Lace ‘em Up: Wire-wheel restoration at Buchanan’s Spoke & Rim
By Landon Hall
Left to right: Robert and Kennie Buchanan outside their shop in Azusa, Calif., with a couple of the family steeds.
Editor’s note: Here’s a bit of an intro to our upcoming story on Buchanan’s Spoke & Rim, Inc. from contributor Joe Berk.
A few years ago, while detailing my motorcycle after a long ride through Mexico, I noticed a broken rear wheel spoke. The dealer I subsequently visited told me that I had to buy a complete set of spokes, and that I most likely had two broken spokes (the one I noticed and one, the parts guy said, opposite it on the other side of the wheel). I was more than a little annoyed that I couldn’t buy a single spoke (I won’t mention the dealership, but I will tell you that the motorcycle sported a bar and shield). When I got home examined the wheel closely, and it did indeed have two broken spokes. I checked a couple of independent shops and heard the same thing: I needed to get the entire wheel relaced. I asked the shops if they did the work; all said they sent the wheel to a specialist. They all mentioned Buchanan’s Spoke & Rim.
I found Buchanan online (www.BuchananSpokes.com) and learned they were only a few miles from my home, so I took my wheel into them, thus beginning my exposure to the world’s premier wire wheel specialists. Robert Buchanan explained that if one spoke failed, the opposite one quickly followed, and the fact that two failed indicated the rest were not far behind. He also recommended going with slightly larger-diameter spokes (especially on the rear wheel) for better durability. His manner and obvious expertise convinced me. There was no hard selling. It was just the soft voice of an expert who knew what he was talking about that convinced me it made sense to relace the entire wheel.
A week later, as promised, my wheel was ready. When I returned, I asked about their equipment and Robert offered a plant tour. I was blown away by what I saw. The production machinery ranged from the 1920s to a modern CNC-controlled lathe. I looked at one machine and Robert told me that the wheel on it was from a 1927 Norton, and he casually mentioned the spoke angles. I asked how he knew. He smiled. “We just know,” he said.
Well, the world is a small place, and it is getting smaller. A few years later, I wrote a “Destinations” piece for Motorcycle Classics on Newcomb’s Ranch up on the Angeles Crest Highway (a classic southern California motorcycle ride). One of the photos in it showed a rider working on an early 70s BSA 650 in the Newcomb’s Ranch parking lot. I received an e-mail a few days later from Kennie Buchanan – the fellow working on the BSA. One thing led to another, and they all led to the upcoming article in the May/June 2009 issue of Motorcycle Classics. I hope you enjoy it! — Joe Berk
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