Going off-roading on your motorcycle can be fun, provided you have the right gear. However, that doesn’t just mean getting the right helmet, jacket, boots, gloves, and so on. Your bike also has to be prepped for the off-pavement excursion. But besides installing a skid plate, an off-road motorcycle needs the right tires and wheels. And a typical recommendation is to install spoked wheels. But does that really make a difference?
What are the differences between spoked and alloy motorcycle wheels?
For some, spoked wheels may conjure up images of classic bikes like the Triumph Bonneville. And in fact, up until the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, they were the industry standard, Cycle World reports. However, not only does the latest Bonneville have them, but the wheel design never really went away.
Today, motorcycle wheels are split into two categories: spoked and alloy, CW explains. The latter kind is often referred to as ‘cast,’ even if they’re really forged or milled wheels. For the sake of clarity, we’ll use ‘alloy’ for the rest of this post.
Spoked and alloy wheels are both made of metal. But spoked motorcycle wheels, like most bicycle wheels, have many thin metal wires connecting the central hub to the rim, CW explains. Alloy wheels, in contrast, are one-piece designs with noticeably fewer and thicker ‘spokes.’ In both cases, these spokes help keep the wheel round and transfer force from the rim to the hub.
Naturally, styling plays into choosing between spoked and alloy motorcycle wheels. However, there are practical reasons for choosing one over the other.
Barring expensive materials like magnesium, alloy wheels tend to be cheaper than spoked ones, Motorcyclist reports. They’re also more rigid, which lets them hold up better to high-horsepower and high-torque engines. Plus, alloy wheels are easier to clean and maintain, CW reports. And, unlike the majority of spoked wheels, the alloy ones don’t require inner tubes.
So, if alloy wheels have so many advantages over spoked wheels, why are the latter still around? And, more to the point, why did the 2021 KTM 390 Adventure gain them as an upgrade option, ADV Pulse reports?
Why do off-road motorcycles benefit from spoked wheels?
Spoked wheels aren’t as light or as cheap as alloy ones, nor are they as rigid. But the lower rigidity actually works out to their advantage during off-road excursions, RevZilla explains. Those thin metal spokes bend and flex when the rider goes over rocks and bumps. An alloy wheel’s ‘arms’ may absorb some impacts, but subject them to enough force, and they’ll snap rather than bend.
Plus, if a spoked motorcycle wheel does fail on an off-road trail, it’s usually because the spokes broke. But if that happens, you can just yank the old ones out and put in new ones, GearPatrol explains. You really don’t need anything more complicated than a spoke wrench and a screwdriver, ADV Pulse reports.
On the other hand, fixing an alloy wheel usually requires a welder. Or, more often than not, replacing the wheel entirely.
What to keep in mind before you install them on your bike
It’s worth pointing out that not all spoked wheels require the use of inner tubes. For example, BMW’s GS models and the Yamaha Ténéré have tubeless wheels, Motorcyclist reports. And it’s possible to convert older wheels to work with tubeless tires, Motorcyclist reports.
Admittedly, carrying a spare tube isn’t a bad idea in case of serious tire damage, ADV Pulse reports. But even so, patching or replacing the tube of an off-road motorcycle tire can be done in the field, Motorcyclist reports. Provided you have a set of tire irons, CW reports.
However, even if you never have to patch the tube, spoked wheels have some unique maintenance requirements. Just like on a bicycle wheel, the spokes are under tension, and regular riding occasionally loosens them up, Motorcyclist explains. And if the tension is really off, the wheel can bend, or ‘go out of true.’
When that happens, you need to readjust the spoke tension. If you’re truing the wheel overall, ideally you should have a truing stand and a spoke wrench, RevZilla reports. And if you’re trying to reset the tension to factory specs, you need a calibrated torque wrench.
So, should you put spoked wheels on your off-road motorcycle? If you genuinely plan on going off-roading or overlanding, the expert consensus is ‘yes.’ While they have some downsides, their design helps them once the paved road ends. But if you’re going with an aftermarket set, check to make sure they fit your bike and the off-road tires you plan on using.
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