Alloy wheels are considered more safer than conventional steel rims since it accommodates tubeless tires. Any damage in the alloy wheel can be a cause of concern and needs to inspected and repaired with priority.
So can motorcycle alloy wheels be repaired? Light to moderate damage to alloy wheels can be fixed and the wheels can be refurbished to give it its original looks and performance. Severely damaged wheels are not recommended to be fixed due to safety and reliability issues.
Now, let’s deep dive into the usage of alloy wheels in motorcycles, types of damages and how to repair alloy wheels.
Alloy Wheels In Motorcycles
Riding a street legal or off-road motorcycle involves all kinds of risks for both man and machine. Having unblemished wheels is important consideration as it is the part that connects the machine to the asphalt.
Most motorcycle manufacturers took the plunge in switching over from steel rimmed rims to aluminium alloy or magnesium (mag) rims due to the advantages and conveniences it offered in lates 90s and early 2000s.
The main reason for adoption of alloy rims that it accommodates safer tubeless tyres besides offer performance benefits like helping reduce unsprung weight, rolling resistance and significantly improve cornering performance for riders.
Alloy rims are considered safer than conventional steel rims and now come with various designs from OEMs and aftermarket suppliers.
Depending on the type of motorcycle, manufacturers dispatch them to the retail partner showrooms shod with tyres of various profiles.
Interestingly, most sports or super bikes have wider but low profile tyres that means they have wider contact, better performance on road but are not good enough to absorb severe road imperfections or protect damage to alloys in case of impacts.
This aspect can turnout to be an expensive and inconvenient exercise for the motorcycle owner/rider if the alloy wheels are damaged or bent.
Situation for a rider can change without notice from normal to not so normal after the motorcycle hits a big pothole or goes over one of those unannounced speed breakers at speed.
While a seasoned rider is able to take control the motorcycle balance and regain composure, it takes a moment to go over the incident. After a quick physical check of the wheel, the rider resumes riding again and notice some changes in the handling of the bike.
As the rider experiences the motorcycle’s handling doesn’t feel that good as before, it’s a sure-shot indication of some damage to the wheels or suspension.
Being careless while parking a motorcycle can also damage the edges or scoff an alloy rim when it hits a pavement.
Most alloy rims are either painted or powder coated and to further protect the metal, they are clear coated with lacquer and hence any surface damage can be easily spotted.
While damages to motorcycle rims are frustrating and annoying, not all alloy wheel damage types equal their severity and cost to repair, refurbish or replace.
Types Of Damage To Alloys
While alloy rims can resist some impact, the amount of damage visible can give an idea of what to expect.
The intensity of the damage can be mild to severe and eache has its pros and cons when comes to a permanent fix or in worst case scenario, a total loss and eventual replacement.
The lightest surface damages are curb/pavement scrapes. As they are mostly cosmetic, they can be easily fixed even by the DIY enthusiasts at home. Usually, not considered to be something that needs urgent attention and one can continue to ride the motorcycle without any issues.
The second damage to a rim would be more than just a scoff or lacquer peel off. Dents or gouges on rims can happen anywhere — inside, outside, on the spokes and edges depending on upon the severity of the impact.
Gouges happen when the rim gets hit by hard road debris. This type of damage will require a bit more complicated repair process and will involve welding and even use of a lathe machine. Both dents and gouge damages on wheels require prompt attention.
Inner and outer lips of the rim are hot targets for damage and bend easily on impact. It’s common on motorcycle alloys shod with low profile tyres where there is less cushioning available from the tyre due to its shorter sidewall.
The fall out of the bent edge of rims are many and annoying if one is stranded in the middle of nowhere due to this.
A rider may experience wobbling, constant leaking of air, disruption of general and normal harmonic vibrations, uneven tyre wear, driveline component damage (bearings, axle, oil seal) and so on.
The most important thing is to avoid running the motorcycle on bent rims for various reasons as mentioned besides safety.
The ride must make swift arrangement to have wheel damage inspected immediately after the impact by a professional who can determine the extent of damage sustained and advise appropriate mitigation measures.
The worst that can happen to alloy rims is parts of it shearing off due to the impact or fractured as a result of a violent impact.
In cases of catastrophic damage, parts of the alloy rim may break off or fracture rendering the rim permanently unusable.
Chemical damage is also an area not to be overlooked. Tyre sealants and brake dust or leaking brake oil are among the major culprits for this.
Inspecting Damages In Alloy Wheels
A 360-degree inspection is needed to be done to ascertain the level of damage to the rim.
If in doubt, have the wheel removed from the machine and get the tyre off the rim.
This will allow a better physical examination of the surface of the rim. Check for cracks too.
Sometimes microscopic cracks appear which are difficult to spot with the tyre on the rim.
Most people may think that a light wobble is just a simple balancing problem.
They may be correct, however the best thing to stop guessing and find out the true reason for it and its befitting solution to fix it.
Take the rim to a professional wheel balancer who has the proper equipment and technicians.
High end wheel service providers have sophisticate tools to measure the run outs on the beads. Once on the machine, the sensors can determine the imbalance side to side as well as up and down (both axis). Beads have to be perfect otherwise air will continue to leak from the tubeless tyres besides other performance issues.
The data derived will direct the next course of action.
Once the overall physical condition has been ascertained, one can decide how to move forward. Factor in other aspects that are associated with the rim — bearing housing, axle or shaft. A bent axle or shaft can be replaced, but a loose bearing housing will require professional attention from a specialist.
Factory provided new rims come with 1/10,000 to 1/30,000 inch of tolerance when it comes to balance. This is done deliberately to counter the possible imperfections of the tyres. Anything above that tolerance level will impact the motorcycle’s handling and cause it to wobble. When tyres are moulded, they develop high spots during manufacture that can’t be compensated hence this allowance related to tolerance.
As a result, most professional tyre service providers will consider these parameters on a combo (tyre on rim) wheel set-up for best results.
How Alloy Wheels Are Repaired And Refurbished
- Light surface damage: If it’s just the clear coat or paint that has been scraped, then it’s a relatively easy fix. The rough surface has to be cleaned and sanded down. Once the surface is smooth, it can be primered, colour matched and clear coated.
- Bent edges: This will require professional help. With proper tooling and heat, the bent portion can be straightened. After straightening, a gauge is used to ensure it is within tolerances and corrections made. Then the refinish is done as above.
- Large dents: Can be removed or fixed by professionals using a variety of methods including filling with welds. After the repair, ensure balancing is done.
- Minor cracks: An experienced aluminium welder using TIG welding can join the cracks with ease. Aluminium is brittle so light surface welding won’t last long due to stress. These cracks have to be prepared accordingly to accept extra weld material. After the weld, excess material is shaved or machined off on a lathe or grinded off. The last step would be to test it for air leaks and balancing before primer/paint/clear coat process.
- Broken fragments or holes: Small holes can be filled the same way and broken pieces re-attached like a jig-saw puzzle. Again this is a specialist’s job and the process is elaborate as above. Avoid repairing large broken pieces of big holes (1” and above).
After the repair, the wheels can be primed, painted and clear coated giving it a brand new look.
Do’s And Don’ts
Pavement scoffed or scratched rims can be refurbishedIts not safe to have high speed bikes with heavily repaired wheels that may seem OK from outside
Bent wheels will cause damage to your axles, bearings, and other suspension parts
Ensure steps needed to safely restore the integrity of the aluminium rim
Never attempt to have severely damaged alloys repaired.
Avoid buying re-conditioned rims from unknown vendors
Light to moderate damage to alloy wheels can be fixed and the wheels can be refurbished to give it its original looks and performance.
A professional and experienced technician with the right knowledge, skill and tools can restore the alloy wheels to their original condition. Severely damaged wheels are not recommended to be fixed due to safety and reliability issues.