Know the difference • Equipment patrol


There are only two types of wheels that you will see riding under the average modern motorcycle: metal spoked wheels and alloy wheels. From the first commercial motorcycles in the early 1900s until the late 1960s, wire spoked wheels reigned supreme. Then in the 1970s, one-piece cast aluminum and magnesium alloy rims skyrocketed in popularity.

So, if one-piece alloy wheels were the latest and greatest, and are still the standard for road bikes today, why do manufacturers still use metal spoke rims? The answer is not so clear cut. Both wheel solutions have their advantages and disadvantages. Which one is better depends on what and where you are riding.


Spoked wheels are almost mandatory on off-road bikes – dirt bikes, enduros, scramblers, and ADVS – for one simple reason: Spoked wheels are more durable than one-piece cast wheels. On the road, riding your street bike, you (hopefully) don’t come across any big rocks or huge ruts – maybe the occasional pothole, but nothing quite as relentless as a single track in the backcountry, that’s for sure. Spoked wheels can bend and flex to a certain extent, allowing you to tackle the roughest terrain.

Alloy wheels, because they are stiffer, handle higher speeds and higher amounts of power and torque with relative ease. The strong and inflexible nature also makes the one-piece wheels more predictable when cornering, especially at higher corner speeds where stability and consistency are paramount.

Photo: Sung Han

Cost and maintenance

When it comes to cost and maintenance, there is an obvious inverse relationship between the two types of wheels and the manufacturer and the consumer. Spoked wheels, due to their complicated architecture, still require human hands to connect the spokes from the rim to the central hub. It’s easy to see why this can be more expensive than an automated machine that effortlessly produces thousands of cast alloy rims per day. Alloy wheels are much cheaper and easier to produce on a large scale.

However, in the wild, if you send it too hard on a track with your wire wheels, bump a rim on a rock, or bend a spoke, replacing individual parts is simple and inexpensive. When it comes to fixing a flat tire, the majority of wire wheels use inner tubes, which makes trail repairs – tube swaps – a bit more time consuming. Conversely, if you hit a curb or if your alloy wheel is swallowed by a pothole on the freeway and suffers a dent or cracks, an entire wheel should be replaced. . But, when it comes to apartments, the alloys are tubeless which means that more often than not an apartment can easily get clogged and you will be on your way within minutes.

So if you are wondering what type of wheel to bolt to your bike, first ask where and how you are going to ride. Of course, you can still choose spoke wheels just for a vintage-style aesthetic; Just be aware that your decision to switch from form to function will have its drawbacks. Likewise, you can put cast alloys on your ADV or enduro and go off-roading, but you’re asking for a world of evil.

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About Todd Wurtsbach

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