Poor Man's Painted Bicycle Wheel (Lacing Included)

Picture of Poor Man's Painted Bicycle Wheel (Lacing Included)
Been riding that old road bike around campus or around town and tired of the plain old silver or rust-colored spokes in your wheels? With a little bit of time and effort, you can have a newish looking wheel with colorful spokes and rim with contrasting metal nipples.

This method is for the homegrown type who don't have or want to shell out $100-$300 for a fancy new wheel set, and don't mind a rough-around-the-edges look. I would not recommend taking this step if your bike is valuable or you think you might be selling it any time soon.

Also for any cyclists who want to learn how to unbuild and rebuild a wheel, this instructable will take you there, just skip the masking and painting steps.

I used a rear wheel, 27" 36 spoke, 3 cross setup for my demonstration, but most steps will be the same for other sizes or spoke numbers and configurations. If you are using a front wheel, it will be easier because you won't have to worry about different spoke lengths and dishing.

Hope you have fun and learn something here!
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up

Step 1: Wheel Disassembly

If you are starting with an already built wheel, you will need to disassemble it, which is fairly simple and straight forward.

1.) [Deflate tire first, then] Remove tire and tube--using a tire lever or screwdriver (use caution so as not to rip/puncture the tube), pry the tire off on one side of the wheel, then work your way around. You will probably need to use to levers and work against each other. Once the wheel is half off, peel the tube out from inside it, using care when removing the valve stem from its hole. Then the other side of the wheel should come off relatively easy

2.) Take spoke nipples off--Using a spoke wrench or screwdriver, start by loosening the tension on all the spokes evenly, to avoid "potato-chipping" the wheel (i.e. uneven high pressure spokes distort the shape of the wheel into a non-round shape). Then keep going around and remove all the nipples from the spokes and collect the nipples and spokes in a place where they will not get lost/damaged/dirty. If you are working with a rear wheel, make sure you keep the inside and outside sets of spokes separate, as they should be different lengths.

You should now have an empty rim, all your spoke nipples, your spokes, and an empty hub, and this is the perfect time to give them all a good cleanup, especially to prevent nipple-spoke seizing.
Devil-le1 year ago
Hi! Your hub seems to be a Maillard Helico-matic. It's a old french system used from 70's to mid 80's created to make cassette remplacement easy (was it easy to remove?).

Good work.

This is awesome mate. I bought a beater for 25 quid a couple of weeks ago, where the previous owner had spray-painted (randomly) all over the bike. So I've completed stripped the bike but was going to throw the wheels away. I won't now, thanks to your instructable!
Hmff2 years ago
Thankyou sooo much
WHat kinda hub is that???? i have never seen gear attach in that manor!!!
crazydogz5 years ago
I have an old cruiser that I want to experiment on, but the spokes have oxidized and I can't get them loose. I want to try to reuse them. Any suggestions?
apccool (author)  crazydogz5 years ago
Hard to say without more details, but if you have taken the tire, tube, and stripping off of the rim (so the ends of the nipples are exposed), and you still can't get them loose with some wd-40 or pb blaster or something, it's not looking good.  The nipples will usually have a better way of gripping them on the ends, either screwdriver or tiny socket-type, but if they are really seized hard, I don't think you will be able to reuse them. 
apccool (author) 5 years ago
wow that is an interesting idea. I might in fact try it next time, it would save a lot of time.
Hycro5 years ago
I heard somewheres that some fellers in the army when painting things like jeeps and that, would coat whatever they didn't want painted with grease, do their painting, then wipe the grease off...I've never tried it, but it would be great for on the spoke threads, and that way they're partially lubricated when you wipe off the paint-covered grease. Although, I wouldn't recommend using it on the braking surface of your rims though...
Hycro5 years ago
Flat black with some sort of chip resistant clear coat (it's something kinda like varathane, only it's in a spray can for metal...) would be the best way to go, the clear coat is to protect you paint job, and in my experience, it makes for a nicer job too, although it adds some shine to it (assuming you don't want any gloss at all, hence why you used flat black) but let a little mud dust settle on it, and you won't see the gloss anymore...and your paint is still protected...
gnargnar5 years ago
I have an old piece of junk bike, and honestly my back tire is dished so wonky in order for it to even work that I think taking it apart is a terrible idea. HOWEVER, because it IS a piece of junk, i would happily paint the whole dang wheel. I'm wondering if there would be any adverse effects however to me getting paint on the hubs, nipples, or brake surface. I assume paint on the brake surface would be no bueno, but at the same time it doesn't seem like it should really make much of a difference. any help much appreciated (asap because i'm probably just going to do it tomorrow ha) thanks. good instruct by the way
apccool (author)  gnargnar5 years ago
Thank you, I would say if you aren't too concerned about the wheel, painting it as a whole is not too bad. maybe mask the hub though. I have seen people who painted their whole wheel, so it will presumably be rideable. Worst thing that can happen with the brake surface is you get paint gummed up in the brakes, then scrape it off, or get new brake pads or something. sure go for it. :)
Hycro apccool5 years ago
Putting paint on the hub isn't so bad, but certain paints on the braking surface lead to uneven braking, since some parts wear off the rim faster than others, and the paint often has different friction than the rim. Although, I have painted the whole wheel, and it didn't affect my brakes much, but I could feel where the paint was through my brake levers and cables...
rtutter456 years ago
I can't do it right and I don't know how to do it
apccool (author)  rtutter456 years ago
What are you having trouble with?
lemonie6 years ago
I am very tired at the moment, so I may have missed something here. For a paint-job, why was it necessary to disassemble the whole wheel? L
apccool (author)  lemonie6 years ago
Mostly so that you don't get paint on/inside of the nipples and for ease of handling the parts. I have heard of people giving the wheel a spin and painting the spokes like that, but it wastes more paint and will probably get paint in places you don't want to. It pretty much comes down to only painting the parts you want painted. Also, knowing how to unbuild and rebuild a wheel is a good skill to have.
lemonie apccool6 years ago
Yes that does make sense - thanks for the replies. L
apccool (author)  apccool6 years ago
Another reason I just thought of was to give the parts a good clean down/sanding, which would be near impossible with the wheel assembled.
rimar20006 years ago
This is a good instructable about assembling a wheel. I did it 50 years ago (I was 14), it was an arduous task, that lasted a week or so. But I believe that isn't necessary to disassemble the wheel to paint the spokes. It's very preferable to cover with painter tape the nipples, the hub (as much as possible) and the rim. Using a very small paintbrush you can paint almost inaccessible places, as the spokes in the hub, without mess it.
apccool (author)  rimar20006 years ago
Thanks By all means, to each his own. I still think it makes a difference to be able to paint the whole surface of the spoke which you can't do if its sticking through the hub.
Phil B6 years ago
Your explanation makes it sound easier than anyone ever has before. Thank you. I doubt I will be lacing any wheels. I made it 63 years without building a wheel. We will see.
apccool (author)  Phil B6 years ago
Really glad you found it to be a good explanation. That's what I was going for.