by Shawn Downey

Smiling like a 65-year-old recipient of the Publisher’s Clearinghouse award, I ventured down my favorite strip in spring’s sweltering 45 degree weather. My beauty of a motorcycle (She’s a beauty when she’s running. She has another pet name when she’s not.) was eating up the road like a pac man on Surge Cola.

I speed shifted and rode a good half block with the front end reaching to the heavens. While bringing the front wheel to rest on the tarmac, I was jolted from my nirvana with a bone crushing WHAM! The front wheel found a pothole the size of a small moon crater. I looked over my shoulder in disbelief then returned my focus to the road. Horror! The pothole directly in front of me looked like a manhole with the cover removed. It could have easily qualified as a basement in some bedroom communities.

After a couple of bottles of Bactine, I dragged my limping butt to the garage to check out the damage. Was that an Easter Egg? No, that was my front wheel. To get a better idea of the damage, I removed the front wheel and placed it in my genuine non-imitation home-made wheel jig (which also serves as a goal post for empty Guiness cans). I made the wheel jig using 4″ x 4″s to create a 2′ x 2′ base. I secured a pair of 2″ x 4″s vertically to this base. Lining the notched ends of the 2″ x 4″s with metal strips and greased loose ball bearings allowed the axle to spin freely while holding a piece of chalk or a grease pencil next to the rim.

Not only did the rim wobble from side to side past the recommended half-inch tolerance, it was also out of round way beyond the suggested quarter-inch. Judging by the extensive damage to the edge of the rim, I could ascertain that the tire seating would certainly give way to an expanded bead, and the chrome had flaked. The flaking chrome may seem minor in comparison to the other physical damage, but hey, just try to find someone to do the labor intensive and material absorbing prep work at a reasonable price. You would have better luck finding Waldo.

Before contacting my favorite British bike parts supplier, I sat down and contemplated which wheel to order. Should I stick to the original equipment manufacturer or opt for a replacement one size over the original? If I purchased the original rim, I wouldn’t need to purchase a full set of spokes, and I would learn about the lacing pattern while dismantling the original rim.

Speaking of original, when do you think we’ll get another original morning show on an alternative station? But, I digress.

In addition to the obvious advantage of economics, buying the original equipment specifications would maintain the “all original” status of my trusty stead. So, why even consider purchasing the larger wheel? Tires. A vast selection of tires. As motorcycles have evolved their tires have grown wider and wider. Someone in manufacturing finally figured out that to achieve a really good smoky burnout or a peg-grinding lean angle motorcycles needed more rubber on the pavement. This evolution has left the selection of good narrow tires pretty thin.

Original or selection? Times like this, I reflect upon my childhood memories of my granddad and his infinite wisdom. He used to say, “Sonny, dey just don’ make nut’in’ new dats good no mo’. Now, go ge’ me my damn dentures, so you can undar’tand what da’ hell I’m saying.”

While waiting for the new original spec wheel to arrive, I began to remove the spokes from my Easter Egg of a rim. (The memory loss due to opening numerous doors with my gourd required that I snap a couple of photos of the original lacing pattern for reference.) By spraying down the rim with my preferred lubricant and using a gentle twisting motion in 1/4 turns, I was able to save ninety percent of the original spokes.

One fine and happy day the UPS man showed up on my doorstep with one shiny new original equipment rim. After I removed my dog’s clenched jaws from the UPS man, I coated the threads of the spokes with an anti-seize compound (pick one) and began to finger tighten the left inside spokes and then the right inside to create a spiral effect. I finished the right side outer spokes then the left side outer spokes, then I put the newly assembled rim into my state-of-the-art wheel jig. One spin of the wheel and WHOAAA! Can you say Fred Flinstone wheel?!? As is typical, the rim was a tad eccentric.

It is important to work on the “roundness” of the rim first, so I put together a portion of the fender assembly to use as a standard of measurement for the high spots. When the rim rubbed the fender, I marked it with chalk. Common sense dictates which spokes to tighten and which ones to loosen (or in my case, my wife pointed it out).

When the wheel was within 1/4″ of being completely round, I turned my attention to the side to side wobble. Just as before, I marked the high spots and tightened the right hand spokes when the spots were high and left and loosened the left hand spokes when the spots were low and left. The wheel was becoming geometrically round, so I radically reduced the spoke adjustments to 1/4 and 1/8 turns. One final rap on all the spokes produced a glorious “TING”. I gave another 1/8 turn to the Mr. Clinks and watched to see that the others stayed true.

New wheels loosen up, so I gave all the spokes the once-over with 1/8 turns after about 50 miles. Now, I’m looking for a new patch of favorite road to replace “Downtown Beirut”. Any suggestions?




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