We use Sapim Spokes.
We use them because they are great spokes and have a track record as being the best in the world. DT Swiss and Pillar are also great spokes and all use Sandvic stainless wire, but Sapim is the Gucci brand.
A very strange thing happened to spokes in the last 20 years - they have gotten a lot stronger. When Mavic introduced wheel systems in the late 80's they came with fewer spokes - and then BAM - many people wanted part of the pot of gold of system type wheels. People like Rolf and others started building with as few as 12 spokes. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of spoke failures and not surprisingly, the wheel companies put a lot of pressure on the spoke makers to make better spokes.
The end result is that it's extremely rare to find a spoke breaking at the bend (the most common failure point pre 1985). Now they break in the middle - but it's much more uncommon for any failure to happen.
Almost 15 years ago, I went to Pillar (in Taiwan they are called Richman) to have them make a titanium and steel spoke with a big aero size - like the Mavic Ksyrium Aluminum spokes. Which they did. The Ti spokes broke immediately (I gave my first set of wheels built with these to Jim Langley - a former Bicycling editor - who barely made it to the end of his street before a spoke broke) but the steel spokes were a huge hit and a good portion of my Neuvation wheel sales were with the big aero spokes. My thinking was that with the bigger spokes (they used a thicker wire - 2.3 vs 2.0) it would mitigate spoke breakage - which it did. It also allowed me to use much fewer spokes (16 front and 20 rear) without spoke breakage issues.
But the newer generation of spokes are worlds stronger than the older generation (something that doesn't surprise me as I personally age) and the best wheels are made with the lightest spokes in the world (who would have thunk it?).
Sapim spokes are made in Belgium and all they do is spokes. They have made spokes for Campy, Mavic, and many others. If you want the best spoke you go to Sapim. Not far off and certainly trailing on their heals is Pillar. Eric, the son of the owner of Richman, came bact to Taiwan (from China) and decided that making low end spokes (for a few cents a spoke) is not the way to go. He started the Pillar brand and is focusing on the high end (they also make spokes for the same big brands as Sapim).
I use Sapim because I have a good local source and don't have to import $10K worth of spokes per order. And they are the Gucci brand and that's what people want.
As light as a titanium spoke
The CX-Ray still receives the best results in fatigue testing of any spoke. Its unique strength and flexibility make the CX-Ray suitable for most bicycle disciplines. The middle section of the spoke is drawn then pressed in a special mold to form its specific profile. CX-Ray spokes are used by top bike racers and triathletes around the world. Even downhillers use them, recognizing their strength and flexibility. Special alloy treatment and sophisticated production make this all possible. If you were to look at most of the Pro Tour level bikes, the spokes would be Sapim CX Rays. If you want the Gucci spoke this is it - the best of the best.
- Almost as light as Titanium.
- More long lasting than any other spokes on the market.Extremely high fatigue test results
- Special alloy treatment and sophisticated production.
- The best aerodynamic spoke available.
- Produced from high-tensile, fatigue-resistant 18/8 stainless steel conforming to the Sapim quality standard specifications.
- Strength on the middle section 1600N/mm2
- Diameter 2.0 - (.09X2.2) - 2.0
- Weight about 4.1 grams
A butted spoke is drawn to its specific profile, which defines its high strength.
The Laser is a reasonable priced lightweight spoke. The thin middle section of 1,5mm needs special care while building up the wheel. You may have to use a pliers to hold the spoke to prevent the spokes from winding up. Only experienced wheel builders should mount up wheels with this spoke. Don't worry about the wheel building - we'll take care of that. If you want 99% of the performance of the CX Ray spokes and want to save $100 go with these. These are the spokes on my wheels (my significant other's wheels have CX Ray spokes, but she's a better rider than I am so she deserves it).
- Highly flexible
- Better shock absorption thanks to the thin middle section
- Strength on the middle section 1500N/mm2
- Diameter: 2.0 - 1.5 - 2.0 mm
- Elliptic aero part
- Weight about 4.1 grams
How can it be that lighter spokes are stronger than heavier spokes?
First of all, they are not, but the lines are blurred, A 13 gauge wire (2.3 mm wide) is going to be stronger than a 14 gauge (2.0 mm) wire. But that same 13 gauge wire spoke is most likely going to be about twice as heavy. The other issue is how spokes fail (break). Spokes fail by fatigue - not because of ultimate strength. The two are related but not equal (like my brothers who can catch more fish, sharpen knoves, and make more money than I can). So the lightest steel spokes in the world can be as strong as heavier spokes. This is somewhat due to the fact that the thinner butted sections stretch more - so have more cycles in their life span.
One of the most misunderstood things about wheel building is that people relate spoke tension to wheel stiffness. They are not related. Even the Sapim website (unfortunately) refers to this and it was a regular practice for teams to use lower spoke tensions at the cobble classics to ease the jarring. But Damon Rinard - who now I believe is at Cervelo, wrote a great article about it. Using high spoke tensions (which we do) is not to build stiffer wheels, but rather to make them more durable. Wheels fail when a spoke get's loose and causes movement in the wheel system. The difference between a spoke that has some tension and no tension is night and day so you want to make wheels that have as much tension as possible so the time period of a spoke loosening is at it's greatest.
In most wheel systems the culprit is the non drive side spokes of the rear wheel. They are typically relatively loose because they offset the cassette side of the wheel. Although it's the drive side spoke holes that will typically show the first signs of cracks, it's the non drive side spokes loosening that cause it.
For that reason we build all of our wheels with internal nipple washer inside the drive side spokes. Not because they really need it but more to increase the tension on all spoke to increase the lifespan of the wheels.
Surprisingly, carbon wheels behave totally differently than alloy. I have had very few spoke and almost no rim failures (cracks at the nipple hole) with carbon rims. My personal guess (and I am not an engineer so have to go by experience instead) is that the carbon rims are so stiff (you build carbon wheels differently - you center the hub in the rim instead of bending the rim as you do in an alloy wheel) so that would leave me to believe that instead of a small area of the rim being affected (when rolling over the ground), a large area of the rim takes up all of the load. This would make (does make) a huge difference on spoke and wheel life. To date, my experience is that carbon wheels are more durable than alloy. I need another 10 years to prove that out but that is my best guess at this time.