The hand-drawn map was pinched between my thumb and the steering wheel. According to the smeared lines, I would be able to see the river after the next curve. I had been told that the pullout overlooked a great stretch of pocket water. “Big ‘bows,” my friend had said over the phone. “Even better, almost no one fishes this stretch.”
“Why?” I asked.
“The road is really in miserable shape. A lot of it washed out last winter. Take it slow.”
The road was bad--but when I made the pullout there was one fellow ahead of me. He was shucking his waders as I pulled in.
He nodded, stowed his rod, and then ambled over to talk. “Nice looking wheels,” he said. Then he bent down for a closer inspection. “Aluminum?”
He spat a long stream of tobacco juice. “Don’t care for it. I want a strong wheel. Steel for me.”
Stressful Matters: Like most outdoorsmen, this guy didn’t beat around the bush when it came to opinions on gear. And he certainly wasn’t the first who questioned the wisdom of tackling tough offroad trails on aluminum wheels.
When I got home I tracked down Laurie Simpson, staff product engineer at Alcoa Wheel Products International, and asked her, “Look, I haven’t had any trouble with these wheels, but boy do I catch it when other guys learn I’m driving on aluminum. What gives?”
I could hear Simpson take a deep breath. Obviously, this was a familiar question. “The aluminum forged wheel manufactured by Alcoa is actually stronger and tougher than a steel wheel,” she told me. “The other goodie is that our wheel is about half as heavy as steel. And a lighter wheel gives the vehicle better handling characteristics.
“What many of your guys don’t know is that there are actually three types of aluminum wheels on the market--cast, billet, and forged. Each process leaves the product with certain traits as distinctive as fingerprints.”
That brought us to a technical discussion on metallurgy--not my field. Boiled down, Simpson said that a cast wheel is produced by pouring hot molten metal into a die. The process creates little air pockets, which can lead to “fatigue cracks that can reduce the strength and performance of the wheel.”