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What are Spoke Rims?

Lori Kilchermann
Lori Kilchermann

Laced wheels, or spoke rims as they are commonly called, are automobile wheels that use heavy steel spokes in place of a solid steel center. Much like those used on a motorcycle, spoke rims tend to give a nostalgic appearance to an auto. Popularized on West Coast American low-rider style vehicles, spoke rims are commonly found on hydraulic suspension-equipped vehicles as well as 1930s-era customs and hot rods. Available in straight and twisted spoke versions, spoke rims also come in configurations ranging from 60 to 120 spokes. Popular finishes for spoke rims are chrome, copper and even gold plating.

In spite of their frail appearance, spoke rims are very strong and durable. By displacing the weight of the vehicle and the load of any encountered bump over the total number of spokes in the wheel, spoke rims are able to withstand a great deal of punishment. The wheel is strengthened by the addition of extra spokes, and the 120-spoke versions are typically the strongest. The higher-end wheels are equipped with adjustable spokes that can be used to straighten a bent wheel.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

An added benefit of spoke wheels is the ability of cooling over-taxed brake components. By allowing the heat and brake dust to exit through the wheel spokes, as well as allowing cooler air to enter the braking area through the spokes, the braking components of a vehicle are allowed to cool much quicker than that of a similarly equipped vehicle with solid wheels. Despite the seemingly lightweight construction of spoked wheels, they often weigh more than a common stock aluminum or steel wheel. Some of the replica spoke wheels used in the restoration of 1930s-era American vehicles are actually created through the use of original manufacturer tooling and dies.

While the finish on a set of spoke rims can be intended to show the status of a vehicle owner, many car clubs and street gangs use the spokes to show their organization's colors. Often, a multiple combination of colors through the use of painted spokes are laced into a single wheel. When cruising through a rival organization's territory, the colors of the vehicle's wheel spokes tell the organization's members who is on their territory. This can lead to action against the trespassing club in the form of violence or even damage to the offending vehicle. In many areas, the theft of spoke rims from an opposing organization's vehicle is viewed as an act of war.

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