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.

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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.



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29 Discussions


6 years ago on Step 6

Great iea it inspired me to make my own. I used decorative sheet metal from homedepot, cut into pie shapes then folded around the spokes


7 years ago on Step 3

OMG!!!!!! very nice!!!!! great for summer parades.


Everyone, meet Nightmare. A hybrid scraper/EL Mongoose XR200. Took 6 hours to build her, uses 34 Ni-MH batteries.

Bike 3.JPGBike 4.JPGBike 2.JPG

9 years ago on Introduction

i was planning on buying a cheap beat up beach cruiser to make a scraper bike of my own but couldn't find one anywhere and people are selling USED beach cruisers around $200 or even more locally, so i decided i'm just going to turn my lowrider style beach cruiser into one using a variation of your cardboard technique after finding some interesting new CHEAP materials that will match my chrome on chrome bike.

i think cardboard or corrugated plastic "cardboard" is the future of scraper bike wheels as you aren't limited to "base 6" spoke counts and can do 4, 5, 7 & 8 spokes etc. as well as work with a bunch of new materials that don't look lumpy like foil does & that are more durable.

before i get the rest of the materials i need to do my own, i'd like to toss another technique that hasn't been used yet that i know of in the mix, FABRICs! if one were to make a hoop out of coat hanger wire the same circumference as the inside of their wheel, they could sew any fabric they want to the frame and then sew the frame to their spokes for a disc wheel effect like some scrapers already use, but with patterns. how about FUR discs?

inflating tires would be a bit annoying, but  one doesn't have to sew the discs for permanence and cloths are likely to get dirty & oil stained anyways, but it's a different way to get a more uniform look than you can with foil. i might do that on my old mountain bike as i have some green fabric with pictures of cocktails & playing cards i was going to use on a trailer stereo lying around anyways.

all i'll say about my beach cruiser project is the theme will be silver monoCHROME & i'll be doing a 5 spoke design using this technique & new materials no one has thought to use yet. i started doing cardboard wedge mockups, but will start over from scratch with a full disc to get better geometry & will add a new instructable to detail the new techniques for the new materials.

9 replies

back to the idea of fabrics... how about TIE DYE discs?

not only would that tie into (pun intended) the colorful nature of scraper bikes, but is another symbol of the anti-violence AND green transportation aspects that scraper bikes represent. the round spoke patterns of traditional tie dye teeshirts would look great in bike wheels.

here's a few more ideas that haven't been done yet either using the rigid spoke technique in this instructable

- if you used sturdy corrugated plastic, you could not only paint your spokes, but you could use masking effects to make all sorts of patterns & blends you just can't do using foil. if for example you did something like square "dots" in a color lighter than your spoke's primary and then blended a darker medium color inside your squares, you could create a pseudo 3D effect

- speaking of 3D effects, you could layer your spokes to give them TEXTUREs just like many car wheels have. heck, you could even SCULPT on your spokes with various materials like low melting point plastics, quick setting "liquid metal" type epoxies (expensive), bondo or paper mache. why, you could even do some woodworking & use THAT material

- using rigid materials like plastics to make spokes from scratch, you can also glue various materials to your spokes. i saw the bags of plastic "diamonds & jewels" in a craft shop looking for new ideas & materials that could really add "bling" to scraper wheels. i like uncomplicated simple designs myself, but a bunch of fake emeralds on a green themed bike would add some sparkle to the wheels. speaking of that, ONE of the materials i was going to use on my scraper bike is GLITTER! why hasn't anyone used that yet? i sprayed some clear laquer on cardboard shook some silver glitter on it and repeated 3-4 times with 2-3 top coats. it's messy & stinky work, but would really make wheels "pop". i decided to go with some blue of the material i was going to contrast with the glitter showing through the inside of my wheels because the technique is simpler and it will better match my bike's blue seat,

-& finally, by not relying on your spokes for your patterns, you could make different SHAPED spokes like swirls, lightning bolts & spokes that have concave or convex rounded edges. you could get even MORE creative by cutting out parts of the middle of your spokes to create negative space eg, circles to mimic the look of old 1970s hot rod steering wheels. heck, you could even cut letters out to say things on your wheels.

i've already mocked spokes up with paper and am going to get the blue material for the inside contrast on my wheels.

anyways, there's a few more ideas for anyone looking to try something new


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

I don't think I would glue stuff to a bike wheel it could get unbalanced and make the bike ride funny. you would have to pay extra attention to make sure everything you do is exactly symetrical


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

no, it is not very sensitive. the weight of materials used here will not cause a problem.


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

even if the materials were heavy, they would more or less balance on a wheel as they're evenly spaced and bikes roll at much slower speeds than cars which also attain those speeds with faster spinning smaller wheels.

ever seen a "clown bike" with it's axle mounted off center or one that uses sneakers or shoes for tires? you can put a lot of stuff in a bike wheel and still ride it. bike racing & downhills are a different issue.


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

you wouldn't believe the insane bikes people have built eg. one with a giant wheel that you pedal from inside, ones that you power by hopping up & down with clown bike style asymmetrical rear wheels or "tall bikes".

you want to see some "cartoony bikes", google image
Corvallis DaVinci days. you've never seen anything like it.

if you want to see the most hysterical bike ever, google image

that cartoony enough for you?


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

i SERIOUSLY doubt glue would throw a wheel's balance off much unless you were planning on riding downhill at 50mph+. one rides a scraper bike SLOW.

i've been riding with HEAVY stainless steel bullet shaped valve caps which would weigh more than ALL of the glue one would likely use on a wheel and that's at the extreme outside of the wheel where it makes the most difference. my valve caps weigh about the same as 3 quarters, maybe even 4.

along similar lines, i've seen bikes riding just fine with a single LED "hokey spoke" etc. and those use even heavier batteries.

if one were even using a lot of glue for whatever technique they're doing, it would tend to even out as one would be doing the same thing all the way around the wheel.

car wheels spin A LOT faster than bike wheels do just cruising around.

if ANYTHING would worry me about handling on a scraper bike, it would be the effect of a really strong crosswind hitting the wheel. even without blocking spokes, those can push a motorcyclist over a lane or two.


8 years ago on Step 3

so niceeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, thank you


9 years ago on Introduction

this reminds me of bike polo wheel covers! but they protect your spokes too.

April 8 2010 bike polo 020.JPG