spoke holes and increased aerodynamics due to reduced frontal area based on the spoke nipple being housed inside the rim rather than exposed outside.

I don't doubt the solid nature of these arguments; after all, the ones who determined that they were worth designing rims based on these theses are far more educated and experienced on the topics than I. However; in an industry where you are producing items which will be purchased, used, and serviced largely by amateur users and maintainers a certain amount of ease of maintenance and user-serviceability needs to be factored into the equation.

A manufacturer's ultimate goal should be for their product to become one of the user's favorite, most loved, and most used items in their arsenal. To achieve this the performance characteristics should not overshadow the maintenance characteristics by so large a margin that the item becomes something on which the user dreads performing necessary maintenance.Necessary maintenance left undone results in poor performance after all. And a poorly performing item in a sport where performance is a key facet...results in components left hanging on a hook or gathering dust in a drawer until they are discarded or otherwise disposed of on eBay or Craigslist.

Hear me out here: while I have not known a mechanic who is capable of truing a wheel (or simply daring enough) to be intimidated or otherwise deterred from removing a clincher tire and its rim strip, I would bet that when asked; they would all admit that their preference is for external spoke nipples - all other benefits aside.

Further - as many cyclist's trusted expert on performance components - there are many occasions I have steered clients away from a wheel with internal spoke nipples purely for the ease-of-maintenance. In these cases, the manufacturer cost themselves sales due to their choice of where to locate the spoke nipples. There is no way of knowing how often this scenario has replayed itself (or worked in the manufacturer's favor - to be fair) across all bike shops; but as someone who sells and services cycling equipment I would bet I am not alone.

What are your feelings? Is my opinion unjustifiable and am I just being a retro-grouch? Or, do you own some internal spoke nipple wheels and dread servicing them (or paying the extra charge at the bike shop for having your tire remounted after truing)? Leave a comment and discuss...

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