There are few phrases that drive me more crazy than when people ask how few spokes they can "get away with," nor the inevitable response from someone who weighs as much or more than the person asking the question, who says he has a wheelset with x number of spokes and they've "never given him a problem."
Call me crazy, but I've never seen the point of trying to have as few spokes as possible in a set of wheels. It's got to be all about fashion, right? Generally, when I buy something, I'm trying to aim a little higher than having it not cause me problems. Ideally, it will make my life better in some way, but at the least it should perform exactly how I want it to given the parameters. Maybe my issue is that my parameters have never included "have as few spokes as possible." Spokes weigh about 4 grams apiece, 5 once you put a nipple on them. To go from a wheelset with 44 spokes to one with 52 adds about 40 grams - that's about the weight of 2 standard #2 pencils. They also add some modicum of aerodynamic drag, but not enough that we didn't feel fine doing the initial wind tunnel testing for the Rail 52 with a 24 spoke instead of a 20 spoke wheel. There's very little there there.
On the other hand, spokes add strength, durability, and stiffness, they decrease the load that any individual spoke hole sees which increases rim durability - they do a lot of good things. We think the things that they do are so good that we don't even sell 20/24 alloy builds anymore. Sure, a lot of people could "get away with them," but why would you want to when you can have something so much better?
People might think we're not confident in our components and process and that's what shades our perspective on this. Not true at all. Many of the wheels that seem to have created the mania for lower spoke counts use massive rims (550g+, even with shallow sections) and fan blade spokes that weigh a ton and actually do carry an aerodynamic penalty. Basically it becomes a question of "how stiff can an 1100 gram rear wheel be?" with them, and my answer is "not as stiff as a 930 gram rear wheel with a lighter rim and an appropriate number of the best spokes you can get." There are others out there who sell wheels made of comparable components to ours, who more readily recommend 20/24. We've tested enough wheels and talked to and observed enough people to think that that's just a case of us having a different perspective. Someone will always have a less conservative stance than ours, but we don't want to sell you what we don't recommend. You may be 140 pounds, but you might also be a ripper climber who can accelerate a low gear super quickly, which is going to expose the weakness of noodly wheels more readily than a 200 pound guy who rides lightly on his wheels. For the 100 pound rider, we might be missing a beat, but I don't really think so, and when we did sell 20/24 alloy builds EVERYONE wanted to start there - "can I get away with it" - and it was the right answer so infrequently that we just bagged it.
It's funny because fashion does come around, and I can see the first sprouts of more reasonable spoke counts just starting to push up through the ground. The other thing that we see pushing up through the ground (both figuratively and, not a moment too soon, literally) is color. We love color. It's awesome. So when you see some colorful wheels with enough spokes, whether we built them or not, you're looking at a set of wheels that would make this square dork very happy indeed.