Dirt bike wheels are as important to your off-road experience as the correct tire choice. To have different tires available for changing terrain conditions, you may need to have multiple wheels available with varying tires of spec fitted to each rim. This will allow for fast wheel changes to cater for changes in weather or terrain conditions when you get to your riding location. This raises a question, though, that may be relevant if you have multiple dirt bikes and need to interchange wheels between bikes.
In general, dirt bike wheels are interchangeable within the same brand of dirt bike, but there are always exceptions to the general rule. Between different brands of dirt bikes, there are basic standards, but enough differences to make interchangeability impractical. There are features and standards for dirt bike wheels within the industry, but if a manufacturer deviates from the standard, then the general rule will no longer apply. Manufacturers may deviate from these standards if they believe the changes bring an enhancement to the performance of the wheel or to conform to the design of the bike.
For the sake of clarity, when we talk about the interchangeability of dirt bike wheels, we are talking about the interchangeability between different bikes. We are not talking about interchangeability between the front and rear wheels on the same bike.
The front and back wheels on the same dirt bike are not interchangeable. This lack of interchangeability is due to several design differences between the two wheels.
- The front and back wheels are different in width. The front wheel is normally thinner than the rear wheel. The wider rear wheel is to improve stability and traction of the dirt bike over the rough off-road terrain.
- The mechanics of the two wheels are different. The rear wheel has an integrated cog, or gear, to which the chain is attached to drive the rear wheel. The front-wheel does not have the mountings for this type of fitting.
- The braking technology installed on the two wheels is also different in some cases, with disc brakes fitted to the front wheels and, in some cases, drum brakes fitted to the rear wheel.
For these reasons, the front and back wheels on the same bike are not interchangeable. The focus of this article, however, is the interchangeability of wheels between different dirt bikes.
Standard Dirt Bike Wheels
A dirt bike straight off the showroom floor comes with factory standard rims. Motorcycle wheel rims are more often than not made from aluminum. The metal for the rim can either be cast into the shape of the wheel or forged to the correct shape and dimensions.
The cast aluminum version is the cheaper method of manufacture but also results in a lower quality end product. The forged aluminum product is more expensive to make and to purchase, but the final product is both stronger and lighter than a wheel produced via the casting method.
Many of the stock rims that are sold on dirt bikes are of the cast aluminum variety. While these rims are durable and may last a long time, their lifespan will largely be determined by the terrain you ride and how aggressive your riding style is.
Standard dirt bike wheels are also mass-produced, so flaws can creep into the manufacturing process. This may result in wheels that are not completely true, in other words, not properly round, or well balanced. The casting also produces a seam on the wheel, which is a potential weak point on the rim that could fail under a heavy impact. These rims can also come out of the factory with flat spots, which will affect the wheel’s performance and tire wear.
While this may seem to paint a rather grim picture of mass-produced standard rims, it is not always the case, and your stock rims may well last you a good while and serve you well.
The size of the wheels is largely dependent on the size of your dirt bike. The common wheel size for a full size, adult dirt bike is a 21-inch diameter front wheel with a 1.6-inch width. There is an additional measurement given with wheel sizes, which indicated the number of spokes on the wheel.
An example of the front wheel just mentioned would be 21 x 1.6 36. The first number in the sequence is the diameter of the wheel, the second number the width. The last number, 36, indicates the number of spokes that are fitted to the wheel.
The front wheels of the dirt bike seem to follow the standards more often than not, and manufacturers seem to follow these sizes more than with the rear wheel.
The problem that faces the interchangeability question is the design of the front forks. It the front forks of the bike are designed with small tolerances, in other words, not much space to play with, then any deviation on the size of the wheel will make in incompatible with that set of forks.
The back wheel, in comparison, is usually of a smaller diameter, but significantly wider. A common size for the rear wheel is 19 x 2.15 36. This is a wheel with a 19-inch diameter, a width of 2.15 inches, and the wheel has 36 spokes. Some bikes come with a slightly smaller rear wheel with the dimensions 18 x 1.85 and with 32 spokes.
It is often these small differences in the size of the rear wheel that make the wheels interchangeable with other dirt bikes or not. Dirt bike manufacturers will design their bike frame and suspension according to the size wheel that they intend to manufacture the bike for. This design may limit the fitting of a wheel that is not made for the bike, as the space around the frame and suspension may not allow for it.
Before we take a look at the difference in custom dirt bike wheels, let’s take a look at why dirt bike wheels are still made with spokes.
The Question Of Spoked Dirt Bike Wheels
Back in the early days of motorized vehicles, even car wheel rims were made with the spoke design. While cars and on-road motorcycles have moved on from this type of wheel design, it is still the preferred style of wheel for dirt bikes.
The reason for this is that spoked wheels are excellent for rough terrain. The spoked design allows the rim to flex under uneven tensions caused by rough ground. The spokes then also act as a spring, allowing the rim to regain shape. Obviously, there is a limit to the amount of flexion that the spokes can provide, and a severe impact can easily damage a rim, causing it to twist, or buckle, or even crack.
The spokes on these wheels also offer a shock dampening effect to some extent. This shock dampening effect contributes to making the ride more comfortable for the rider and enhances the controllability of the bike over rough tracks.
The concept of spokes, while bringing advantages to off-road riding, brings another dimension to the maintenance that is needed for your bike. Spokes are fitted individually to the wheel, and as such, they each come with their own manual tensioner. Spokes move and flex, stretch and contract with the rigors of off-road riding. This causes them to lose tension and become loose, which affects their ability to absorb shock and keep the wheel rim correctly tensioned.
The spokes will, therefore, require regular maintenance, which involved testing the tension of each spoke on the wheel and adjusting the tension via the little tensioning nut at the base of the spoke. The frequency of this type of maintenance will depend very much on how hard you ride and how rough the terrain is.
Hard riding and rough ground will require the spokes to be tensioned on a more regular basis. Some riders recommend tensioning the spokes every time before or after your ride. The process can be included in the washing process after riding or as part of the offloading process of your bike from its transport before you ride.
Spokes may become damaged to the point of being irreparable, and in these instances, should be replaced completely with a new spoke. This means that you should always carry a spare spoke or two in your toolbox, or in your repair kit. The ability to replace spokes also extends the life of a wheel. Rather than replacing an entire wheel, only the damaged spokes need to be replaced. This is, of course, only if there is no damage to the actual rim itself.
One thing that spoked wheels imply is that tires fitted to most dirt bikes will require a tube. Most standard factory dirt bike rims have the spokes connected directly to the rim as opposed to a flange on the rim. The direct connection of the spokes to the rim creates small gaps which are not suitable for the airtight seal required for tubeless tires. This is, however, getting more into the realm of tires, which we will touch on a little later in the article.
Many of the enduro-style dirt bikes such as the BMW RS series bikes have this type of wheel rim. This gives them the advantage of offroad performance with the spoke structure and on-road performance with the tubeless tires.
Custom Dirt Bike Wheels
Custom or aftermarket dirt bike wheels are gaining in popularity among dirt bike riders. Advancements in design and materials make it possible to produce a wheel that easily outperforms the standard dirt bike rims. These custom rims can make enough of a difference to the performance of the bike that the rider can gain a significant edge over the competition.
While the custom wheels are very popular among professional riders and racers, it does not preclude them from use by recreational riders. The improvements these custom wheels afford, make a difference to the traction holding ability and comfort of the ride, which is not something to be overlooked, even in recreational riding circles.
Dirt bike wheels can be broken down into several different components. The wheel consists of the rim, spokes, and hub. These parts are all manufactured separately, and the quality of each component has a bearing on the overall performance of the wheel as a whole.
What makes custom wheels better than factory rims is the attention to detail in the manufacture of each component and the materials that the parts are made from. Of course, the different manufacturing techniques and better materials have an impact on the price of the dirt bike wheels, but the gain in quality is worth the additional expense!
Custom rims are designed and manufactured to not only offer enhanced durability and performance but also to include additional features such as better shedding of mud.
Custom rims are usually made from alloys and forged rather than cast. The higher precision in the manufacturing process, as well as the use of higher quality raw materials, make custom rims a superior product than the standard rims.
Custom rims also come in a variety of finishes, from powder-coating to wrapping or hydro-dipped. These different finishes have different durability factors and allow for a variety of colors, shines, and styles for your rims. Why not make a statement and jazz up the colors for your rims and spokes and stand out from the crowd at the track!
Custom Hubs, Axle, And Bearings
Many people forget that the hub, axle, and bearings are important parts of the wheels, and the quality of these parts can have a direct bearing on the performance of your dirt bike!
The best custom wheel hubs are called billet hubs. These hubs are milled from a solid piece of steel. The shapes, slots, and holes are all cut out on CNC machines, which are computer-controlled cutting machines. This means that the parts are cut out to accurate dimensions. This helps to reduce the amount of slop in ill-fitting parts that are not manufactured to the same tolerances!
Custom hubs will often come with bearings that are manufactured to the same degree of quality, specifically for that hub. The standards that these bearings are manufactured to are comparable to that of the hub, making them an ideal matched pair.
Many manufacturers will make rear wheel hubs with three bearings as opposed to the standard 2 bearings. The back wheel often takes more punishment on an off-road track, and the additional bearing helps the wheel cope better with the harsh conditions.
When buying custom hubs, it is important to make sure that the hub is made to take the same number of spokes that the rim is manufactured to take. If the hub has fewer slots for spokes, you may be tempted to leave spokes out, but this is not a good idea!
As we have mentioned previously, you may want to have multiple rims for your dirt bike with different tires fitted to each rim type. This makes for quick changes to cater for different terrain you may encounter at your riding location.
To make the interchangeability of your dirt bikes wheels easier, you may want to take a look at quick-release fasteners for your axle.
Custom spokes are made from different materials, with the most popular material being stainless steel. The difference in the material has advantages in weight reduction, the tensile strength of the spoke, and the enhanced stability that it brings to the wheel construction.
The stainless steel construction of these custom spokes can add as much as 30% to the overall strength of the component compared to standard spokes. Carbon steel spokes can add a further 30% improvement over the stainless steel variety. The carbon steel spokes are usually finished with chrome or an anodized layer to protect them from rust.
These factors not only bring enhanced performance to the wheel as a whole but also improve the durability of the spokes.
Custom spokes come in a variety of colors, both of the spokes themselves and the spoke nipples, which gives the rider the ability to customize the look of their bike too!
The type of spokes you select for your custom wheels will largely be determined by your budget, as this component can become expensive, depending on the material and method of manufacture.
Additional Parts, Tools Accessories For Dirt Bike Wheels
Much of the maintenance and changing of parts on dirt bikes are on a do it yourself, or DIY basis. If you are out at a dirt bike track and have a flat wheel, you cannot pop out to a tire shop to get it fixed. These types of basic tasks you will need to learn how to do yourself so that you can perform them on the fly and carry on with your riding for the day.
For you to do these basic tasks, some parts, tools, and accessories make these tasks quicker and less of a chore!
These additional parts, tools, and accessories include the following:
- Rim Locks
- Rim Strips
- Valve Caps
- Spoke Wrench
- Tire Pump and Pressure Gauge
- Bike Stand And Wheel Stand
First of all, what are rim locks on a dirt bike? Rim locks are a device that locks your tire in place on the rim. The rim lock will keep the tire fixed and prevent it from rotating on the rim under heavy acceleration or heavy braking conditions. It a tire slips on the rim, it could not only be a safety concern but causes unnecessary wear on the tire sidewalls and on the tube that is stationary inside the tire.
There is usually one rim lock fitted to each wheel (front and back wheels), but some wider back wheels require the fitment of two rim locks to improve effectiveness.
Rim locks come in various styles and quality, from standard types to custom varieties. Make sure you have a good set fitted to your dirt bike!
Rim locks are sized according to the width of the wheel, so make sure you purchase the right size rim lock for the wheels fitted to your bike!
A rim strip is a piece of flat material or tape that is fitted over the section of the rim where the spoke nipples come into contact with the inner tube. The spoke nipples have the potential to pierce the tube or cause wear on the tube, resulting in the air escaping and, thus, a flat wheel!
The better rim strips have an adhesive backing to prevent them from spinning on the dirt bike rim and becoming more of a problem than useful! Cheaper rim strip versions often do not have this adhesive backing, which makes them prone to tearing and movement.
As an emergency measure, you can use duct tape as a temporary rim strip, but it should be replaced with a proper purpose built-product at your earliest convenience!
The importance of valve caps can easily be overlooked, that is until you have had the experience of a small stone lodging in the valve stem and causing a slow leak of air from your wheel!
Valve caps are so cheap that it is practically a no-brainer, just get a set for your bike and be disciplined in putting then back after inflating the tires or checking the pressure! You can also get color-coded ones that fir with the aesthetic of your dirt bike!
A spoke wrench is a specialized wrench used to adjust the tension of the spokes on your dirt bike wheel. Keeping the correct tension on the spokes is a critical maintenance task that should be performed regularly to maintain the maximum integrity performance of your wheel rims.
They are normally fairly small, flat wrenches that are easily misplaced, so it would make sense to have a couple of these little tools floating around in your gear!
Tire Pump And Pressure Gauge
A pressure gauge, in conjunction with a good tire pump, could almost be considered essential gear for an off-roader.
There are many types of tire pumps that would be suitable, from manual pumps to 12-volt electric pumps that run off your truck cigarette lighter socket. These electric pumps are great to keep in your truck and can be multi-purpose for your truck, trailer, and your dirt bike!
If your off-road riding is more trail type events, a small manual pump with a tire repair kit may get you out of an otherwise sticky situation!
Pressure gauges that come on tire pumps are usually not very accurate, so a dedicated pressure gauge is recommended to get an accurate reading of your dirt bike’s tire pressure.
Bike Stands And Tire Changing Stands
While these two items are not essential for your dirt bike wheel maintenance, they certainly make the job easier and cleaner!
A bike stand is not only great to lift your bike up to a better level do maintenance tasks. It is a good idea to lace your dirt bike on a stand when you park it in your garage. This will keep pressure off one part of the tire, which can cause cracking of the rubber or flat spots developing in the tire.
Dirt bike stands are not expensive, with cheaper ones in the region of $50 or so and fancier ones in the region of $110 or so.
A tire changing stand is a specialized stand that you place your wheel on when it is removed from the bike. This makes tasks such as fixing punctures, adjusting spokes, and other maintenance tasks much easier. The stand raises the wheel to a more comfortable working height and keeps the wheel out of the dirt to keep hubs, axles, and bearings dirt free!
Let’s face it a puncture on a motorcycle is no fun at all. It is a small thing that can ruin an entire day of off-roading fun! Learning to fix punctures is a great skill to acquire and will get you back on the bike in a short amount of time. There are a couple of items to make sure you carry with you to help ease the pain fixing punctures on your dirt bike.
- Always carry spare tubes for both your front and rear wheels. It is often easier and quicker to replace a tube rather than find and repair a puncture, as long as you remember to remove the cause of the puncture from the tire before installing the new tube!
- A set of tire irons is useful to carry with you. Changing a puncture without a set of tire irons is not a task you want to undertake! It takes some practice to get comfortable using tire irons, so make sure you know how to use them before you have to fix a puncture during an event!
- Rim protectors and bead tools are inexpensive accessories to use with your tire irons that just make the job easier.
Make Your Dirt Bike Wheels Interchangeable
While dirt bike wheels are not reliably interchangeable, you can make all the dirt bike wheels in your stable interchangeable. This can be achieved by standardizing the rims, spokes, hubs, axles, and tire sizes across on all your dirt bike wheels!
This will make your dirt bike wheels interchangeable between all the bikes that you own.
I hope I answered any questions you may have had regarding the interchangeability of your dirt bike wheels and that you are ready for the dirt road!
Happy dirt biking!