You can't escape cleaning...
You can't escape cleaning them, but you can run tubeless tires on your motorcycle's wire wheels if you seal them properly. That requires making the holes for the spoke nipples (visible in the right side of the rim) air-tight.
Nostalgic, pretty, and capable of absorbing some of the shocks the road dishes out, wire-spoked motorcycle wheels also have their drawbacks. They are more time-consuming to clean and require occasional maintenance.
However, the biggest drawback is that most wire wheels (there are exceptions, such as BMW) use tube-type tires that is, tires that require inner tubes to hold the air that supports the motorcycle. Inner tubes entail a risk of rapid deflation (or blowout) and resulting loss of control if punctured because a punctured tube immediately loses its air. Tubeless tires, on the other hand, usually release pressure slowly, which can give you sufficient warning to get off the road safely.
For some time, wire-wheel builders have been sealing automotive wire wheels to permit the use of tubeless tires. Unfortunately, the same sealant used for cars tends to peel off when confronted with the lateral stresses encountered in motorcycle wheels. However, some motorcycle-wheel builders are now sealing wire-spoked wheels for our machines, too. It seems a new compound has been developed recently that appears to have solved the problems of the past.
We asked Wheel Works in Garden Grove, California (714/530-6681) to fill us in on the details. Although a spokesperson was reluctant to specify the exact ingredients, we learned that the sealant (which is applied over the inside of the spoke nipples in a two-part process) takes about 12 hours to set up. It is impervious to the stresses and chemicals normally encountered in motorcycle applications. After you discard the tube, the total weight of the wheel is actually lower than with a tube. The reduced weight and the elimination of friction means that the tire runs cooler than with an inner tube. Wheel Works charges $59 per wheel to convert your wire wheel for tubeless use. This fee also includes the installation of a tire valve stem.
12787 Nutwood Ave.
Garden Grove, CA 92840
For more articles on how to maintain and modify your motorcycle, see the Tech section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.