Updated October 2019
Many flagship travel bikes run ‘adventure-look’ spoked wheels but OEM spoked + tubeless is quite rare. Usually, they are non-Japanese premium brands like BMW, Triumph or KTM. I update a list here.
The original one-litre Africa Twin and 2019’s Yamaha T700 were two bikes where you‘d have expected tubeless, but the 2020 1100cc version of the AT now features tubeless (below right). It might well be a cost thing. However, 19-inch spoked tubeless fronts are much more common, even on Jap travel bikes.
These days manufacturers use spoked wheels on adv bikes as a signifier of ‘off-road adventure’, as well as being perceived as repairable, lighter, stronger, more shock absorbent and cool. Meanwhile tubeless is just plain safer and infinitely easier to repair flats. On a CRF450R motocrosser running rim locks and 10psi, a tube is probably a good idea because the van’s nearby. On a quarter-ton Adv battleship halfway down Ruta 40, getting a flat is a pain.
You may think, great: I’ll buy one of these exotic spoked TL rims and fit it to my spoked hub. It can be done, but expect to pay hundreds for the rim alone, even used.
OEM spoked tubeless wheels
Making a spoked tubeless wheel rim seems to be complicated and expensive but it has been done for years, right back to the mid-1980s Honda XL600M (left), and almost certainly before that. Recent bikes which come with them stock include the BMW 1200GSA, the original Aprilia Caponord (below), Suzuki V-Stroms, Yamaha XT1200Z, KTM V-twins, some Triumph Tigers and Explorers (above left) and now 1200 Scramblers. Even Honda’s oddball X-ADV scooter (right) has small spoked TL wheels. The picture above of a 2005 Caponord shows the main ways of designing a spoked tubeless rim. On the rear: spokes attached to ‘outboard’ flanges. The front uses a less well triangulated single ‘inboard flange’; V-Stroms (left) have paired inboard flanges up front.
BMWs, including the 850GS twin (below), run 40 straight-pull spokes directly into the protruding rim edge – there is no flange. I’ve noticed this relatively exposed edge can get scuffed about from stony terrain, although it would take a lot to damage the spoke mounts.
Such wheels can be heavier than same-sized cast wheels. Weight is saved by not using inner tubes, but additional unsprung weight on any wheel is the last place you want it. It takes more force to get that mass turning, more braking to slow it and better suspension to control it.
You could buy rims from those bikes to fit on your hub, but new, expect to pay hundreds and hundreds. The 21-inch Akront rim for a 1200 Scrambler XC (left): nearly £800. You could try and hunt down a used set of Honda XL-M wheels, but 1980s alloy has not stood up well to the passing years (right).
You could try and track down tubeless trials bike rims, usually 32 spoke. They do it two ways: one is the usual inboard flange as above right. The other is a flat well with a groove to either side (right) which lets a thick, tight rubber rim band slot into place and help and seal off the spokes – a sort of much simplified Tubliss system. You do wonder if this trials rim band plus some sort of added adhesive might work on a regular rim (with lips but without the side grooves). It sure would be a simple way of doing it but clearly a flat well would be best. I think Morad do rims like this in 36 x 18.
I just noticed that a 2017 KTM 1090 Adventure (left) has a similar system: a regular 21-inch Akront rim but with a band rather crudely vulcanised or otherwise glued into the well.
Most road bikes run 36 spokes or more. DID 36-hole rims do or did exist, but so far only in pictures (left) or cruddy, corroded used ones on ebay. When changing the spoked rim you’re constrained by the number of spoke holes in the stock hub because changing a hub is a much bigger faff. Fitting a new spoked rim is dead easy. Missing out a few spokes to make a standard 36-spoke hub use a 32-spoke trials rim is a bodge too far, even for me.
Branded or otherwise, it’s hard to find less expensive spoked TL rims off the shelf. The only ones I’ve seen are in China: Risun (Risen?) outboard tubeless rims in 17 or 18 inches only (left) and just $60 a shot. Problem is, you have to order a minimum of 200 plus units. Anyone for a Groupon?
Smaller sizes less so, but especially with 21-inch wheels, finding an OEM TL rim is difficult or expensive. With 21s you may be better off buying a safety lipped rim (also rare) and sealing it by hand or using the processes described here.