We all know a new set of alloy wheels will make your ride look amazing.
But there’s a lot more to them than just looks.
In fact the whole reason that “mags” started showing up on high performance sports cars and hot rods more than sixty years ago was for go, not show.
After World War II, much of the technology perfected in high performance military aircraft started trickling down into the automotive world and a big one was aluminum or magnesium (thus the common term “mag”) wheels.
It turned out that magnesium was fine for racing or other short term use, but it proved to be too brittle and crack-prone for street use so aluminum eventually became the metal of choice. The reason we refer to them as aluminum alloy wheels is because they are in fact made up of a mixture or “alloy” of different substances. The typical mix is 94% aluminum, 4% silica and about 2% miscellaneous other elements.
Pound-for-pound, this alloy offers better strength than steel, and therefore an aluminum wheel can be made to handle the same loads but weigh 20% less.
Now it’s pretty easy to understand that removing any kind of extra weight from a vehicle will make it perform better. But removing weight from the wheels has an extra benefit. This is because the wheels themselves require energy to get up to speed, and more energy again to slow them down.
Imagine two vehicles suspended up in the air side-by-side, one is a bicycle, one is a car. If you were to stand between the two, grab one wheel on each and try to spin it, you would see that given the same effort the bicycle wheel would spin much faster. This is because it has less rotational mass, so there isn’t nearly as much inertia to overcome to get it turning. Because of this effect, reducing the weight of your wheels will typically give you 3 times the performance improvement of removing the same amount of “static” weight from some other part of the vehicle!
The result is better acceleration, braking and fuel economy.
But it doesn’t end there.
A lighter set of wheels will also improve handling. The reduced weight on the “unsprung” side means the suspension system can react faster and more efficiently to bumps and imperfections, keeping your tires more consistently in touch with the road surface.
The right set of alloys will not only get you more show, they mean less gas, more stop, more turn and more go!