As you know, anything goes when building custom bikes and mixing old parts with new is now the norm. But what about venturing into uncharted territories and using combinations of parts that have never been mated before? Sure, on most things you can bust out the grinder and torch and make the two parts fit, but when it comes to wheels it takes a mountain of knowledge, some caution, and a bit of luck. We looked for some guidance and gave our friends at Wheel Works a call. Having built all sorts of crazy bike wheels since 1976, these guys have seen and done everything pertaining to motorcycle wheels. They gave us some info most of us already know, such as don't use bent or rusted wheels or ever re-use spokes, but those are a given. Then they laid some real knowledge on us, like trying to find undrilled rims. This is because every bike has different width hubs and many pre-drilled vintage MX rims won't safely work with many chopper hub offsets and widths because the spokes are being forced into the rim at severe angles. This causes binding, which leads to cracked hub flanges and rims.
Speaking of hubs, if you find some old ones, you better make sure you can still get the right bearings and inner spacers for them or they are just as good as a paperweight. The simple fact is these parts were under some serious tension for decades and not made of the best metals to begin with. When building wheels for our projects we tend to go with a good set of factory hubs no matter what the year because replacement parts are plentiful.
As far as spokes go, all wheels must be rebuilt using all new spokes, because even unbroken used spokes are fatigued from years of being pulled in one direction and will usually break when being retightened during the truing process. Another thing is to opt for polished stainless spokes. They look just as good as chrome, but don't have the plating crack off and rust after a while due to the tension they are under.
The boys at Wheel Works told us that the single most important part of a wheel build is proper spoke tension. Doing this will ensure that the wheel is true in two ways: Laterally (sideways) and radial (roundness). Adequate spoke tension is very important with motorcycle wheels, because of the torque applied to the wheel by the engine or brakes. Loose spokes on a wheel fatigue rapidly and break, usually where they attach to the hub. And we don't want that.
Once the wheels are done and true, Wheel Works also suggests wrapping a new tire around your creation. Old tires are usually decayed on the inside and pretty much when mounted to a new rim and filled with 40 psi or more they are a ticking time bomb with a blowout being almost always eminent. Also, the rubber compound used 40-50 years ago has dried out and will give you little to no grip on the road wet or dry.
And there you have it, wheel basics 101 thanks to Wheel Works. Check htem out anytime at wheel-works.com.