Shimano Sweet-16 Wheels


Wanting to add a more exciting option to our handbuilt 32 spoke wheels Santana approached Shimano’s engineers to request development assistance on a lightweight set of aerodynamic tandem wheels. The California-built samples we provided had 24 spokes in each wheel. A few months later we were surprised to receive Shimano’s counter-proposal: a pair of wheels with 16 spokes. An enclosed note instructed us to install them on a tandem and, “See if you can break them.”

Believing this would be easy, at first we restricted ourselves to paved roads. But after hundreds of uneventful miles, we took them off-road. Finding a stony stair-step descent that would cave-in a normal wheel, we failed repeated attempts to break a spoke or ding a rim. During a second year of rough treatment, with the wheels still straight and tight, we decided to cheat. But with one spoke removed, the rear wheel stayed amazingly true and continued to support our 420-pound test team! After two full years of abuse, we assured Shimano that their durable design was ready for our customers.

“Not so fast” they replied. “First we must test our wheels against a known standard.”

To meet their second challenge, we air-shipped some of our legendary 160mm dishless tandem wheels to Osaka. In Shimano’s new wheel-testing lab these wheels were mounted in machines for multi-week sessions simulating thousands of miles of out-of-the-saddle sprints and climbs. In grueling head-to-head tests, Santana’s traditional 40-spoke wheels were the first to yield.

Because the test results seemed too good to be true, Shimano agreed to produce these revolutionary tandem wheels after Santana consented to the substitution of a heavier rim. Three seasons and thousands of wheels later Shimano’s now famous Sweet-16 tandem wheels have surpassed all expectations. Except in rare cases when a rear wheel’s spoke tension was ignored, this huge fleet of wheels remains trouble-free.*

More recently Shimano upgraded Santana’s exclusive wheelset. In addition to replacing the heavy disc-brake flange with universal disc/drum threading, Shimano consented to install the lighter rims that passed all earlier tests. These changes reduce the Sweet-16s weight by a third of a pound, making this aero wheelset a lightweight as well.

Now that other tandem builders offer “aero” wheels with 24 spokes, you might assume those extra spokes provide comparable durability. Actually, if you check with other builders you’ll learn their 24-spoke wheels are intended for lightweight teams without packs. The Shimano Sweet-16s are not merely cleaner, faster and better looking, they’re the only aerodynamic tandem wheels with adequate strength for heavy teams and loaded tours. To appreciate how 16 strategically-positioned spokes can outperform 24 (or even 40), please study the accompanying graphic.

Now available as a no-cost option with our Standard Build Kit or aftermarket for $599.

*Checking spoke tension is fast and easy—no tools or experience needed. Simply “pluck” a few spokes with your bare fingers. Because all 32 spokes are initially tightened to the same specification (and front wheels invariably remain tight), a lower tone from rear spokes indicates a need for subsequent service. Further information is available here.


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