September 03, 2015 4 Comments
Name a spoke-hub connection that is entirely overlooked (except by veteran mechanic, Jim Langley). Of course, the Z-bend spoke, also known as dog-leg or S-bend. An abrupt left and then right bend enables it to connect with a hub drilled for J-bend spokes, bear full tension, and last as long as a J-bend.
I rode a 1951 Raleigh 3-speed for years, equipped from England with Z-bend spokes front and rear. Hubs were drum brake Sturmey’s with internal 3 speed for the rear.
On the smaller side of the front hub spokes have an extra kink as the trimmed end exits the hub hole; an unnecessary feature to make coming loose even more impossible than it already is.
The trouble is making close-spaced bends in stiff spoke wire. 14 gauge is hard to bend and it’s nearly impossible to place a second bend near enough to the first. High spec pliers and a vise are no use. A dedicated tool is needed but the last on record is the Eldi repair plier described by Jim:
The potential usefulness of this sort of tool boggles the mind. For clever shops, for ride support (charity, gravel, fondo, tri), having the means to swiftly create a reliable substitute spoke without a 30 lb spoke machine is awesome. The Z-bend shape holds full tension for a lifetime and can often be inserted without removing cassette or disk. What convenience and economy!
Z-bend made a brief appearance in the '80's and '90's with Hoshi bladed spokes. The obstacle to truly aero spokes is getting the blade section through the hub hole. Hoshi offered theirs with Z-bend ends.
Once a Z-bend has been pressed into shape on a hub like that above, it will not look like a freshly pressed spoke. The fit is easy and thumbs can do the shaping.
I began buying tools that might work and finally found one. Similar to the Eldi of yore, it’s produced by an RC Airplane supplier to make control rods. RC planes don’t use wire as thick as 14g but this plier can do it. The others failed.
Here is how it works:
(1) Inexpensive, we sell it for $21.95 (MSRP is $29). [discontinued in 2018, no supply. Best option today? Make your own!]
(2) Compact enough to live in any versatile wheel shop or with a mass ride support program.
(3) Overbuilt, so indefinite lifespan.
(1) You will need a wire cutter, to first trim the right length from a spare spoke,
(2) While compound action or longer handles would make it a one-handed task, the cost would rise and the tool weigh more.
(3) This particular Z shape is ideal for 2mm thick flanges, perfect for cheap and steel hubs. Better hubs have 3mm flanges. For these, the bend is good for elbow-inside fitting:
For elbow-outside, just fit the replacement and bend the spoke down towards the correct angle. The same as we often do with normal spokes. Has no effect on integrity or longevity.
Here is a perfect “sleeper” tool. In time of need, when everyone is resigned to a DNF, whip out this baby and be a hero. Embrace time-tested solutions on your quest to become a complete builder. Oh yes, plenty of practice on junk wheels first!
November 02, 2021
I have an old repair book that tells you to carry a Z spoke to repair the freewheel side without removing the freewheel on the side of the road.
November 02, 2021
An excellent article, I am not alone!
Thanks too for that comment; I am indeed a fan of Z spokes.
The reason is that I don’t want to store loads of spare spokes, and sometimes it takes ages to get hold of the correct length. Now I simply buy a couple of boxes of the longest and cut them to the correct length as and when I need them – a set of 36 takes less than five minutes.
The tool I designed about twelve years ago to do this took quite a lot of effort to get made, but it was really well-worth it, and all my wheels are now built with Z spokes.
And it means I never have to throw away old spokes – they can always be re-used, a bit shorter in a smaller wheel, or with fewer crosses.
I’ve put a sequence of pictures on Flickr to show how useful it is for replacing a single spoke: https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=kwikspoke&view_all=1
So far, no-one has expressed any interest in having a replica of my tool, mainly because they think Z spokes are not strong enough, and it’s very difficult to argue against ignorance.
Anyway, I hope this is of interest.
November 02, 2021
Great article. I am going to try using a normal spoke and try bending it at the Jbend and then cutting off the small flange that beds into the spoke hole in the hub.If it is successful i’ll let you know.
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November 02, 2021
This is an old discussion, but I’ve seen another use for Z-bend spokes. if someone has cut a wheel apart without removing the freewheel first (yes, I learned this in the Time Before Cassettes), you can use Z-bend spokes to lace the hub to a rim and get the proper leverage to remove the freewheel. This is especially useful when you have a very old Regina Oro freewheel that has the large cogs threaded on from the back side of the freewheel. Otherwise it’s sometimes possible to remove all the freewheel cogs and get enough space to lace a rim to the hub if the flanges are large enough.