How Do Wheel Spacers Work?

One way to add stability to your powersports machine is to widen its stance, and wheel spacers are a viable way to do that. Wheel spacers might also be necessary for using a tire wider than your machine's specs.

How do wheel spacers work?

Generally, the impact of wheel spacers is creating more room in the wheel well by moving the tire and wheel out. And while there are upsides of stability, versatility in tire size, and for some the aesthetics, there are a few catches.

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What Are Wheel Spacers?

Pretty much as the name implies, they space out the wheels of a motorcycle, ATV or UTV. This can be accomplished a couple of different ways. 

Powersports vehicle wheel spacers

Wheel spacers

First, just a block of metal with a specified thickness is placed on the studs with holes allowing the studs to pass through, and then the wheel is mounted. The second is a more model-specific approach, where the spacer sits on the hub and has its own studs for wheel mounting.

How to Choose Wheel Spacers

Use only high-quality spacers from a reputable manufacturer. If a wheel spacer fails, it can damage the machine, and injure the rider or others if the wheel gets loose.

Motorcycle wheel spacer

Always get a wheel spacer that meets your machine’s size requirements. If you need to move the wheel out an inch, get a one-inch spacer. Don’t try to make the distance with two half-inch spacers. Also, look out for multi-piece wheel spacers, because the more pieces, the more potential failure points.

Installing Wheel Spacers

Having wheel spacers professionally installed is always a great idea, but if you’re doing it yourself, here are a few tips to help you out. 

Motorcycle wheel spacer installation

  • Inspect the spacers for damage before installing them. 
  • Don’t force spacers in with a hammer, as doing so can damage them. 
  • Use a good torque wrench when mounting wheel spacers to get the proper torque. Never use an impact wrench to install them.
  • Apply threadlocker to the mounting bolts to avoid anything backing its way out. This also helps eliminate any rattling you might hear. 

There are several pros to installing wheel spacers, and a lot of experienced riders consider them an important modification. However, wheel spacers also have their cons. 

Wheel Spacer Pros

  • Wheel spacers make it easier to install chains on the tires for snow. The added clearance in the wheel wells makes it easier to work with the chains. It also moves the chains away from the drive components of the wheel when an ATV is in motion, and allows more clearance for the front wheels during turning.
  • Wheel spacers add stability on rough terrain. With a wider wheelbase, you reduce the possibility of flipping an ATV. The wider wheelbase also allows you to carry more speed when you turn.
  • More options for tires open up when you install wheel spacers. On a stock ATV, for example, tires larger than spec can run on the wheel well, brake lines, or suspension parts.

ATV wheel spacer

Wheel Spacer Cons

  • Wheel spacers can cause more wear on the suspension and drive train. Moving the wheels out creates more forces and demands on everything upstream from the wheel. Use only spacers just big enough to get you what you need in terms of clearance. Adding wider spacers just increases loads for nothing in return.
  • Steering can become more difficult with wheel spacers, since they move the wheels out from the ball joints. That means the spacer (not the wheel) is what’s pivoting around the ball joint. The steering will feel more resistant and heavier, even with power steering.
  • Wheel spacers make suspension less effective, again because you’ve moved the wheel out from the pivot point on the ball joint, and the wheel away from the suspension pivot points. This creates more axle travel over every bump, so the bigger the spacers, the bumpier the ride.
  • You may be limited on narrow trails. Having a wider ATV with spacers can make those trails you could just barely get through with a stock setup now impossible. Also, some trails have limits on the ATV width, so you may end up exceeding that with spacers. And if you trailer your ATV, make sure it’ll fit with the extra width.
  • With the spacers moving the wheels out beyond the fenders, there’s nothing to stop more mud from getting on you. One way to beat this is by only adding spacers on the rear wheels.

Getting wheel spacers is a decision driven by your needs. If you’re installing chains, they’re a great choice. And if you want the handling upsides and the looks? Also a winner. Just keep those cons in mind before you install wheel spacers on your machine.