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Spokes May Look Good But ...
(Tubeless vs. Tube-type tires)

By: James R. Davis

Once upon a time bicycles and motorcycles had spoked wheels. They looked good. However...

Spoked wheels are incredibly difficult to keep clean and there are dozens of spokes in each that have to be regularly checked and adjusted because they tend to come loose. And, each one of those spokes is usually mechanically attached to the wheel rims in such a way that it is difficult to make those connections air tight. On the other hand, tires in those days had inner tubes that didn't leak (very much.)

[It turns out, by the way, that though spoked wheels tended to be lighter than more solid designs, because the wheel's mass was concentrated largely at the rim rather than closer to their hubs, they took more energy to accelerate or brake.]

I received a message the other day from someone who wants to replace his modern wheels with ones that have spokes. Apparently he thinks they look nicer. I have no problem with that, of course. This person also understood that spoked wheels, unless they are specifically made for tubeless tires, should be used with tube-type tires and wondered if there was a safety issue there that he needed to be aware of.
  • Tube-type tires tend to have catastrophic failures when they are punctured whereas tubeless tires, because of their self-sealing construction, tend not to have catastrophic failures.

  • Tube-type tires cannot be repaired on the road with a tire plug kit. You get a puncture, you probably have to get a tow.

In other words, if you want spoke wheels on your horse, for looks, then unless the rims are specifically made to be used with tubeless tires, the bike should be a show bike. If you want to ride your bike on the streets, most spoke wheels are not the best idea from a safety point of view. [BMW has a spoked rim that is made to be safely used with tubeless tires.]

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(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

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