In this blog post, you’ll discover:  
  • The vital jobs your motorcycle’s wheels have
  • The 4 most common types of motorcycle wheels – from spoked to composite
  • What a “wheelbase” is
Prefer to get this information in podcast form? Listen to the 30 Minute Motorcycling Podcast episode about motorcycle wheels are tires:

Motorcycle Wheels Basics

Along with your tires, your motorcycle’s wheels have 3 critical jobs:

  • Handle acceleration and deceleration
  • Support the weight of your bike
  • Provide a mounting point for the tires, brakes, and wheel bearings

Typically, the heavier a wheel is, the more energy you’ll need to accelerate and decelerate.

Not only that, but the suspension will also deal with uneven surfaces slower if you have a heavy wheel.

4 Most Common Types of Motorcycle Wheels:

Spoked wheels

image of spoked wheel
Common on cruisers, dual-sports, off-road bikes – spoked wheels have metal prongs inside them, known as “spokes” – hence the term “spoked wheel.”

Spokes are known to be solid and durable. Even if they should go wrong, you can rebuild them easily.

The downside is that spokes require regular and often frequent maintenance.

Over time, the spokes will go dull and need  to be tightened to the specific tension with a special tool called a “spoke wrench.”

Cast wheels

image of motorcycle with cast wheels

This wheel type is cast in one big piece (usually out of aluminum) and can support heavier tires compared to spoked wheels.

Because of their strength, most road bikes have cast wheels.

Compared to a spoked wheel, a cast wheel doesn’t need as much maintenance.

However, if you crash a motorcycle with cast wheels, you can’t just rebuild the wheel. Instead, you must replace the whole wheel – even if there’s no visible damage.

Magnesium alloy wheels

A subcategory of cast wheels, magnesium alloy wheels first saw use in motorcycle racing, but later on, even production bikes had alloy wheels fitted to them.

These types of wheels are known for being lightweight.

However, they’re also as expensive as they are lightweight – although not nearly as durable.

Composite wheels

A composite wheel is often made from pressed steel or aluminum and is a combination between a spoked and a cast wheel.

Like a spoked wheel, it has spokes, and like a cast wheel, the cast is in one big piece.

Like a cast wheel, a composite wheel doesn’t require as much maintenance.

Even though this type of wheel has spokes, they don’t need to be tensioned like those on a spoked wheel.

If the spokes or rim are damaged, you can also replace them without replacing the entire wheel.

The downside? If you have a composite wheel made from aluminum, replacing the spokes or rim can be expensive.

What is a wheelbase?

Image by I, Malber, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
In short, the wheelbase is the distance between your front and rear wheels – and it affects how your bike handles. A long wheelbase will make your bike more stable when going straight, although it will be less responsive when you’re turning. This is why many large cruisers and choppers (like the one pictured above) have large wheelbases – the stability compensates for their poor turning. On the flip side, a short wheelbase means less stability in a straight line, but quick and nippy handling when turning.