How to Paint Your Spokes (Without Taking Your Wheels Apart)

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

One might want to call this a "winter project" ;-)

I wouldn't do it in the middle of riding season but it is not that bad and actually faster than one would think (3 to 4h for both wheels).

This is the final result, I went for black as I found the silver paint to look fake. The black will also pair well with my freshly rebuilt gold calipers.

Check this post: How to paint your brake calipers


Why would you paint your spokes, you may ask?

Well, to put it simply, my spokes are getting old and they looked pretty bad!

My bike is a 2008 model and the OEM spokes are NOT some of the nice stainless steel ones that ages well. When the zinc plating wears off, they start to rust and look terrible...


Note: Don't make my mistake and make things worse by using harsh cleaning products on your wheels like Car Engine Degreaser and Mag Wheels Cleaner when you wash your bike. These products will eat the surface plating on the spokes and also leave some marks on the polished aluminum rims as well.

Are you out of your mind? Heard about spokes sleeves?

Yeah right, I could have gone this way but it is too easy!

Seriously, I don't like the look of these and the fact that the rust will continue even worse underneath since you are trapping moisture with the sleeve doesn't help.


New wheels for $2000 VS paint/masking tape for $30

I was doing other major upgrades like 320mm front disc and I got thinking about wheels. Unsprung weight, rigidity, and reliability are really important factors that will affect the feeling of the bike.

But shortly after dreaming on a set of Woody's Wheelworks Superlace (check them out, it's one of the best options for custom wheels. Lindon Poskitt only ride these on his rally bikes) or at least some Wrap9, I began to realize that money-wise, not an option!

It all cames from thinking about getting better wheels...

New rims with new spokes on OEM hubs?

Nah, in my opinion, that would be pointless and only bringing marginal performance for the money spent, even if you do the work yourself. So I turned to just refurbishing my wheelset for now.

While I would have loved the complete black look for the wheel, I refrain from doing so because painting the rims will never lend to long-lasting results, even with a great prep.

 

Here is the complete tutorial to paint your spokes


Tools and supplies needed

  • Wrench size 10, 19 and 24 to take the wheels off

  • Steel wire brush and medium grit Scotch brite pad

  • A bottle of Rust Inhibitor and a small paint brush

  • 1" and 2" wide masking tape (I'll recommend the 3M automotive stuff for the 1" as it sticks really nice even using small piece like in between the spokes)

  • Spray can type enamel with rust protection in the color of your choice (Krylon Gloss work well but you can choose a matt finish too)

  • A pack of eyelet reinforcement for binder paper (this is the secret for a nice job around the spokes!)

  • A pair of scissors (to cut small strips of masking tape)

  • Small spatula (help to put a small piece of tape in place)

  • Some newspapers (to cover your rim and tire)


Preliminary tasks

  • Take both your wheels off the bike and clean them whole and proper

  • Removing the discs and sprocket carrier helps a lot to reach in the hub


Step 1: Rust prep (about 40 min)


Once your wheels are clean and dry, you can start to give a quick once over with the wire brush, insisting on the rusty/corroded spots if you have any.

Same idea with the Scotch Brite pad, it will come handy to reach the tight spots you can't do with the brush.

Then, it's time to apply the rust inhibitor with the small brush, a little tedious to cover the whole surface of the spoke but fairly quick. Let dry completely, overnight is great.


Step 2: The masking tape party (about 2h)


Start with the hubs! The trick here is to cut some 1/4" wide strips from you 1" roll of masking tape and use them in between the spoke. Lay several pieces around the spokes, pretty tight so no hub will be exposed to paint.

The stripes will go on top of each other all around the spoke. The picture below explicit the idea.


Once you have done them all, you can cover the whole hub with the wider masking tape at a faster pace.


After that, get on the rim side, this is where the eyelet reinforcement will help to have a nice and repeatable mask around the spokes nipples.

Simply split them with scissors while on the back sheet, then peel them off and place them around the spoke and slide them down to stick on the rim.


Yes, they do not conform as well as masking tape does. I would start with them first, press them hard down around the nipple to really be at the base.


Then, using the same technic than the hub, place a wider piece of masking tape in between two spokes and over the eyelets, using multiple stripes around the nipple to cover a wider surface. This will help keep them flat around it.


Once the in-between spokes area on the rim is covered, you can use the full width of the tape going around the rim, then the 2" wide again and leaving one side up and unstuck. This will be where you can stick the newspaper behind and complete your final wrap around the tires.


Step 3: Paint away (about 30min)


For any paint job, follow the direction on the can. Having the part and the can at the correct temperature is a decisive factor to get a good result.


Go for at least 2 light coats, with usually no more than 10 min in between.

Staying at about a foot away helps avoiding drips. The hardest part is to spray from all angles possible to cover the whole circumference of the spoke.

how to paint your spokes
Final result on the front wheel, with a clean unpainted rim

Then I usually wait 24h to remove the masking tape, meaning the paint is not fully dry up. This can help if a drip occurs halfway on the mask and the part.


If you happen to lift some paint while removing the tape, you can cut it nicely with a knife a push it back while the paint is still soft instead of reaping a flake off.

Same idea with paint where you do not want it, if not completely cured, it will come easily with acetone and a rag, especially on polished or smooth surfaces.


I had some tiny triangles I missed to cover on the rim and it came off really easy since the paint hadn't hardened.

 

All in all, it is quite a lot of prep but it only took me a whole morning to prep and paint. The next day I took of all the masking material and I think the result is great!

After a quick polishing on the rim, the wheels look like new again!


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