Spoke supply

Behind the Curtain Bicycle Biz Economics business spokes tech Wheel building

Looking around at wheel supply throughout the industry, 6 to 8 weeks lead time is very common these days. Whether this is more driven by component shortages or production's inability to meet demand, I can't say. We've certainly got some builds taking their sweet time to get out because of component shortages, as the quickest any of our primary hub options gets to us these days is ~5 weeks from our. Our pivot to going heavy on black White Industries hubs for QuickShip™ builds has helped a ton, and in many cases we're able to deliver much more quickly than that 6 to 8 weeks number. If you want Chris Kings or Industry Nines or White Industries in other colors, sorry - there's a wait there. But at least in the case of our carbon builds, we offer the pre-order which pays you for your patience. I don't see anywhere else easing the waiting pain with an option like that. 

People are always surprised to learn how much our spoke inventory is worth. On any given day, the value of spokes in the shop can be greater than the value of anything else on hand. In the overall cost of the wheels, they're always the short leg of the rims/hubs/spokes triangle, but still a significant line item. 

What's always allowed us to keep this relatively large cost relatively manageable is resupply turns and availability. Traditionally, about 6 or 7 pounds of spokes shows up on Monday or Tuesday and feeds us for the week. We keep higher numbers of our most commonly used lengths on hand as buffer stock in case of importer outages, but generally we've been able to rely on quick resupply. In the last few months, we've tried to keep far higher numbers of spokes on hand, because these tea leaves haven't been too hard to read, but still we're potentially going to have a spoke supply pinch. Why should they be any different to everything else?

We have a few nice defenses against this. First is our spoke cutter/threader. We've long ago stopped using it to cut raw lengths because when you use a 310mm blank to create everything from a 300mm (the longest spoke we use with any regularity at all, and that long is rare) to 272, the thick round part at the threaded end is too variable and looks untidy. But the cutter/threader does allow, for example, a 282mm spoke to become any length down to around 276 with a consistent finished look that only the most dire wheel nerd would notice in 100 years. So if a high-volume length is out, we usually don't skip a beat. The other is that we have multiple sources available. Costs vary a LOT, as our primary source is about 70% the cost of secondary sources, so we do like to stay with the primary source, but if it means keeping things moving out the door productively, the extra cost is a bullet we don't flinch in taking. 

The issue right now is that Sapim central is getting behind demand. None of our sources is dealing from a full deck, and there are size gaps that our cutter/threader can bridge. To date, we've been able to cadge together a full range using all of the supply options. Our primary supplier is due to land a big shipment mid-May, so we should be in ok shape until then. If that falls apart? Things get interesting. 

Spokes not only cost a pile of money in volume, they require precise organization. Get some 276s in the 274 bin and it causes some mayhem for sure. It's also a disaster to switch primary spoke types. For example, all indications are that the Pillar 1420 spokes are quite good. They're more expensive for us than CX Rays are, but they'd be a generally eligible substitute for CX Rays. The issue is that they're not compatible in the same build, and we'd much prefer to use one exclusively from an operations and quality management standpoint. So the thousands of dollars worth of CX Rays we have monopolizing our very well sorted spoke organizer would sit on the bench until a major resupply. And though there are some spokes where we wouldn't mind doing a hot-swap to an equal substitute, people see a lot of value in us building with CX Rays so that's not something we'd do without making a big stink about it. 

Fortunately, I see us narrowly avoiding the worst of this. A wheel set or three might have to wait a week for the spoke fairy to come again, but broadly I think we're going to skate on this. Normally this would be the point where I'd say "and if the bad news happens, we'll do x and y and that will be the solution." In this case, well, we haven't got the solution sitting in our pocket. Mike and I are good at thinking on our feet and I'm sure we'll pull something out. 


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  • Dave on

    Ugh. At $8/spoke and almost triple the build time, plus process time to let the spokes stretch/settle overnight, to save 100g and make the aero worse… Lasers don’t seem to be in any kind of real supply pinch!

    I actually use the rope that’s the raw material for Berd spokes a ton. Splice it, make loops out of it, use it in all sorts of ways. It’s wonderful stuff for a lot of applications.

  • Matt on

    The answer: Berd spokes! https://berdspokes.com/


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