As simple as they look, there is a lot of considerations when lacing up a bike wheel. Beyond selecting the brand of hub and rim, a lot of focus also needs to be placed on the spokes and nipples. Not just the number, but material, butting, length, tension, and weight all need to be factored along with color. In the U.S., DT Swiss and Wheelsmith have been the longtime favorite of wheel builders, but there is a Belgium manufacturer who has been making spokes for decades longer than both companies combined. Started in 1918 by Herman Schoonhoven, Sapim (Société Anonyme Pour l’Industrie des Métaux) has been making spokes and nipples in Belgium for well over 90 years.
Sapim is not even new to the U.S. market, they are just a line that is not as well known by many cyclists, but they should be. Along with the standard offering of 14-gauge spokes, double-butted 14/15-gauge spokes, alloy nipples, and bladed spokes, they have an entire product line that are worthy of consideration for that next wheel build.
Some highlights include:
CX-Ray Spokes - The CX-Ray bladed spokes are almost as light as a titanium spokes, yet are extremely fatigue resistant. The high-tensile, fatigue-resistant 18/8 stainless steel is a blade spoke that does not require a hub with special hole drilling to pass the spoke through. Not only are the CX-Ray spokes light, but they are strong. The process used to form the shape of the spoke also makes the CX-Ray strong enough to handle a beating from downhill mountain bike racers.
The Flyer/Super Spokes - Advertised as “the lightest steel spoke ever made“, the Super Spoke is a 15/17 double butted spoke that was developed for extra light wheels. A new grade of stainless steel enables Sapim to reduce the diameter of the spoke, whilst increasing its strength and fatigue resistance. Like the CX-Ray spokes, the process of drawing Super Spokes not only makes them extremely light, but also strong enough for down hillers.
Polyax Alloy and Brass Nipples - The round shape of the head of the Polyax nipples works like a ball-joint between the rim and the nipple ensuring a better spoke/nipple line. The straighter the spoke line between the rim and hub, the less likely that the nipple will break. There are a lot of rim manufacturers that are drilling the spoke hole more inline with the hub hole, but there are many that do not. The Polynax nipples offer a bit of insurance against breakage. Polyax nipples are available in 12, 14, and 16 mm and the will work with DT spokes. It should be noted that even though the Polynax nipples may vary in length, all of them are threaded to 9.5mm from the head. If your spokes are short, the use of longer Polynax nipples will not make up the distance.
Secure Lock Alloy and Brass Nipples - The Sapim Secure Lock nipples are essentially a Polynax nipple that is intentionally deformed to create an interference type of fit between the nipple ad spoke. This slightly tighter fit helps ensure that the spokes will not loosen while riding. This deformation is enough to stop the nipple from loosening, but not enough to keep it from being able to be used on a truing machine.
Hexagonal Head Alloy and Brass Nipples - The special shape of these nipples allow them to take higher torque without damaging the four spans of the nipple. This is accomplished through the use of the hexagonal shape and truing that is done from the head side inside the rim. This larger head can take more pressure. Hexagonal nipples are offered in 12, 14, and 16 mm.
Most Sapim spokes are available in either black or silver with the CX-Ray also being imported in white. A number of models are also available as a straight pull option (no bend in the spoke) for special hubs. The brass nipples are available in black and silver; and the alloy nipples, all 7075 aluminum, are available in eight different colors.
During the next few weeks we will be working on a few different wheel builds utilizing Sapim spokes and nipples. These will used be to join WTB rims to Chris King hubs.
One set is for our tandem, so the goal is to build a set of wheels that are both strong and lighter than the wheels that came stock on the bike. For this build, Sapim’s Strong spokes will be used. These spokes are a 13/14 gauge butted spoke specifically designed for heavy loads and tandems. They will be mated to Secure Lock alloy nipples to eliminate the chance to the spokes loosening under the stress of two riders. Also since the spoke holes in the WTB i23 Dual Duty rims are not drilled at an angle to align the nipple in a direct line to the flanges of the Chris King Universal hubs, the Polyax feature will reduce the chance of a nipple breaking.
The other build will also use the Secure Lock alloy nipples, but the Polyax feature is not completely necessary. This build will use WTB i19 Frequency 29er rims that feature their 4D hole drilling – the spoke holes are drilled at an angle to keep the nipples in line with the Chris King ISO hub flanges. A fairly standard 14/15 gauge spoke, the Race spoke, has been selected for this build for its excellent strength to weight ratio.
Sapim offers many other features than what has been touched upon in their post, a quick visit to their site reveals much more. If you use the Sapim spoke calculator, there is no need to compensate for 12, 14, or 16mm nipples as you would with DT‘s calculator. Remember, Sapim uses the same length threading for each length, just pick a longer nipple for a deeper dish rim.
If your favorite shop or online retailer doesn’t carry Sapim, they can be purchased directly through Thor USA. Sapim only makes spokes, nipples, and related supplies, their focus is exclusively devoted to those products. Though not as well known as other Belgium exports, like chocolate and diamonds, Sapim offers an extremely rich level of products to cyclists.