Wheel building - Differences Between Bicycle and Motorcycle Wheels

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Are you a bicycle wheel builder who is considering moving onto motorcycle wheel building? The very earliest motorcycles were literally a bicycle with an engine so wheels for these machines are unlikely to give you any real problems, but if you are intending to build a wheel for any motorbike other than a vintage machine there are several extra things that you will need to know.

The motorcyclist is relying on his wheels

When you are building motorcycle wheels you are taking on a very much bigger responsibility. Motorcycles travel a lot faster than bicycles. Motorcycle wheels will turn a lot faster and the forces on the components are a long stronger. A defect in a wheel that might be little more than an inconvenience to a cyclist could result in catastrophe on a motorcycle. Unless you are extremely confident of your ability as a wheelbuilder do not start to build wheels for motorcycles.

Preparation for rebuilding

Before you dismantle the wheel you will need to take some measurements. Bicycle wheels are almost always built with the rim running centrally between the lock-nuts. On a motorcycle wheel you will usually have the hub without the axle and other fittings attached and you will need to measure the offset. This is done by laying a straight edge across the brake side of the hub and measuring the distance between the straight edge and the rim. Take the measurement in several places and be sure that you are confident that you have this measurement written down accurately before you start to dismantle the wheel.

As when building bicycle wheels it is also important to make a note of the spoking pattern and any unusual features before dismantling.

In this day of cheap digital photography it is also a good idea to take some photographs as well.

The rebuild

Motorcycle spokes are a lot thicker than bicycle spokes so they cannot be flexed. When rebuilding a motorcycle wheel you will not be interlacing the spokes as you would for a bicycle.

You will find that spokes need to be inserted in the correct order. Inside spokes need to be fitted first. If you make a mistake during building it will very likely be necessary to dismantle your work and start again.

You will also notice that the rim is dimpled where the spoke-nipples fit and that the holes are drilled offset. You do not have the flexibility to play around with spoke patterns that you do with bicycle wheels. Motorcycle rims are drilled to fit a certain hub with a certain spoke pattern.

Motorcycle spoke heads are not always set at right-angles. The spoke head angles can be set anywhere from 90 degrees to perfectly straight. Perfectly straight spokes cause other problems as the spoke may turn in the hub during truing.

Motorcycle wheels are often built with more than one length of spoke, or with spokes with different head angles, in the same wheel.


Truing the wheel

Your bicycle wheel truing stand is not going to help you when finishing a motorcycle wheel. Motorcycle wheel truing stands are much heavier, take up more room on your workbench and are of course more expensive to buy.

I'm sure it is quite obvious, but I'll mention it anyway, that you will also need a different nipple-key before you can begin to true a motorcycle wheel.

A motorcycle wheel is usually trued with the bearings installed but with no axle. The wheel is held with cones in the stand.

If you are truing a wheel with an alloy rim it is very easy to mark the rim with the nipple-key. Even more care needs to be taken than with bicycle wheels.

Conclusion

I have tried to show that being able to build a bicycle wheel does not automatically qualify you for building motorcycle wheels. However with care. practice and the extra knowledge contained here, hopefully you will find the transition to be an enjoyable one.

Comments 4 comments

kevin l 4 years ago

WOW! Very strange. I build wheels for bicycles, and am starting to build motorcycle wheels. VERY condescending (toward the bicycle wheelsmith) to say the least! Wheels are as important to a bicycle as all wheels are. "An inconvenience" what a Dumb ass thing to say! "Catastrophe" for cyclist as well! PLEASE, don't build ANY wheels! You are clueless. Because YOU think you can build motorcycle wheels DOES NOT mean you can build bicycle wheels. There is way more to it then you will ever know. Such as "World Cup Downhill Racing"


Kevin l 4 years ago

Oh, and there are many, many different spoke types, hubs and rims for bicycles. As well as "offsets". I paid more for bicycle truing stand than my motorcycle truing stand. DON'T believe everything you read on the internet! Good luck


PositiveChristian profile image

PositiveChristian 3 years ago from Hailsham, England Author

Hi Kevin, I'm sorry that my article has upset you. I certainly don't mean to be condescending to anybody.

It is impossible to cover all aspects of wheel building in such a short piece of writing so my article was only intended to cover the usual differences between bicycle and motorcycle wheels. There will always be exceptions to such general advice.

My article does not, and was never intended to cover wheels for racing machines, whether motorised or otherwise. Building racing wheels is a very specialist area.

I hope this clarifies some your concerns.

Incidentally I have been building wheels for over 40 years and I have an excellent reputation among cyclists and motorcyclist in the UK.


Misfit 3 years ago

Can someone tell me why motorcycle wheels are NOT interlaced? Yes, I know it's still called "lacing a wheel", but the actual definition of interlacing is what I'm talking about.

Let me try to explain. On a 3x (three cross) laced bicycle wheel, the spokes are "interlaced" near the rim. The spoke will go under, under, then OVER, which actually bends the spoke. . . (maybe I just answered my own question, maybe since moto spokes are so much thicker, they can't really be bent the same way. . .)

Motorcycles don't do this. The spoke is either all over the entire way, or all under.

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