Got an old bike (or a new bike) with spoked wire wheels? They’re pretty, I know. That’s why it’s a hard thing to accept when you take ’em in to get a new set of skins mounted – and discover they’ll need some lead – in the form of those ugly crimp-on (or glue on) weights – to get them properly balanced.
This (balancing) is an issue for all wheels – but it’s a particular issue for old spoked wheels. The inevitable result of a wheel made of literally dozens of individual small parts (spokes) plus a few bigger (hub, etc.) parts all bolted together. Slight variations in weight here – or there – can lead to vibration everywhere. The inherently greater difficulty of balancing wire wheels is one reason why most bikes now have one-piece wheels.
Unbalanced wheels aren’t just unpleasant, either. The vibration leads to more rapid tire wear (and wear and tear, generally) as well as reduced fuel economy due to the increased rolling resistance. The weights the tire shop crimps to the spokes or glues to your chrome-plated rim are there to even out these imbalances. With wire wheels – especially antique wire wheels, which have all the disadvantages of age as well as the disadvantages of the much looser manufacturing tolerances and poorer quality control of thirty or forty years ago – these imbalances can be pretty extreme.
I recently took the wheels (not the bike – just the wheels – it saves time) from my ’76 Kawasaki Kz900 in to the shop for a set of new tires. The back wheel – a beautiful NOS unit with polished (by me) hub) was out of round by more than two ounces – which is a lot. It meant a lot of lead to even things out. The counter guy saw me cringe, I guess. He told me there is an alternative. A new product that end-runs the Lead Uglies… glass beads. Crushed glass beads.
What happens is this: Instead of festooning your wheel with those god-awful ugly lead weights, the tire shop pours a specific quantity of these nonabrasive crushed glass beads into the tire. As the wheel/tire assembly rotates – the small glass beads rotate, too – automatically balancing the wheel. It’s a neat solution to an ancient problem. And unlike lead weights, the beads can’t fall off. They also have the ability to compensate for tire wear – or even a rock jammed into the tread – maintaining the balance of not just the tire but the entire wheel/tire/hub assembly for the life of the assembly.
And if you’re someone who cares about environmental issues, you’ll like that less lead – a baddie for the planet – is being used (and disposed of).
The system was developed for the commercial trucking industry, where even a 1 percent improvement in fuel economy (or reduction in tire wear) can result in huge over-the-road/fleet savings. But it’s now being used in retail/passenger applications – and motorcycles specifically. For all the reasons mentioned above. No more ugly lead weights on expensive – and pretty – spoked rims. And the beads can be used in any type of wheel – and provide the same benefits.
The cost is about $30 per kit – which includes a bag of beads (most bikes use 2 ounces or less) applicator bottle/tube and a special (and nice looking) chrome valve stem cap with red “CBB” (counteract balance beads) logo on the top – so that whomever dismounts the tire knows the beads are in the tire. There is no hazard, as far as that goes. It’s mainly that the beads are re-usable – another nice perk – so you don’t want them to fall all over the floor when the tire’s taken off the rim.
If you’re interested, check it out here – or ask about it at your local bike store, the next time you’re in for a set of new tires.
Throw it in the Woods?