Most people think of a bicycle wheel as a single thing, even though it is made up of different parts: the rim, the spokes, and the hub.

Rims

A rim is the outer edge of the wheel – the portion that the tire contacts. You typically find rims made out of the same materials as bike frames – steel, aluminum, or carbon. Unless you’re racing, you probably don’t have carbon wheels on your bike. They’re light and fast, but they also wear out much faster, and you need special (and more expensive) brake pads so that you don’t damage the braking surface.
Most rims these days are made of aluminum (and for those of you who are wondering, all Montague bikes have aluminum rims). Aluminum, while heavier than carbon, is still fairly light and wears well.
You don’t see a lot of steel rims anymore, unless you’re riding a vintage bike (although way back in the day, rims were made of wood). If you’re wondering why manufacturers don’t spec steel rims anymore, then you’ve never ridden a bike with steel rims in the rain. Steel, when it’s wet, has got to be among the most slippery surface EVER. It’s not the best surface for stopping.

Spokes

The spokes are the pieces that go from the center of the wheel (the hub) out to the rim. Like the rim, they can be made from a variety of materials – carbon, stainless steel, and alloy. All Montague bikes have stainless steel spokes.  They’re the strongest and won’t rust.

When you look at different wheels, you might notice that they have different numbers of spokes. Other things being equal, the lower number of spokes, the more aerodynamic a wheel is; the higher number of spokes, the stronger it is.

You can see the bigger spaces between spokes on Montague’s Fit folding bike.

This is why, for example, the Montague Fit comes with lower spoke count wheels – it’s designed for riders who are focused on speed and performance. In addition to being lighter (fewer spokes mean less weight), lower spoke count wheels have create less resistance moving through the air, or drag. If you’re racing, you’re going to want as light and fast a wheel as suits the conditions, and that typically means going with a lower spoke count wheel. If you’re a heavier rider, or if you’re going to be carrying a heavier load (e.g. if you’re thinking of touring with 100 pounds of gear), you’re going to want to be riding higher spoke count wheels. As they’re stronger than their low-spoke counterparts, they are better suited to handle extra weight.

As for Montague bikes, with the exception of the Fit (which is 28 rear, 24 front), all the wheels that com standard have 32 spokes, which offers a good balance of strength and performance.

Hubs

You can see the holes where the spokes would attach.

The hub is at the center of the wheel. It has a hole for the skewer/axel to go through, that allows that wheel to be tightened down to the bike frame. If you open up a hub, you’ll also find bearings (either loose or a sealed cartridge). These bearings are what allow the wheel to rotate or spin. Around the hub, you’ll also find the flange. This is where the spokes attach at the center of the wheel.

What’s on Your Bike?

Have you customized the wheels on your Montague bike? What did you decide to go with? Why? What do you think of the strength/weight trade-off between aluminum and carbon rims?