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How to Paint Bicycle Wheels

Updated November 21, 2016

Retro bikes are becoming popular staples in many part of the United States. Caring for older and possibly weather worn and uncared for bicycles can be a rewarding and simple beginner project. Making a bike look like new by painting it is a relatively quick and easy project for those who want a simple way to make their bike look better.

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  1. There are a number of things that you must do before starting to paint your wheels. Remove the wheels from the bike framing using the screw driver or wrench depending on your bike. You should check to make sure you have the appropriate tool before starting. Once you have removed the wheel, decide whether you want to leave the tire on or not. Painting may damage your tires or make them slippery so ask at the bike shop for suggestions specific to your tires. At this point remove all parts from the wheels that are not part of the wheel frame itself such as the axles. If you are uncertain how the bike is put together take pictures of every step as you do this so that you can put it back together afterward.

  2. Put on a mask before sanding. Using sand paper (or a chemical compound) remove any rust from the frame. Also sand any chipped or damaged paint until you have a smooth and even surface.

  3. At this time you may also need to use a degreaser to remover oil or lubricant build up. Remember to check after cleaning the build up and sand off rust or paint as necessary.

  4. Use a hose to spray the wheels clean. Remove any debris like dirt, cobwebs, rust, degreaser and anything else you see. The surface must be smooth and clean before painting or the paint will not stick evenly. Allow the wheels to dry lying on newspaper, preferably in a bright outdoor location. A windy spot will dry it but may throw new debris on it so if possible let it sun dry. Once the wheels are dry it is time to start the painting process.

  5. Set out a layer of newspaper beneath your wheels. If you have decided to leave the tires on but do not want to paint them you should use the painter's tape to cover them up where the tires meet the metal of the wheels.

  6. Before beginning, put on your mask and goggles. Holding the can steady and aimed at a 45 degree angle about 18 inches above the wheels, begin spraying and moving your arm steadily from side to side. If you spray directly at the wheels the paint will not stick as well or look as attractive. Once you have completely passed over the entire wheel and if the paint looks evenly distributed and "nice," you can go on to the next step. If it seems like it needs more coats of paint, allow it to dry and repeat the painting process. You may have to repeat this process multiple times if you are holding the spray paint can too far away; try spraying a few inches closer the next time around. When the colour looks right and the wheel is dry go on to the next step.

  7. Some people do not perform the following step but it is helpful if you live in a very humid or very arid area which causes paint to crack or rust.

  8. After the wheels are completely dry, use a lacquer. Lacquer should be put on using a non-synthetic brush. Evenly coat the entire wheel in a thin layer of lacquer, paying close attention to joins and spots that will be covered in lubricants. The lacquer may take a long time to dry but do not rush it. If it is at all wet (including below the surface) it will stick to the other parts of the bike when you put it back together.

  9. Tip

    Make sure that it is not windy if you are painting outside. You can do both tires at a time. When they have finished drying, turn them over to paint the other side. The drying time will vary depending on the brand of spray paint you are using so read the can and add 3 hours to just to make sure it is well dried.


    Humid weather will affect how quickly the paint dries so pick a dry day or be prepared to wait longer for it to dry.

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Things You'll Need

  • Spray paint for metal (there is a number of different brands available)
  • A water hose (or pressure hose)
  • Degreaser
  • Sand paper or rough sponge
  • Painters tape
  • Face mask appropriate for both paint and rust particles
  • Goggles
  • Screwdriver or wrench depending on your bike
  • Old newspaper
  • Lacquer
  • Brush
  • Well ventilated, preferably outdoor space

About the Author

Carmen Laboy has been publishing short stories and poetry since 1998. Her work appears online and in "Tonguas Experimental Literature Magazine." She was a script reader for the Duke City Shootout 2010, arts education intern at 516arts gallery and has worked as an assistant for many artists. She studied at the Universidad de Puerto Rico and Escuela de Artes Plasticas, a prestigious art college.

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