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Podcast #061 – How Radial Compliance works in bicycle wheels (and how to tune it)

podcast interview cover photo about wheel building and what is radial compliance on bike wheels
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Ever wondered what “radial compliance” is in a bicycle wheel?

On this episode, I’m kicking off a mini-series around technologies, products, and designs that are either misunderstood or often tossed into product launch stories without good explanations.

My first topic is radial compliance, which is when a bicycle wheel is able to deform in the vertical plane as you hit a bump or land a drop. It’s not nearly as well known as lateral stiffness, which is a wheel’s lack of flex from side to side under cornering loads, or even torsional stiffness, which is the wind up a wheel can get under a really hard sprint.

chris murray leading a wheel building class
Chris (black shirt, center) leads a wheel building class. He also hosts sessions on YouTube for those interested in building their own wheels!

To be fair, lateral stiffness is the one you’re going to notice the most, but radial compliance has a lot to do with how smooth a wheel feels over varied terrain.

My guest is Chris Murray, owner of Elevation Wheel Company. Chris has been building custom wheels for customers, shops, and industry folks for more than a decade, then launched Elevation in 2017. He started doing it in a shop, then built production wheels for Borealis before busting out on his own. He’s now built with most major rim, spoke and hub brands, and he not only shares what it means, but we discuss:

  • What is radial compliance in a bicycle wheel?
  • Which part of the wheel has the most effect on radial compliance?
  • Which rim materials and designs are most compliant?
  • How do spoke type and count affect radial compliance?
  • How can you tune your own wheels’ radial compliance?

We talk about a few specific products and in broader terms, giving you the intel you need to decipher marketing speak and understand how different wheel designs and builds affect your ride quality.


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