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FEATURE OF THE WEEK – Spec Smart: Which wheel design is best for your operation?

There are three basic wheel designs to choose from and each has its own design and performance pros and cons. ...


There are three basic wheel designs to choose from and each has its own design and performance pros and cons. Let’s begin with a quick look at the three design options.

• Disc wheels are one-piece assembly designs with their centre attached to the rim permanently. They are available in either aluminum, a weight-saving, sharper-looking but more expensive spec, and steel. The discs include eight or 10 stud holes and varying numbers of hand holes. By tightening the lug nuts onto the stud bolts the wheel is centred on the axle hub. On dual wheel positions, the inner wheel is tightened on its studs with the lug nuts which mount over the studs that protrude from the brake drums. The outer wheel is then mounted and held in place with the outer lug nuts.

• Spoke wheels have three, five or six spokes reaching out from the central hub and are usually offered in steel. A demountable rim is attached to the spokes. With dual wheels, the spokes are made deeper to include the space taken up by the two rims in addition to the necessary spacer placed between them.

• Disc and spoke wheels have been part of the industry since the first trucks at the turn of the century; hub-piloted disc wheels are the latest entrants. Migrating over from the transit bus industry, these wheels are designed to slide over pilot guides included on the hub, which centres them on the hub. This means flat-faced holes and flanged nuts can be used to hold the wheel in place. Also, because only one set of studs and nuts is employed at the dual-wheel positions, the amount of nut torquing and the need for fasteners is cut in half.

• There are also performance differences to consider.

Spoke wheel suppliers claim an advantage when it comes to maintenance. This is due to the fact that tires are mounted on the rim and when they need to be changed, only the rim needs to be removed. Spoke wheels also have fewer lug nuts than do disc wheels and if the lugs holding the rim to the spokes work loose the components will likely escape damage although the rim will droop on the spokes. Hub-piloted wheels, of course, also have the advantage of fewer nuts to worry about.

Spoke wheel suppliers also claim an advantage in terms of strength, although disc wheels, in either steel or aluminum can be made to match that strength. For example, Alcoa put its aluminum wheel through a test and reported that it took 157,000 pounds to deflect the forged wheel two inches.

If cost is the most important issue, spoke wheels are likely the best spec. They tend to be the spec of choice on trailers and other applications where price is the overriding factor.

In terms of looks, aluminum wheels can be polished to the brightest finish but there is a price to pay for that look. Steel wheels are more utilitarian and come in several different hues.

Another issue that bears consideration is the wheel’s ability to conduct heat away from the brake drums. Cooler running brakes add to tire life, particularly to the recapability of inner dualed tires. The different wheel suppliers do conduct tests on their product’s ability to conduct heat away from the brakes so do ask for and compare the results.

Finally, disc wheels and the demountable rims that are part of the spoke wheel package are offered in single and multipiece designs. Mishandling of multipiece rims can lead to the side ring blowing off, which can injure anyone standing too close. For the most part, multipiece rims have fallen out of favor in the trucking industry in favor of the single piece rim design. Both single piece rims and disc wheels do away with the potentially dangerous side ring.


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