So that’s what a composite spoke sounds like when it breaks….


Yup, that’s what I heard as we were cruising down the billiard table smooth, 4% payoff grade called County Line Road at 35 mph tonight.  At first I thought something had gotten shot out from under the tire that I didn’t see in the road, but as I continued to quickly assess the noise I immediately knew: we’d finally had one of the threaded-ends of our Topolino’s composite spokes break.


I say finally because I always suspected it was a matter of when and not if we’d experience one of these types of spoke-end / nipple interface break.  We have several friends who were also early adopters of the Topolino’s but who live and ride on roads that aren’t as nice as ours and several of them had front spokes break early on.  I believe we may have been late in getting ours because our original front wheel was replaced about 6 months after we started riding on the wheels, and because we’ve since been using three other wheelsets on our tandem which also kept the mileage low.  However, last year we decided to start riding on the Topolino’s more often just to see how long we could go without any issues.  Well, apparently it was about a year and perhaps 1,500 miles, noting that we put about 700 miles on our conventional wheels and another 700 miles on our Rolfs before selling them this past fall.

Getting back to tonight’s ride, it took me about 2 seconds to realize what I’d heard was a spoke end snapping, confirmed by the new wobble that didn’t exist in the front wheel just moments before I heard the “Doink”.  I immediately informed the lovely Miss Debbie that we’d just broken a spoke so that she’d know why I was now coasting and testing the stability of the bike with some subtle steering inputs as I confirmed that we’d be able finish the last 9 miles of our ride without being at risk due to the broken spoke.

About the only time the spoke made any racket was when we were climbing out of the saddle and I was throwing the front end of the bike back and forth as I usually do: the loose spoke didn’t like that and let me know with a “whack, whack, whack” noise.

Suffices to say, we made it home fine, albeit at a somewhat slower pace that we would have ridden without the broken spoke.  I’ve shot off a note to Topolino asking for advise on how to go about getting the wheel repaired and replaced the Topolino’s on our Calfee with our ‘back-up’  conventional White Industries / Velocity Deep-V wheelset.  Yes, I practice what I preach and always have a backup wheelset on hand!

Fingers crossed, it won’t cost too much to have it put right + the cost of shipping the wheels from Georgia to Massachusetts and back.


About TG

I've been around a bit and done a few things, have a couple kids and a few grandkids. I tend to be curmudgeonly, matter-of-fact and not predisposed to self-serving chit-chat. Thankfully, my wife's as nice as can be otherwise we'd have no friends. My interests are somewhat eclectic, but whose aren't?
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12 Responses to So that’s what a composite spoke sounds like when it breaks….

  1. Joe Marino says:

    Hi, we are up in Massachusetts and wondering who you will be sending the wheel to? It is always good to know a local shop that can help with high end equipment.

    • TG says:

      Back to the manufacturer, Topolino…

      Frankly, I could have them send the replacement hemisphere to me and I could lace it back into the wheel, it’s not rocket science for anyone who already builds bicycle wheels. But, at this point I’d like them to put eyes on the wheel.

  2. Brenda & Larry Isherwood says:

    We’ve never hit anything on the road with our Topo’s.
    Five breaks total.
    1. broke spoke on 22% climb, it pulled out where it passes thru the center hub.
    2. broke front spoke at threads diving into a 90 degree left turn doing about 15 mph at Mel’s flat smooth roads.
    3. cracked rear hub on 38% climb.
    4. broke rear spoke at threads just flying down a flat road (this also happened to our friends another time when they were behind us)
    5. found numerous cracks on rim between spokes (this also happened to another friends).
    All this being said…..I’m not a happy about our Topos’, but Lar still loves them…..

    • TG says:

      I feel your pain, but also understand where Larry is coming from… they really have a sublime ride quality. We’re on our 2nd front wheel, noting the front one had bearing issues from the git-go and a front axle slipping issue. FedEx made out pretty good on getting that one fixed. I knew we’d eventually have a front spoke break at a nipple due to fatigue; those stainless steel threaded ends needed to be a bit thicker for the tandems. So, no surprise when it popped last night, other than “what took you so long?!” Knock on wood, our rear wheel has been trouble free and no signs of stress cracks on the front or rear rim.

      Spinergy’s TX-2 by any other name delivers the same sublime ride quality as the Topolino with just a few more grams and has so far enjoyed a much better launch in terms of issues from the field. If we ever did anything else in the boutique wheel area it would likely be the Spinergy, but at this point I think we’ll just ride our conventionally spoked wheels for our every day needs and hold the Topolino’s in reserve for tandem rallies or other special peacock gatherings once the front wheel is fixed.

  3. TG says:

    Guess what: I just took a closer look at our rear wheel in daylight and there are indeed hairline cracks radiating out in line with the rim crown on about 1/2 of the spoke holes. Yippie skippy; not!

    I’ll be talking with Rafe at Topolino on Monday and if the cost to ship/repair is reasonable I may have them fixed. If it’s more than 1/2 the cost of a new wheelset then they become wall art.

    • Larry & Brenda Isherwood says:

      Lar says our rim cracked hanging on the wall due to the spoke tension. They were on the wall because weare afraid to ride them and break them again. I spoke at length with Rafe after our fifth break to no avail…. We have NOT used them since the last repair. I want Larry to sell them in good working order, but I think it would be a hard sell :-). . Best of luck to you. Brenda / TeamBreeze stoker

      • TG says:

        Yeah, I’m thinking our will end up as wall art. I can easily imagine a front & rear rebuild getting into the $400-$500 range and that’s a non-starter. I could build another set of conventional wheels for that kind of money. And, just having finished a 38-mile club ride back on the 36h White Ind / Velocity Deep-Vs with our 25mm Vredestein Fortezzas at 135psi the ride quality is indistinguishable from the Topolino’s except when climbing / sprinting out of the saddle: the conventional’s are far less “springy” when I throw the bike from side-to-side.

        So, we’ll see. The Topolino’s still have a way-cool factor, but at what price vanity?

  4. Larry & Brenda Isherwood says:

    I don’t think we have room here for wall art 🙂
    Plus, we have an aluminum bike, so these wheels make a bit bigger of a difference for us, the are like a “poor mans” carbon fiber ride feel, but we still have the stiffness of the bike.

    We’ve been billed for full shipping & service, but Lar says if I let him use them… LOL…that next time he would just order the parts & fix the wheel himself….sounds like bartering to me.
    Anyway, parts alone are not too pricey, each side was $60 and the rear rim was $110. Plus now you get the sides with a shortened, beefier thread section.

  5. Dave Walker says:

    My guess is Topolino is using a generally-available rim extrusion. What’s the rim width/depth? It’s probably not too hard an investigation to determine what rim it is. That plays a major role in overall wheel durability, but there’s another factor with these wheels, and that is that the modulus (“stretchability,” if you like) of carbon is so much higher than stainless steel (the usual alternative) that I’ve often worried about just this issue with carbon-spoked wheels: If the spokes don’t give a little as the wheel load cycles, then it creates a much higher point load at the spoke as it passes through bottom-dead-center. With a steel-spoked wheel, there’s maybe 4-6 spokes at the bottom of the wheel that contribute to the load bearing. I bet that a careful test would show that it’s more like 2 or 3 spokes with a carbon-spoked wheel. The net result is likely fatigue failure not of the carbon spoke itself (although possible), but rather at some other point such as the spoke end interface or the rim.

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