Alloy vs Steel ATV Wheels Explained
ATV wheels are manufactured in a wide assortment of metals ranging from light aluminum alloys to durable steel. I will explain the pros and cons of each type and, hopefully, help you decide if steel or alloy ATV rims are best for you.
Important to know: Unsprung weight affects the handling characteristics of your ATV more strongly than sprung weight. Any component, including the rims, tires and brake components, that are not directly supported by the ATVs suspension springs are considered unsprung weight. Heavier steel rims are generally more durable than alloy rims but they negatively impact performance and handling more than alloy rims.
Steel ATV Rim Pros
Steel rims, besides being more durable than alloy rims, are also cheaper to manufacture which is why low cost ATVs often come standard with steel rims. Steel rims are considered safer than alloy rims because they are less likely to become damaged or break during routine riding.
Steel ATV Rim Cons
The heavier an ATV is the slower the acceleration will be and the slower the ATV is to respond to direction changes. Steel rims weigh more, and sometimes a lot more, than high performance alloy rims.
Alloy ATV Rim Pros
Aluminum alloy rims lower the amount of unsprung weight in an ATV which results in improved handling and performance. Alloys are more malleable than steel which gives them a design advantage. Manufacturers can offer alloy ATV rims in a much wider range of designs than is available with steel.
Alloy ATV Rim Cons
Durability and cost are the two factors to consider when purchasing alloy rims. It is easier to damage an alloy rim and much more costly to replace or repair as well. Neither of these considerations is trivial.
Early diecast racing wheels were made from Magnesium and were commonly referred to as Mag Wheels. Pure Magnesium alloy wheels are no longer in mainstream production however the term Mag wheels remains common in describing alloy wheels.
Who makes alloy ATV rims?: Steel rims traditionally come stock on all new ATVs unless the buyer requests an upgrade. Several aftermarket performance companies specialize in the design and distribution of alloy rims for ATVs including STI(stitireandwheel.com) and ITP(itptires.com). There are other companies as well but these two have manufacturing plants in the United States, offer lifetime warranties against bending and breakage and have years of experience in race oriented design.
ITP provides an excellent wheel offset chart here. I suggest using it to figure out exactly which tire and wheel combo is right for your riding style before you buy alloy wheels. Wheel offset also plays a role in overall performance, a wider base is slower but more stable than a narrow wheel base.
My personal recommendation is to stick with stock steel rims on ATV trails and to use aluminum or alloy rims on the race track. Either way, understanding the differences between weight and durability of steel vs alloy wheels should help you make a more informed decision come replace time.