Apart from a full-tilt flames and skulls paint job or stretching your forks, there isn’t much that’ll change the look of your ride so dramatically as a set of new wheels. But where do you find them?
Be in no doubt: the design and creation of choppers, bobbers, low riders, flat-trackers and all the other two-wheeled manifestations of cruiserdom are probably the closest the motorcycle community comes to art. The sports bike boys have for decades taken their cues indirectly from the motocross and surfing communities, and no other two-wheeled subset seems much interested; sometimes I reckon our closest mates are in the custom car community and they tend to go for aesthetics a touch different from ours.
Take a look through any of the coffee table books devoted to cruisers and you’ll see what I mean: avant-garde design meets tough engineering and some of the strongest automotive paintwork anywhere on planet earth. And the multiplying wheel designs on offer are — sometimes literally — the cutting edge of the whole package.
The bottom line on cruiser custom wheels is about looks. Again, while the crotch-rocket boys remorselessly hunt down the last gram of unnecessary unsprung weight, the cruiser community is about taking a more leisurely approach to performance, enjoying living and riding at a more relaxed pace — and looking cool at the same time.
It’ll come as no surprise to you that the Yanks are leading the way in design and manufacture of after-market hoops, whatever your ride may be. And if that ride happens to have the words Harley and Davidson in close proximity to one another on its fuel tank, you’ll find yourself inundated with choice from the moment you start looking.
Most of the leading names in customising offer their own range of wheels.
Arlen Ness, for example, offers up to a dozen designs, with sub-ranges of finishes and sizes within each of those. The Billet Bone design, to cite just one example, is made up of aluminium spokes bolted up to a steel centre. His wheels are packaged in kit form and come with hubs, bearings, spacers and seals. Conclude at this point that swapping wheels isn’t something that can be done in an hour on a Saturday afternoon with a set of Allen keys and a shifter. Specialist tools and know-how are needed; dust seals must be fitted, tyres coaxed onto rims, wheels balanced. It’s a specialist job best left to the pros unless you have some solid experience of such matters to call on.
Local agents for Ness wheels include Crazyhorse Choppers (www.crazyhorsechoppers.com.au) in Campbellfield, Melbourne, who will cheerfully sell you a pair of wheels or a complete bike, depending on your needs and your budget.
Hyperformance Cycles in Adelaide (www.hyperformanceycles.com.au) will do the same.
The bottom line on customising your Harley-Davidson is that there’s more kit than you can poke a pushrod at. The legendary Teutuls at Orange County Choppers offers nine different designs, while Pro-1 offers an even wider range, typically available in a handful of front sizes (usually 2.15in to 3 or 3½in front) and up to 12 or 14 different rear sizes, with rim widths that range from 5½in to 10½in.
Many more cruiser wheels are made from steel than are sports bike hoops, and they’re typically offered in chrome and one or more anodised finishes — black, naturally, is most popular.
Needless to say, Harley-Davidson offers a full range of accessory wheels for its products, ranging from spoke to solid designs. There’s even an installation kit offered. Start with a visit to www.harley-davidson.com.
Metric cruisers might be growing in popularity but are lagging a little in the customising stakes compared to their better-known American cousins.
But things are changing. Gradually. When we contacted Brad Wiseman of Bikecraft Custom Streetbikes (www.bikecraft.net.au) for this yarn, not only was he able to put us on the track of suppliers of wheels for metric cruiser owners, he was pretty excited about Cruiser + Trike, too: “It’s great to see there is a magazine pushing these products,” he told us. “We are receiving requests on a daily basis from the metric cruiser market.”
We found four major suppliers of wheels for metric cruisers and no doubt there are plenty more: clearly the best-known is RC Components, which offers a wealth of components in all manner of shapes and sizes for almost any bike you can name. Brad Wiseman put us on the track here and as the RC Components website says, they offer around 40 different designs for drag bikes, cruisers and sports bikes, all with matching sprockets, pulleys and brake disc rotors.
Performance Machine, another US outfit, offers a more limited range of wheels for metric machines, catering primarily for the Yamaha Star range and Suzuki’s M109R. Underlining the popularity of Yamaha’s hardware in the US, Pro-1 likewise offers wheels for the Star range.
Among the more striking wheel suppliers is Roland Sands Design, offering a small range of quality designs for both H-D and metric bikes at its workshop in La Palma, California. This is the outfit that shoved an RC211 Honda GP racing motor in a flat-tracker frame at the behest of one Kenny Roberts, so it’s no surprise some of the stuff they offer is perhaps a little unusual. There’s a link to RSD from Hyperformance Cycles’ website, so check it out and give them a call.
So far as style goes, most wheel manufacturers respond to cruiser riders’ needs for something a little more aggressive than stock, and most offerings tend to approximate to the designer’s idea of a medieval/fantasy-edged weapon — axe and arrow heads, sword blades or shuriken — those little razor-sharp spinning discs or stars thrown by ninja warriors when they’ve been made unhappy for some reason. The major alternative to the sword look is one of the variations on the spoke design, and these can range from modern takes on the classic spoke look — mercifully in most cases with much better materials and manufacturing than in days of yore — or something from the history books, such as a chariot wheel (we’ve seen Roman and Egyptian themes, if your interests are rooted in the classics) or the wagon wheel from the more recent past. All of them, we hasten to point out, using sturdy steel or aluminium components rather than, um, wooden spokes.
Our tech guru Brian Connor says there are no particular pitfalls in swapping wheels but, as usual, time spent in preparation is never wasted.
“When you’re ordering, make sure you have your bike’s model designation and specifications spot on, and try to make sure there are no big differences between the Australian model and the model sold in the country you’re dealing with — which will usually be the US.
“Remember that if you start mucking about with rim sizes you could have problems with clearances for your swingarm or mudguards. But if you’ve been sensible about it, you should be onto a home run.”
Brian says most custom wheels are sturdy and well made; they’ll take, he reckons, between an hour and half a day to fit. “It’s mechanical work so it can be a bit unpredictable,” he explains. “You check the bearings, spacers and axle diameters and make sure they’re all right,” he says. “If so, there’ll only be problems if you need to start machining up new spacers or if you have to go on a search mission because the customer wants fancy chrome bolts to match his shiny new hubs.”
The bottom line
It’s all up to you. Do your usual research before making any decisions and consult at least one professional. Be aware that if you opt for wheels that differ much in weight or dimensions from the measurements your bike came with, you’ll be changing not only its looks, but its dynamics too, and anything that’s going to change the performance and feel of your bike needs some serious thinking about.
The most important thing about your wheels is to keep ’em rolling — and rubber side down.