Look Ma, No (Ugly) Wheel Weights!

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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.

Internal balancing.

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? 

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12 COMMENTS

  1. I just put the DIY Counteract kit in the new Michelin Pilot Roads I installed on my ’05 Z1000 yesterday. Even though it was down in the 30’s I went on about a 15 mile ride to check it out. Awesome! Not a hint of tire vibration and those ugly clip-on automotive style weights are gone! Thanks for the tip Eric.

    I’d been looking at the (ceramic) Balance Beads the dual sport riders recommend but had a hard time finding a dealer (and a good deal). I was able to buy the whole DIY kit (5 ozs. of beads, valve cores, valve caps, installation bottle & tube) for under $30 shipped off eBaY. My KLR650 will be getting the same treatment between now and next spring.

    The one issue I ran into was getting the beads to go down the valve stem. The squeeze bottle didn’t quite work as advertised. The beads would pile up in the fill tube. So I used piece of welding wire (bent into an L to keep it from falling into the tire) fully inserted down through the valve stem to agitate the beads. Do not ram rod them or you may damage them, just move the wire up and down and they beads will flow easily. Then refill the tube and repeat until you have the prescribed weight in the tire.

    I’m pretty sure Ray is correct in his post above: these won’t mix with moisture well, especially if the anti-clumping coating has worn off. So I tend to doubt fix-a-flat would be a good idea. Of course if it was an emergency, I’d bite the bullet, goo the tire and worry about cleaning it / replacing the beads or installing a new tire later when I got where I was going.

    I do like his idea on reflective beads, since I doubt I’ll reuse these anyway. It may be an option, since I plan to just buy a 12 oz. (fleet) bag of the Counteract beads to have on hand for future tire changes (I don’t trust a motorcycle shop to change my tires anymore than I’d trust my ex to pack a parachute for me). Afterall, those two thin strips of moulded rubber are really the only thing between my ass and the pavement, so I don’t mind spending a little time and money to make sure they’re right. 😉

        • Ever do a power-to-weight comparison?

          I know you know – but for those who don’t: A bike like Boothe’s has a power to weight ratio better than a 911 turbo. Which is why a bike like that can run a 10 second quarter mile! Even better, it does it for less than $10k brand new. And gives you 40 MPG, too – when you’re not running 10 second quarters…

  2. You want to make sure that no moisture reaches this product, after prolonged use the beads breakdown and moisture causes clumping. This and other similar product have a massive markup for the composition of the product. Next time you see a highway road crew doing pavement markings, ask him to sell you a pound or two of the beads to save some cash.

  3. Eric – I went to using this (or similar) internal bead weight system at the recommendation of my bike shop (Extreme Powersports, Brandon Florida) for a couple of years now and it is a fantastic system. Even the handling of the bike is greatly improved.

    The best way I can describe it is – it feels like the bike is magnetically attached to the roadway – it was a noticable difference right out the door, granted new tires are better than old ones but even now, 6 mos later on this set of tires and I can still feel the ground hugging sensation and it is due to the internal beads.

    I would highly recommend this system to anyone who rides – regardless of bike style. For the record I ride a 750 lb Yamaha Royal Star and blow through a set of tires every year, of course being in Florida I get to ride almost every day. It is a pleasant 72 degrees now and I am off work in 12 minutes…gotta go 🙂

    • Ditto, GW –

      A noticeable difference on my Kz900, too.

      I wish I had know about the beads last year, when I put a set of new tires on my touring bike….

    • I thought so, too!

      I found out about it accident – as described in the article. I’m very pleased with the results – both aesthetically and functionally. Well worth the $29 and change it cost me…

    • I think they do. I first saw this concept a few years ago.

      The downside is that there can be an imbalance until the beads find their place, but it should be a low speeds only where it shouldn’t be noticed or have any ill effect.

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