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Motorcycle rims - the basics, the different types, and the best places to buy motorcycle rims

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If you are looking for advice on motorcycle rims...

...then you have come to the right place!

motorcycle rims

So what do you know about motorcycle rims?

I thought I knew a fair bit until I started researching the subject. It's amazing how the more you know, the less you know; this is definitely the case for me!

Let me say something straight away; although I refer to motorcycle rims most of the time in this article, I am covering every aspect of the wheel apart from the tire. You can always look at my article on discount motorcycle tires if you want to know more about that topic.

When you think about it, a lot of the character of a motorcycle is found in its motorcycle rims; the size and style of the rims make a statement about the bike (and the owner)!

Problems with motorcycle wheels themselves are pretty few and far between. It is usually the bearings or the tires that are the source of tears and frustration!. However, things to do go wrong and some seek to find wheels better suited to their needs, so read on for solutions and ideas in the world of motorcycle rims.

Types of Motorcycle Rims

The two main types of motorcycle rims are solid wheels, in which case the rim and spokes are all cast as one unit, usually in aluminum, or spoke wheels, where the motorcycle rims are "laced" with spokes. Apart from the obvious point that the spokes add strength to the rim, the lacing also gives a design feature all its own to the motorcycle rims.

motorcycle rims
motorcycle rims

Other materials used are magnesium alloy, (used for aircraft wheels) and even carbon fiber! The main reason for going for motorcycle rims made of such exotic material is to save weight, so these wheels are generally used by racers.

Cast motorcycle rims

Made from cast aluminum, these are commonly the stock wheels on a huge number of motorcycle models. They cost around $500 -$600 each, and usually come with a chrome or polished finish.

Billet motorcycle wheels

These wheels are carved from a block of solid aluminum Using computer controlled carving, some incredibly intricate designs can be produced. You can even design your own motorcycle rims, with spokes "from the gates of hell" if you want! however everything comes at a price. If you can't stretch to a unique design, you can still get some pretty good billet motorcycle rims "off the shelf" from about $850 to $1250. Chrome finishes usually come out more expensive that polished motorcycle rims.

Laced motorcycle rims

These are the traditional spoked wheels. The rims are usually made of aluminum, with the structural strength supplied by the spokes which are laced between hub and rim.

Laced motorcycle rims, besides being a real thing of beauty, are much more forgiving.They can bend without breaking, and still work. They are also much more repairable than alloy wheels, and if a rim is bent beyond repair, it can be replaced and re-laced with new spokes. Excel and Sunn rims are two common ones, and are available at any multitude of online outlets.

Whats so good about laced rims?

It is essentially a strength/flexibility issue. Like a young sapling tree will bend in high winds,so the spoke on a set of laced motorcycle rims will absorb the impact of a bump more effectively than a solid wheel, the spokes spreading the impact over a wider area of the motorcycle rims. That is why besides looking mighty fine, they are also used extensively by off road riders. A cast wheel has no give so the full force will be transmitted into the portion of the wheel at the point of impact.

Carbon fiber/ lightweight alloy motorcycle rims

These motorcycle rims have incredible strength weight ratios, and their light weight give racers a significant advantage in situations where the difference between success and failure is measured in tenths of a second. At several thousand dollars each, these motorcycle rims are an expensive piece of customisation!

Maintaining your rims

Very necessary but often overlooked, it is vitally important to inspect your motorcycle rims and clean them on a regular basis to help prevent spoke failure or corrosion weak points. You can definitely suffer flat tires if a few spokes fail on your motorcycle rims. This can happen under ordinary everyday conditions. The broken spoke pushes into the wheel and punctures the tube. So always keep your wheels clean and check them for signs of corrosion or other damage. It may only take one bad spoke to ruin your ride. The aluminum motorcycle rims are usually coated. Some chemicals used for bike maintenance of other systems (like brake fluid) can damage that coating. Once the bare aluminum on the motorcycle rims are exposed to air it can begin to corrode. Wheels can come under a lot of stress and even small areas of corrosion can become a point of failure.

Rim locks are used on wheels to prevent your tire from slipping around your motorcycle rims. This can occur if you are running your tires at very low pressures. They are quite common when bikers take to riding off road. If your tire turns on the rim it can pull the valve stem through the wheel or tear it off completely leaving you with a flat. They are fairly simple to install but it requires removal of the tires and tubes and this can be more work than the rim lock installation. The rear is the more critical of the motorcycle rims to lock as it is subjected to the forces of driving the bike forward. Install them opposite the valve stem to minimize the affect they will have on wheel balance.

Replacing rims or wheels.

This is an easy job for solid wheels, just make sure you get the right size for your bike. If you are not sure take a look at the Bike Bandits parts wizard ,and it will tell you exactly what size wheel you need for your bike. If you are going for a custom laced wheel, again make sure you get the size right. A company like Buchanan Spokes should be able to supply you with something a little bit special.

Repairing Rims

A hammer and a couple of block of wood may enable you to straighten out small dents in your laced motorcycle rims. No really I'm serious! If you are not up to taking ahammer to your beloved ride, look around for some rim repairers.

Motorcycle Rims Problems

If you have been in an accident or purchased a bike with unknown history it is possible that your motorcycle wheel could be out of true. The wheel might seem to oscillate laterally (side to side) or appear to move up and down (out of round). Motorcycle rims can be casually inspected by supporting the bike on the centre stand or other stand and spinning them while viewing side on or edgewise. A really bad wobble will be obvious even to someone like me!. You can secure a sharp pencil to the fork or swing arm to help measure smaller variations. If the wheel is badly out of true, especially if the cause is from an accident, you may want to let a professional motorcycle rims shop or dealer do the repair. Sometimes the cause is just from lazy spoke maintenance (shame on you)! The wheel can slowly drift out of true over time. This kind of thing can be repaired yourself if you are up to it.

New Tire, new wobble?

If you have just had new tires installed and you feel or see a wobble it is more likely that the tire is the cause not bent rims. What can happen when mounting a new tire is the installer fails to get the new tire fully seated on the motorcycle rims. It may be close and because the tire has a tube in it there will be no leak to give it away. What you need to do is this.

  • Examine the sidewall of the tire where it meets the rim to see if there is any indication that the tire is not fully seated. This might show up as a slight variation in the measurement between a mould line on the tire and the rims. This is best done on a centre stand if you have one.
  • Have the installer correct any problem you find. Sometimes stock rims can be difficult to seat properly (or unseat for that matter).
  • Sometimes what the tire installer will do to correct the problem is overinflate the tire to force the tire to seat. TAKE CARE! I am not suggesting you try this yourself, it can be very dangerous.
  • Also make sure the tire is installed correctly, arrow pointing in the direction of travel.

Motorcyle rims shot?

There are lots of places you can have your wheel replaced. This might be the time to consider an after market brand. You have plenty of choices about sourcing a whole new wheel.

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