Poor Man's Painted Bicycle Wheel (Lacing Included)




About: Teaching student, biking enthusiast and I love to reuse things, much to my girlfriend's chagrin at times...

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!

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.

Step 2: Bill of Materials

You will need the following:

Materials for lacing/building a wheel:
1 hub with (36) holes total on both sides
(36) spokes
1 rim with (36) spoke holes, plus one wider valve stem hole
(36) spoke nipples
*the number in parentheses can be a different number, just make sure it is the same for all parts
**if you are using nipples that are not new and may have some corrosion, it is a good idea to soak them in some solvent (biodiesel, gasoline, other metal cleaner) to get all the gunk off, and to ensure they will spin freely on the spokes in the future

Materials for painting:
1 can of spray paint (I use flat black, cheap brand, but if you want to be fancier, go to an art store and buy a nice color)
Masking tape (I actually use scotch tape, but other kinds will work, as long as they don't leave glue behind)
Cardboard or newspaper for painting surface (be careful of overspray, spraypaint goes everywhere!)

Spoke Wrench (if your spoke nipples have a screwdriver slot on the back, you will be able to do it pretty much all with a screwdriver instead)
Tools for Cog/Cassette removal (varies widely between bikes, but cog or cassette must be removed to get spokes in and out)
Truing Stand/Bike frame (if you don't have access to a truing stand, you can get it more or less true on your frame)

Step 3: Painting

Depending on how good you want your finished product to look, painting can be a very lengthy process. Sanding, priming, delicately masking, and carefully painting are steps recommended for anyone looking for long-lasting great-looking results. For my wheel, I did not sand, prime, or take much time masking and painting, and I ended up with a rather inferior finished product, but I was not hoping for anything more. I did run into two problems, though, that I would caution against. 1) I tried to tidy up the rim masking, but it ended up getting a lot messier and the paint has jagged edges now. 2) I ran out of paint, so wasn't able to fully coat all the spokes. This is easily remedied, but once again, this is the poor man building the wheel, so he said "Oh well."

Use scotch tape to mask the sides of the rim (braking surface) so the brakes will not get all gummed up with paint
Mask the threads of the spokes, so they will screw into the nipples smoothly and not gum up or seize

Spread out newspaper or a big piece of cardboard to protect the ground from paint, then lay out all the spokes with the heads all pointing the same way. After painting the first side and letting them dry for at least 15 minutes (depending on temperature, wind, etc.), roll them so the heads are all pointing the other way, then paint the second side. Try to get the spray paint in at an angle so that you get all sides of the spokes.
For the rim, stand it up with one hand and spray the bottom from the inside of the rim, towards one side of the tape, to get as close to the tape as possible. Turn the wheel and paint as you go, then when one coat has dried, flip the wheel and paint towards the other side of tape.
When all paint has sufficiently dried (wait longer this time, ~30-45 minutes, so that you will not mess the paint up when working with the parts), you can go on to the rebuilding process.

Step 4: Install the First Run of Spokes

To begin, drop 9 spokes into every other hole on one side of the hub. Once again, if you are working on a rear wheel, make sure you put the shorter set of spokes into the side next to the cassette/cog so the wheel will dish properly.

Take one spoke and put it through a hole in the rim and loosely twist a nipple on to the spoke to hold it in place. Only twist each nipple on to the spoke enough to hold it (5 turns or so) so you don't get too much tension too soon.

Working around the hub, take the next spoke and do the same thing in the rim hole four spaces over from the first one. Continue until all the spokes are attached to the rim with spoke nipples. You should have three open holes between each set of spokes.

Step 5: Install the Second Run of Spokes

For the second set of spokes, you are going to move to the other side of the hub, and again, drop them into every other hole from the outside of the hub. When you look down through the holes, the spokes you just put in should be either just in front of or just behind the first set of spokes. This is important, as you need to put it in the hole of the rim that corresponds to the hub positioning.

The second run should be in holes on the rim directly adjacent to the first run, and once again, in every fourth hole. The holes in the rim should be half filled now, in a pattern of 2 empty, then 2 filled, then 2 empty, etc.

Step 6: Install the Third Run of Spokes

For the third set, you are going back to the first side, but this time, drop the spokes through the holes from the other side of the hub (i.e. if you dropped the first set from the outside of the hub, drop this set from the inside). Just make sure they are sticking through the hub flange in the opposite direction of the first set.

This is where it gets a bit more complicated. Take the hub and twist it in the rim, so that you tighten up all the spokes and they meet the hub at an angle (see picture). If you are doing a 3 cross pattern, the new spokes will go over the first two spokes they cross, then under the second, and will be two holes away from the last spoke it crossed. The third run spokes should be making a big X with the first run spokes, starting six holes apart on the hub, crossing, then ending two holes apart on the rim. If you are still a bit confused, try looking at different picture and trying to get a view of it.

Step 7: Install Fourth Run of Spokes

This is it, your wheel is almost whole again (or for the first time)! Drop the spokes in the same way you did for the third run, from the opposite side of the hub. Then do the same over-over-under pattern, and screw on a nipple in the only open hole left. Keep going around the wheel until all spokes have nipples and all holes are filled. The wheel is now complete and ready to be tensioned and trued.

Step 8: Tension and True the Wheel

Start by hand tightening the spokes all about four more twists, and this is where you need to make sure you start at the valve stem hole and end there, so you tighten all spokes evenly. Once you can't hand tighten any more, go around and give each spoke 1 or 2 full turns with the spoke wrench, unless they are already quite tight. If you think the tension is high enough, begin truing.

Give the wheel a spin and look for spots where it bumps out to the side (putting your finger or a stick next to the wheel so it hits it is a good indicator). If the rim wobbles to the left in one spot, loosen the spokes on the left side in that area (2 or 3 next to it) and tighten the spokes on the right side. Only tighten about 1/4 turn at a time, so you don't overdo it.

If you have more question, or are confused about anything, just leave a comment or check out http://www.sheldonbrown.com/wheelbuild.html Sheldon Brown's cycling pages are the best source on the interweb for bicycle stuff.



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    25 Discussions


    3 years ago on Step 2

    A Maillard helicomatic! I'm surprised you still even have spokes. Those hubs notoriously had ever-so-slightly-wrong dimensions multiplying the rate of spoke failure, and bearing wear. The concept was fantastic, I'd hang it on the wall and find something else though.


    5 years ago on Step 2

    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.



    6 years ago on Step 4

    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!


    6 years ago on Step 8

    Thankyou sooo much


    WHat kinda hub is that???? i have never seen gear attach in that manor!!!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    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?

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    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. 


    9 years ago on Step 3

    wow that is an interesting idea. I might in fact try it next time, it would save a lot of time.


    9 years ago on Step 3

    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...


    9 years ago on Step 2

    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...


    9 years ago on Introduction

    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

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    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. :)


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    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...


    10 years ago on Introduction

    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

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    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.