Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Spoked wheels

I passed by an older Cadillac Deville that had spoked rims. There were hundreds, all shiny chrome, even the nipples.

I build my bicycle’s wheels; the best spokes are stainless but I buy the plated steel instead. Eventually the plating cracks though the spoke is still good (at least in dry climates where I don’t have to worry about rust.) The nipples are brass no matter what. The most expensive bicycle wheels are solid, with 3 or 4 arms, no spokes; I think they’re all non-metallic.

I don’t think a spoked wheel is a good idea for a car, especially a heavy one. Is there anything good about them or are they decorative?

The advantages of spoked wheels are that they’re light weight and people like how they look. Of course, on real spoked wheels, you have to use inner tubes. Inner tubes for motorcycles are expensive, so I’ll take solid wheels/rims when I have a choice.

Yes. Real wire wheels are a fashion accessory these days. And an expensive one. One of the best wire wheel makers that still exists was started in my home town.

You’ll see wire wheels on lots of '50s and some '60s collector cars. Way more than came with them from the factory. Same goes for ‘Continental kits’. Just a way to dress up the car.

Many years ago, the wire wheels were quite an improvement from the wooden wheels used for most cars. Those wooden wheels could break if you hit a rut or curb the wrong way.

Weight is important in cars, just like in bicycles. In bicycles the overall weight is probably the most imporant, but in cars there an add’l weight concern, the weight of the rotating parts, including the wheels, b/c of rotational inertia. A spoked wheel reduces both the overall weight and the rotating weight. On the plus side, since it takes more engine power to get a heavier wheel rotating than a lighter wheel, on acceleration a car with light weight spoked wheel should have a definite advantage. On the downside, the spoked wheel may not hold up as well to the rigors of hitting potholes. I do like the appearance of spoked wheels on cars though.

@RandomTroll Have you ever used double butted spokes for bicycle wheels? Just=curious. Have you even heard of sew up tires for bicycles?

Wire wheels got replaced by steel because they were cheaper, just as stiff (laterally) and require no maintenance. Aluminum replaced steel because they were lighter and stiffer, yes, stiffer. While aluminum as a metal is less stiff than steel, aluminum wheels can be stiffer because they are thicker inside-to-outside.

Wire wheels look cool, though.

Many 50s & 60s cars look great with wire rims. Some were factory option such as the T-Bird Sportster package. The 55 Studebaker Speedster had wire rim wheel covers, if I am ever lucky enough to get one ( lemon&lime, if you please) I would replace the wheel covers with real wire rims.
BTW, modern wire rims are tubeless.

1 Like

When did this happen, and when are motorcycle manufacturers going to adopt this innovation?

Yes, there are tubeless spoke rims available, there is a conversion kit, and there appear to be many DIY ways* to make spoke rims tubeless, but I haven’t seen this innovation make it to the manufacturers who put them on their vehicles, not yet anyway.

Some years back, I had a Caddy with the spoked wheel covers. While they looked great when they were clean, they were an incredible PITA to not only keep clean but worry about them being stolen. The only thing harder to keep clean than spoked wheels on a car is having them on a motorcycle. I cleaned my last spoked wheel about 15 years ago and plan to never do that again in my lifetime…

1 Like

As far as tubeless I should have been more clear. Aftermarket rims, in this case specifically Dayton Wire wheels. I’m sure other manufacturers have tubeless wire rims available.

Stiffness depends on the alloy. Steel wheels are made with low carbon steel, aren’t they? Low carbon steel has a low yield stress. We used to sell hot rolled low carbon bands to auto companies for steel wheels. The bands were cut, rolled, and welded to make the wheels. Aluminum alloy wheels are cast because the alloys are so stiff.

P.S. I know you know The details, @mustangman, but maybe some others that read the post don’t.

Yield stress is not stiffness, it is a measure of strength, Young’s modulus (or modulus of elasticity) defines the stiffness of a material. Steel (all steel is similar) has a modulus of 29 Mpsi and aluminum (also similar across various alloys) has a modulus of 10 Mpsi. Or about 1/3 as stiff as steel.

The density of aluminum is also 1/3 that of steel. Seems 3x the thickness for 1/3 the weight is not a good trade-off except that you can cast more efficient shapes in the aluminum and then heat treat for strength. Yield strength varies all over the map as heat treated alloys of aluminum can have a higher yield stress than low carbon steels. Heat treated aluminum alloys can be brittle, though. The best wheels I’ve seen have rolled rims attached to cast or forged centers. The rim is less brittle and the center is stronger.

If you need a wheel to go 1,000+ mph, go with aluminum:

I have used double-butted spokes. The weight difference is about 1 spoke’s worth for 36 and I didn’t notice a difference in sturdiness. Then again I break a spoke about every 20K miles so my sample is too small. I participate in bicycle forums (I pedal about 5K/year, as opposed to a few hundred miles driving.) I no longer get into double-butted (you can get them triple- and quadruple-butted too) vs straight gauge arguments. The people on the butted side probably know better than I do.

When I started riding, 53 years ago, sew-ups were exotic and had a reputation for being hard to work with. They also held a lot more pressure than clinchers. Clincher technology has improved; I can inflate mine to 120 psi. I ride around on city streets, local trails, dirt roads; I’ll get 30 miles from home; walking back is a drag - so I prefer sturdiness.

I used to live outside on my bicycle: ride up to Canada, across to the East coast, down to the Keys, back to California. I rode back roads, often dirt, camped out, bypassed cities. A bicycle that I couldn’t fix with parts from the Western Auto was a liability. When I first used Presta valves I broke my pump in rural Florida. No one had a pump or Presta tubes. So I drilled out the valve hole and have used Schraders ever since.

Does anyone make stainless spokes for auto wheels? All the best bicyclists who use spoked wheels use stainless. I’d think those chromed spokes would un-plate from wear, the way my plated spokes do (and their plating is nickel, which may be less brittle than chrome) and look ugly. I can’t imagine truing an auto wheel.

It’s hard to compare a bicycle wheel with an automobile wheel. A bicycle wheel is a purely suspension device, the hub being held up in the center by the spokes above it, and it never has any lateral load (while, maybe when I did that endo on the singletrack… :confounded:). An automobile wheel is subjected to different forces, and a steel wheel or machined alloy wheel deals with the forces very differently than a bicycle wheel. Spoked automobile wheel manufacturers all agree that spoked automotive wheels need periodic “truing”. Steelies or alloy wheels are pretty much maintenance free.

For the record, I used to ride (bicycle) here in NH through the winter. I studded the tires myself and put the strips in them that prevent punctures (can’t remember the name). The added weight very definitely affected the handling and energy needed… especially since it was all rotating mass and well away from the wheels’ turning axises (is that a word?).

I wondered also about the earlier comment that wire wheels were lighter than steel wheels. I diligently searched to find out, but was unable to. Anybody here able to find anything on that?

Bottom line: wire wheels are gorgeous on many cars, but they require maintenance. But hey, if I had an MG of any vintage, it’d be worth the added maintenance. :grin:

1 Like

The plural form of axis is axes. I know it’s confusing, because it’s also the plural of ax/axe. It throws me off too, like the past participle of lie being lain.

I have to admit I did not know that.

But that (as far as I can tell) does NOT apply to the other word lie (falsehood), only to lie (assume a position)

1 Like

On motorcycles, most spoke wheels have steel rims, so just a visual comparison of the two will prove the spoke wheels are lighter due to the use of less steel. In terms of the weight question, alloy wheels have overcome this advantage.

Other evidence that I’ve noticed of the weight advantage of spoked wheels is that they’re prevalent on light weight low displacement motorcycles. Some manufacturers have gone to alloy wheels on their 250-450 sport bikes, but on the smallest motorcycles, you’ll frequently see spoked wheels for this reason.

Another advantage of spokes I just discovered is that, evidently, spoke wheels absorb shocks, which explains why they’re used on dirt bikes.

I’m a “form follows function” kind of guy, and I do only street riding/cruising, so I’m definitely not a fan of spokes on motorcycles or cars. If it wasn’t so expensive, I’d get solid wheels for my bicycle too, but considering what I just discovered about spoke wheels absorbing shocks, I should probably stick with spokes on my bicycles.

Automotive spoked wheels are far more robust than motorcycle wheels. I wasn’t talking about motorcycles. I thought that my comparing them to “steel wheels” and the context of the thread would have made that obvious.

I’m still wondering if they are lighter. Anybody?