The first time, the change was motivated by economics. A customer had a Sportster Custom which, of course, had a 21 inch laced front wheel right from the factory. Many years and many miles of rough roads and potholes had taken their toll on the front wheel. Llots of the spokes were loose and the rim looked more like an octagon than a circle. To top it off, the front tire was nearly bald.
The cheapest way to go was a new(er), gently used 19 inch cast front wheel from Harley-Davidson, which we picked up for less than two hundred dollars. We installed a new Metzeler ME880 tire, and returned the motorcycle to the customer. We hoped for a more sturdy front wheel, but we got much more. The customer was back in a couple of days. “What did you really do to my bike?” she asked. “It feels lighter. It turns easier, it tracks better, it’s totally happy going around corners…it even stops better. Really, what did you do???”
Honestly, all we had done was to replace that skinny 21” laced wheel with a nice, sturdy, tubeless 19” front wheel. Her old tire was a 21” Metzeler; we installed a new 19” Metzeler to go with the 19” wheel. The only difference was the wheel itself, but dropping 2 inches of diameter and picking up a little bit of width really transformed the handling of that Sportster.
Since then, we have converted three more Sportster Customs from 21” front wheels to 19” (upgrading them from Dunlop to Metzeler in the process) and the customers are raving about the transformation of their rides. “You told me it would be great,” said one of our more recent ‘converts,’ “but it’s like a whole new motorcycle. It feels better now than it did when it was new.”
It’s very hard to believe, I know, but having ridden “before” and “after” bikes myself I can testify that it’s true. A Sportster with a 19 inch cast front wheel handles much better than one with a laced 21 inch front wheel. And a 19 inch front wheel is going to hold up much better to the slings and potholes of outrageous fortune (or our outrageous roads). With that meatier tire and a sturdier construction, it would take one heck of a whack to damage a typical cast 19 inch wheel.
“Oh,” they cry, “but a 19 inch front wheel is so ugly! The 21 looks so much better!” Well beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but if you stop by our store you can have a look at Chuck’s Sportster, which is graced with a beautiful, chromed, 19 inch billet wheel. It looks as good as a 21, but it has the strength of a 19.
If you just want to sit on the curb and look at your Sportster, fine. Keep that “pretty” 21. But if you want to ride the beast, consider upgrading to a 19. The view from the saddle is much better than the view from the curb any day!