There is an overwhelming consensus among adventure motorcycle riders that spokes are better than alloys when riding off road. In theory yes, and I’m not going to argue about the theory aspect of this debate. I’m going to get practical here.
Normal adventure motorcycle riders like me can barely negotiate their big, tall and heavy machines in the dirt. We barely manage to scrape through tricky sections and start waddling when the shit starts to hit the fan. We ride at such slow speeds off road that it really doesn’t matter if our wheels had spokes or alloys or bamboo sticks. I’m exaggerating here but I think you get the point.
The only time something bad will happen to a spoked or alloy wheel is when you slam it into a pot hole at high speed when cruising on a highway. Here in India its quite common for a big hole to suddenly show up in the middle of a smooth tarmac stretch. I’ve bent the front alloy wheel of my Tiger 800 XRx this way. My friends riding Tiger XC’s have bent and even cracked their spokes wheels while riding on highways. All the damage to wheels I’ve seen in all these years of riding has been on tarmac and never off-road. The reason is simple. Normal adventure motorcycle riders don’t ride like Toby Price. People like him most definitely need spokes. People like us who barely make it across to the other side of the obstacle don’t.
But what you do get with spokes is a shit load of headache when you get a flat tyre. In the case of alloys fixing a puncture is a 10 minute job. You don’t need to remove the wheel. You don’t even need any help from anyone to get the job done. Your friends can take a short break while you plug and inflate your tyre and then everyone can proceed quickly.
If you have spokes you are basically screwed and screw others that are riding with you. Changing a tube by the side of the road or in the middle of nowhere isn’t adventure. That is the thing which is stopping you from having an adventure. Adventure is taking the road less travelled and seeing places off the map. Adventure is crossing a river with your motorcycle in a canoe. Adventure is riding close to the knife edge of a cliff. Wasting an hour to fix a puncture is shit. An utter waste of time, energy and patience. If you think it’s adventure then maybe you should spend your Sunday driving nails into your tubed tyres at home and fixing the punctures.
I had a puncture on our recent North East ride. I felt miserable changing the tube in the rain. My friend had a puncture at the top of Sela pass. It was beyond miserable changing the tube at 13,700 feet at 0 degrees Centigrade with strong winds that made it feel even colder.
I find it ridiculous that manufacturers sell adventure motorcycles with spoked wheels. Spoked wheels should be sold as upgrade accessories for those who go mental with their motorcycles off-road. If manufacturers really want to offer spoked wheels for their off-road biased adventure motorcycles then they should provide tubeless spoked wheels where the spokes go into the sides of the rim and not the center. These big adventure motorcycles don’t come cheap. I think alloy wheels or tubeless spoked wheels should be the most basic thing on a motorcycle which is expected to be ridden far away from civilization.
Alloy wheels is the main reason I bought the Tiger 800 XRx instead of the XCx. Spoked wheels are the only thing I hate about my Hero Impulse. Spoked wheels are the only think I don’t like about the soon to be launched SWM Superdual T in India.
This is basically what I tell people who ask me for advice on which Tiger to buy – XR or XC. They usually have little to no experience of riding a motorcycle off road. They get carried away by people telling them that if they plan on taking their adventure motorcycles off road they absolutely need spoked wheels. In reality, these people will rarely take their big adventure motorcycles off road. Even if they do, they will not ride them like those professionals shown in the commercials, slamming into rocks, jumping over logs and power sliding on gravel. They will most probably spend most of their time touring on highways. They will keep getting frustrated when their rides get ruined by punctures. That just the cold hard truth.