Back in the early 1990’s, ’Spoke Tailor’ was the title of an article about the great fashion designer, Paul Smith, and which appeared in one of the Sunday paper colour-section-magazines. Whilst the article gave a chronological cycling tour of Mr Smith, it focussed on his latest, new bike. It was a shiny, polished American bicycle from a Company called Cannondale and it was grandly named, the R1000. It was designed for Tri-athletes and Time-Triallers, and the moment I saw it, I coveted it.

Fast forward 18 months and I’m in my local bike shop, and hanging on the wall was a Cannondale R1000. It was sold by Cannondale as a Frameset, which meant that you only got the frame, special chainset, handlebars and the seat pin. The rest of the stuff required to actually ride it, had to be selected and bought by the purchaser. There was a label dangling from the Cannondale, which said to me, and me only, ‘here’s the price, so buy me now’, or that was my interpretation of what it said. I bought it. I bought it with better components than Mr S had put on his as well. So, Ha! Mine’s better than the one of the world’s greatest and most admired (by me and others) fashion designers. OK, so I’ve also got a Paul Smith scarf and watch, but thats not really clever either, and its for another story, another day.

Anyway, talking about spokes………..My Cannondale R1000 has deep rimmed carbon wheels that have flat bladed, aerodynamic spokes instead of the usual round-in-section spokes found on ‘normal’ bikes. These flat bladed spokes are the type of things that you’d find in a bred slicer and probably just as lethal if a hand was caught in a spinning wheel.

So, spokes come in many sizes, lengths and gauges. I didn’t realise how sexy the world of spokes is, until I bought a lot of them. Actually, what I bought, was a spoke storage rack that had been made specifically for different sizes and of spokes, and which had come out of a very old bicycle shop, which had closed down when the equally old proprietor, had passed away. This wooden rack has 15 compartments that hold different lengths and gauges of spokes. Each compartment is identified to allow the mechanic to go straight to the correct and required spoke. The rack also has 8 drawers for the spoke nipples (the small threaded nuts that hold the spokes into the rim). When I bought the rack, all of the compartments were full of different lengths and types of spokes and the 8 drawers, all full of spoke nipples.

I mounted (with a smirk) my newly purchased rack on the wall of my shed and over the course of two cups of tea and an Eccles cake (famous UK northern delicacy), put each spoke into its rightful compartment. Is this activity a bit ‘cycling-geek’? Probably, but also good, relaxing fun on a rainy day.

The name ‘spoke’ dates back to the time of wooden wagon wheels, where portions of logs were split into 4 or 6 sections and then carved into shape with a tool called a ‘spoke shave’. So, our bicycle spoke relatives date back to about 2000BC. Bicycle spokes fall into the technical category of ‘tension spokes’. These spokes are adjustable to ensure correct tension around the wheel and they’re also replaceable in the event that one breaks. Wheel design has evolved over the years in the bicycle world and one innovative way of using them was by a company called Tioga, who made Mountain bike equipment, and they came up with the ‘tension disc’. This rear wheel design looked like a clear (as in, you can see through it) disc wheel with some spokes in it. But actually, the spokes where made up of a continuous carbon thread of kevlar. Interesting huh?

If, (unlike me) you like equations, there is one that will determine the correct length of spoke for the diameter of the wheel. Anyway, I bought an old vintage bicycle to restore as a ‘project’ and guess what? it needed some spokes replacing. Mmmmmmmm, oh joy! I measured the spoke size required to make the repair and dashed over to my organised spoke rack on the shed wall to obtain a new one. I checked every compartment for the length I needed, then checked again, and guess what? Of my organised collection, I didn’t have the right length ‘in stock’. Another cup of tea later and I’d located the correct size on the ‘well known auction/buy-it now’ site. I needed only 4 spokes, and I had to buy a box of 25 in order to get 4. In addition to this, the lot I was about to buy, also had 5 other boxes of spokes that came with it, and in different sizes. As it turned out, after checking my current stock, I didn’t have any of the spoke sizes in this lot that was for sale. I got the spokes for the ‘give-away’ starting price, luckily. With the new spokes delivered, organised and now in hand, another cup of tea, and whilst playing a Stereophonics album, which made the glass in the shed windows rattle a bit, I restored my ‘project’ bike wheel to road-worthy condition.

Obviously, having a good stock of spokes hanging on the wall, means that I now start to notice anything to do with spokes, spoke key tools and related spoke-stuff. This is dangerous, because I need to resist becoming a ‘spoke collector’. Secondhand, new-old-stock (NOS) spokes are cheap and beckon me to buy them if I haven’t got that size in stock. I need to resist or I will become a spokeaholic.

I still have my fabulous Cannonade R1000 with its flat bladed spokes and shinier bits that Mr S had on his R1000. I also have some of these unique spokes as spares. I often wonder if Mr S still has his R1000 and more specifically, if he ever needs spokes for it, because I’ve probably got some to fit his bike. What if, Mr S came out with some ‘designer spokes’ that are painted with the ‘Smith-stripes’ and with his signature on? Its probably the only type of spoke that I don’t have ‘in stock’.


Top photo by Jodie Wallace-Hill

Middle and bottom photos by the author