Motorcycle Spoked-Wheel Maintenance

Spoked motorcycle wheels need some maintenance too.

How often do you think about the spokes on your motorcycle? If you are a normal human being, chances are it's probably not often enough; today on MC Garage we talk about spoked-wheel maintenance.

Spoked wheels have been around for as long as, well, motorcycles. It wasn’t until the 1970s that cast wheels began to appear on production street motorcycles, but that didn’t make spoked wheels obsolete. In fact, spoked wheels are still the best approach for keeping things rolling on dirt bikes, adventure bikes, and custom and classically styled streetbikes. But with those spokes comes required maintenance and in some cases actual truing of the wheel.

Spokes attach the hub to the rim to create the wheel, and these spokes are under tension to give the wheel strength. The physics and engineering of how this actually works is massively complicated, but, basically, without proper tension the wheel’s strength is compromised. And really that’s all we care about at the end of the day, a strong and sound wheel so you can enjoy your ride.

How often should you check the spoke tension? Well, that depends on whether you are riding off road or on the street. I found a good rule of thumb is every time you wash your bike, check the spokes. If you’re getting dirty, you will be checking them more often, and less if you’re a street commuter. If you get new tires? Perfect time to check the spokes as well.

Justin Dawes with spoked-wheel.
In this episode of MC Garage we discuss the ins and outs of spoked motorcycle wheels.Alec Dare

Checking your spokes is fairly quick and straightforward. First off, give them a squeeze below or above where they cross. Every squeeze should have the same tension and be nice and tight. If you find a loose one just by hand, it’s way too loose! You can also tap each spoke and listen for a change in tone; a lower note means that spoke is looser.

Also, an adjustable spoke torque wrench like this one from Fasst Company is a handy tool and makes for the ultimate in consistent spoke tension. Of course, check your service manual for the proper specs for your motorcycle. The Fasst Company spoke torque wrench comes with tips that fit most spokes, even spline-drive spokes. It's not cheap at $294 with all the tips, but it's a quality tool that should last for as long as you are riding. There is also a nonadjustable model that is set at 48 inch-pounds, which is perfect for full-size motocross bikes.

Bikes with side-laced wheels, like the BMW R1250GS and Triumph Scrambler 1200 XC and XE, require you to tension the spoke from the hub, rather than from the rim. A conventional inch-pound torque wrench, socket, and extension are handy here. Same rules apply.

If you need to tighten your spokes, here’s a handy trick to make sure you tension the spokes consistently to avoid pulling the wheel out of true, laterally or radially—that’s side to side and up and down. Start at the spoke just after the valve stem; tighten no more than a quarter-turn; and then skip two spokes and repeat. This makes sure you pull evenly on each side of the wheel while not pulling the wheel out of whack up and down. After you go all the way around, move forward one spoke and repeat two more times.

That’s it for checking your spokes—do it often, do it right, and your wheels will thank you with a trouble-free ride.