It would be an exaggeration to say that there are as many spoke designs out there as there are wheels, but perhaps not as much as you'd think. Since the 60's, when wire spoke wheels were the norm, advances in casting methods, CAD/CAM design and changes in tastes and styles have led to an explosion of spoke designs both cosmetic and functional. From classic 5-spoke to wilder looks such as Y-spoke and Diamond spoke, and even transparent clear plastic spokes, wheel spoke designs have become as individual as the people who drive them. This proliferation of different spoke designs introduces some intersting problems with naming conventions that can make it difficult to describe certain designs. Here we take a look at some of the most popular, some of the most beautiful and some of the weirdest spoke designs out there.
Probably the most popular design and certainly the one you see just about every day is the classic 5-spoke or 5-star wheel. This design incorporates an enormous number of variations, from Mercedes extremely thick 5-spoke, to thin-spoked 5-stars to Porsches' swirled “turbine” wheels, which have curved spokes to give a feeling of motion even when the wheels are still.
A more striking design is the 3-spoke wheel, a design used in many of Saab's wheels, especially the iconic wide 3-spoke wheel from the Saab 9-5 that most enthusiasts refer to as the “Viking Shield.” Though 3-spoke wheels are very visually interesting, they suffer from a number of functional issues, particularly the Viking Shield wheels. Too much space between the spokes allows for impacts to bend the front face of the wheel far too easily, and in the case of the Saab wheels, the placement of the spokes on the dish of the wheel allows for an impact to bend the dish against the spoke, quite often destroying the wheel. This design flaw led to a class-action suit against Saab more than ten years ago for faulty wheel designs.
Even better casting methods and often softer alloys have led to many alloy wheels appearing on the market with anywhere from 7 to 10, or even 18 to 20 spokes, placing the spokes closer and closer together mainly as alloys became softer and softer. This promoted greater structural strength as well as giving wheel makers a more interesting palette to work with. A number of Audi, Mercedes and BMW wheels are multi-spoke designs.
Even greater structural strength is provided by the diamond spoke, a design so closely associated with BBS Wheels that most simply call it the “BBS diamond spoke”. This design features a large number of very thin angled spokes that cross and recross each other, leaving a diamond-shaped mesh. Diamond spokes are usually at flush or very close to the outer edge of the wheel, creating an extremely strong design that is resistant to impact. Diamond-spoke wheels with a very deep dish, however, are as vulnerable to impact as any other deep-dish wheel. Diamond spoke wheels are also sometimes called “web designs”, as distinct from a web designer, with is something entirely different.
Multi-spoke wheels also have a variation in which the spokes are cut down the middle, leaving a narrow void between what would otherwise be one spoke. This is most often called a “split-spoke” design, as in “5 split-spoke”, but can also be referred to as “double spoke.” Usually a double-spoke design will have a larger void between spokes, but this is another area in which naming conventions are extremely fuzzy, and depend largely on what the manufacturer chooses to call them. There are also a number of Y-spoke designs in which the spoke splits at an angle, such that the entire spoke resembles the letter Y.
All this just scratches the surface of the many cosmetic designs available on wheels today, but it's a good start to understanding how to describe the wonderful world of wheels. Happy driving!