Blog: Buyers guide
Rear hex drive nipples were designed to handle increased torque but they also prevent builder’s marks on external nipple wrench flats. Some people like rear drive because the turning direction is intuitive — clockwise is tighter. Since the external interface exists just the same, you can forget the rear hex drive if you prefer (or treat it as a backup to save the day if a nipple cracks or rounds off).
What many hex nipples lack is a screwdriver slot. This is important for compatibility with depth-setting nipple drivers, the fastest way to preload nipples to the same depth of thread. That’s why SpokeService specially imported a Sapim hex nipple with this feature. The first photo below shows a collection of adjustable depth-setting drivers that interface with the slot. The black Problem Solvers tool with a 6000 bearing pressed on the end is my daily driver. (If your nipples don’t have a slot, you can start your nipples visually or build a universal tool — both inferior solutions.)
The Sapim hex drive is 5.5mm. It’s a balance between making the interface as large as possible while leaving room for tool clearance at the rim holes. Even so a thinwall tool is often necessary. I have three in my toolbox. My main tool is the Park SW-15, a 3-way that fits nicely in the hand and provides good leverage. Blue tape marks the 5.5mm end. The Park Tool SW-18 is a screwdriver design, which reaches into deeper rims and may fit better in race toolboxes. The Sapim factory tool is excellent quality and handles even deeper rims but may be too deep for everyday use.
The typical spoke decision is between straight gauge and some double-butted model. For conditions outside the bell curve, there are two specialty models.
Sapim Force is a triple-butted spoke with a 2.18/1.8/2.0mm profile. They are similar to Sapim Race with a little more meat on the vulnerable elbow section. There is a cost penalty but weight and stiffness are about the same. Fatigue life is better — if you’ve been burned by broken elbows, Force might be the ticket. I often use Force on touring and bikepacking wheels to work with 32 spoke wheels when 36 might be more conventional (opening up more choices for hubs and rims).
Sapim Strong is a single-butted spoke with a 2.3/2.0mm profile. These are the biggest bicycle spokes I sell and I stop at this gauge because it’s the biggest spoke that works with regular nipples. Strong shares the massive stiffness of Sapim Leader but has a serious amount of extra material on the elbow. People use Strong for e-bikes, cargo bikes and the heaviest touring applications. For regular day-to-day use they’re overkill though I’ve used them for riders >400 pounds.
There’s a new nipple washer available from Sapim — the Sapim MS washer has a generic V-shape profile compatible with all nipples (compare to Polyax washers with a Polyax-shaped cup). It has a thick, flat bottom for superior weight distribution however needs a flat resting spot 7.7mm in diameter. Where applicable, these stainless washers will impart a lot of strength.
Not much information is searchable for Sapim MS washers so I’m posting the product sheet to give you information from the source. Note carefully: my measurements put the diameter at 7.7mm compared to the nominal 7.4mm. Get MS washers and three other types of nipple washer here.
I’ve consolidated the regular brass and aluminum nipples in one product listing because they’re the same design (Polyax). At the same Sapim hex nipples were added to the shop.
About hex nipples
Hexagonal head nipples have an additional wrench surface on the rear. With more contact points and a larger contact surface, higher torque is permitted. Higher torque can help free seized nipples down the road and keeps the finish of the front tool flats pristine when building in the first place. Some wheelbuilders may find the wrench turning direction more intuitive from the rear however hex drive nipples retain regular wrench flats for day-to-day truing as needed.
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