Introduction: Scraper Bike Wheels

About: Dan Goldwater is a co-founder of Instructables. Currently he operates MonkeyLectric where he develops revolutionary bike lighting products.
Living in Oakland you can't miss the Scraper Bike phenomenon.  Local Tyrone "Baby Champ" Stevenson is generally credited for popularizing the style.  Baby Champ advocates the scraper bike as "a way of expressing your creative side ... its a do-it-yourself thing".  Now that's a philosophy i can get behind!  The past 2 summers Baby Champ and his crew have led a large ride through the city.  You can bet I didn't miss it, but I needed to get my own bike in style for the ride!

This article is sponsored by Momentum magazine and MonkeyLectric.  The article was published in Momentum Issue 44.  Here on Instructables i've posted an expanded build section that has tons more inspirational photos annotated with building tips.

Step 1: Party Like Its 1895!

I think it can be said of all great ideas that every new generation re-invents them for their own.  The year is 1895 and bicycles are enjoying the brief 20 year explosion of popularity before being thrown under the (belching Diesel powered) bus.  All but lost to the sands of time, Henry V Swan of New York is looking for a way to stand out in the crowd and invents a decorative wheel attachment, his design calls for colorful cloth which unfolds like an oriental fan to fill the disc of the wheel.  Just 2 years later the patriotic JP Peters of Philadelphia has another method.  By 1950 we entered the age of Plastics and Leslie Mann of Detroit suggested its use.  By the 1970's another new generation had found their rides - and how to pimp them.

Step 2: Methods

Nowadays, available methods and materials are the key to a good scraper bike, as is a good sense of color and a practiced spray-can-finger.  A complete scraper bike typically has a color theme including both frame and wheels.  You can find articles online about painting your frame, this article only covers wheel construction.

There are several ways to do wheels, and the methods are evolving.  In 2008 the prevalent method was to wrap aluminum foil around their spokes and spray paint it.  This looks great but it gets trashed pretty fast.  By 2009 the most common style uses colored tape wrapped around the spokes.  This method is clean, durable and easy.  As an experiment I made 2 of my own wheels using other methods, but the result wasn't much better than the widely used colored tape method.

Now lets build some rockin' wheels!!

Step 3: Method 1 - Color Tape (and Maybe Some Found Materials)

What you need:  TAPE!

Duct tape, floor marking tape and packing tape are all good choices and available in 8 or more colors.  electrical tape also comes in many colors but tends to be a bit more expensive and the thinner rolls mean more work.  If you can't find your colors at a home improvement store, I found some online sources:
  • has a huge selection of colors and styles.  24 colors of duct tape and 20 colors of floor marking tape!  plus metallic tapes and more.
  • has the cheapest colored packing tapes i can find
  • and the old standby - has some - part numbers 6031T897  or 7769A14
Tape in hand, just start wrapping around your spokes!  You can make triangle wedges, rectangle wedges, or more complex wrapped shapes.  You can also tape in some found materials like your favorite candy wrapper.

Check out all the inspiring photos.  I've annotated each of them explaining how the effect was created.  I started with the simplest methods and progressed to the complex ones.  Many of these can be made in 1 to 3 hours and won't need much practice to do well.  The last 3 shown i think will be fairly tricky to do well and i wouldn't recommend for beginners.

Step 4: Cardboard and Paint

I had a couple of ideas for making scraper wheels that i haven't seen anyone else doing, and i decided to make a few wheels to test my ideas.

This step shows how to make a wheel using just cardboard and paint.  it is not harder than some of the tape methods, the results i'd consider about equivalent in terms of overall looks, durability and difficulty.  so its just another way if you have different materials available.

Overview:  cut cardboard wedges that fit into the spokes.  paint with oil-based paint.  2 layers of paint act as both a glue and waterproof sealant.  this keeps the cardboard in place and makes it durable.

for more durability, you can first coat the cardboard in epoxy glue before painting.  i did this to my wheel, but it was a fair bit of extra work, really messy, and probably didn't add much.

Step 5: Other Ideas

A professional level construction can be achieved using fiberglass-laminated cardboard wedges.  However, this is a lot of work!  Numerous instructables exist on fiberglass layup process so I am not going to go into that here.

Step 6: Cardboard and Monofilm

I made another wheel using a technique from model airplane construction.  I wrapped cardboard wedges with "polyester heat-shrink monofilm".  This material is standard for model airplane wings and is available in many colors from hobby shops.  the end result looks good, but it was a lot of work to make this so i wouldn't recommend it generally.