Rival Wheels is a motorbike drag racing game with gameplay similar to CSR Racing. The game is made up of one-on-one races that are viewed from the side. Forward movement of the bike is automatic with player's controls being limited to revving up the engine, shifting and using nitro boosts. To perform well the player has to aim for good or perfect shifts by shifting up only as the needle reaches the green zone of the tachometer. By shifting well the player's nitro bar fills up. Nitro can be used whenever there is some but when the bar is full an extreme nitro can be used.
The game consists of a career mode that contains four locations (Tokyo, Havana, New York and Back to Tokyo). In each location, the player has to play ladder races to unlock boss races and beat every boss to unlock the next location. After winning a race the player is awarded cash as well as a box with bike parts. Both are needed to upgrade bikes. To get more bike parts, it is also possible to buy boxes with cash or to enter the black market where parts can be bought and sold. By winning boss fights the player is also awarded blueprints which are needed to unlock new bikes. All bikes in the game are licensed from manufacturers such as Kawasaki, Yamaha and Suzuki. In addition to the ladder and boss races, there are also side jobs that can be played for extra rewards and objective-based star tasks which appear after a location have been completed.