How many spokes?

I’m hoping to upgrade my wheels sometime in the next year and I’m likely going to get a custom wheel build done (probably Pacenti SL-23’s with Sapim CX-ray spokes).

I was wondering, on a do-it-all bike for one who likes to get onto some nasty roads and singletrack-like conditions from time to time, how many spokes would be best?

A lot of online sources (like Sheldon Brown) seem to think that low spoke count wheels are a marketing scam and that you should go for as many as possible.

I emailed a custom wheel builder in the US and they recommended 28/24 for the Pacenti’s I’m looking at. They said you only really need to go 32/28 or higher if you are over 100kg (or doing loaded touring, I imagine).

I’d like to keep things light for the climbs but I do put my rims through a beating at times and I really don’t want to deal with broken spokes out in the boondocks.

For reference, I’m 80-85kg and ride an alloy CX bike that is probably in the 10-11kg range. What do you guys think?

28/24 will probably be fine at your weight, but in all honesty unless you’re racing I would just go for a higher spoke count.

Higher spoke count, will in general, mean lower spoke tension and less mechanical stress per spoke, and you will get a longer service life, and if you’re going off road a bit I’d be further inclined to go with a higher spoke count. A small compromise in weight can make a big difference in terms of durability.

I’m 80kgish and my race bike is about 7kg. I currently ride 28/28 xr300 kinlins with DT switt DB spokes, they come in just under 1600g for the wheel set. They are not strong wheels, and I’ve destroyed two rims now (bad luck with pot holes), but they are cheap to replace which is the main consideration for me when I’m racing, as there’s so many crashes.

The main thing that puts me off super low spoke counts is the risk of not being able to ride home after a spoke goes. My last set of race wheels were 24/20. A spoke popped and I had to remove the rear brake caliper as the wheel was so pringled. A bit of re-tensioning of the wheel got me home, but it’s hassle I can do without TBH. That’s an extreme situation and might not be an issue on your CX frame, but you get my point.

The other thing I would seriously think about is getting them built locally by a good wheel builder, rather than shipping them from a distance. Any good wheel-builder worth his salt would be more than happy to help you out if you have any issues. You ship something from the states, you’re pretty much stuck with it. With that in mind the quality of a wheel set is pretty much determined by the quality of the workmanship, so spend as long as you can looking for someone who knows their stuff.

TL:DR, get more spokes.