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How to clean vintage bicycle wheels in 5 easy steps

In this article I’m going to give you some tips on how to clean vintage bicycle wheels. In this case wheels for my Bridgestone Submariner.

Relative to the bicycle itself these 40+ year-old wheels are in good condition. They have stainless steel Araya rims, with stainless steel spokes and a slightly pitted chromed hubs.

Considering the amount of crud on the hubs they were probably not cleaned in decades.

Video Tutorial

Step 1. Removing tire

removing tire

In this case I removed the tire and tube as well, wanting to replace the tire just to find out they were 27 inch bicycle tires. A size I did not have.

But it’s a good thing anyway because something the tube sticks to the rim and you want to clean that up as well.

IIf you don’t know how to remove tires read the article how to fix flat bike tires.

Step 2. Removing axle, cone and bearings

loosen cone

Since I’m also going to overhaul the bicycle hub I’ll be wanting to remove the axle, cone, and bearings as well. I could use the standard 15mm cone wrench and adjustable wrench to loosen the nut that sits on top of it.

It turned out the ball bearings had been perfectly sealed against the elements. I smiled when I looked at the bearings nestled within the hub as they turned out to be in absolute pristine condition.

And if the ball bearings look this good, the bearing races within the hub and on the cone will also be in good condition; and they were.

Step 3. Cleaning bicycle wheel parts

With the bearings removed it’s time to clean the entire wheel before reassembling it. I use baby wipes in general.

For some of the more nasty stuff I douse it in white spirit. This helps to loosen the grime, which has been sitting on there for decades.

To quickly clean the bearings I put them in a plastic jar with a little bit of white spirit. 10 seconds of rotating them in the stuff and they are completely cleaned. A quick inspection ensures that none have corrosion damage.

Step 4. Reinstalling the bearings

With every part of the wheel cleaned it’s time to reinstall the bearings. You can read more detailed instructions in my article on how to overhaul a bicycle hub. Basically it’s just putting enough grease in the right place and putting the bearings back.

These are the standard size bearings I expected to be in this wheel, with 9 on each side. I have come across wheel hubs that have less than the desired amount of bearings. If they do replace the entire set of bearings with a fresh 9 x 9 set.

Step 5. Removing play from bicycle hub

removing play from bicycle hub

I’ve also already written an entire article on how to remove play from a bicycle hub. That’s going to be the next step to perform. Read up on that article if you want to learn the ins-and-outs of that procedure.

tightening cone

The final step is tighten the cone.

Final thoughts on how to clean vintage bicycle wheels

cleaned wheel

I was amazed at how well these wheels have held up. It’s one of the reasons I believe that products from this era were truly built to last a lifetime.

And there is absolutely no reason to believe when this bike is finally back in running condition it won’t last another lifetime.

With the play removed and the cone tightened your job is finished. And that’s how you clean vintage bicycle wheels! If you like this article give it a thumbs up. If you have any questions or suggestions for new articles, let me know in the comments below. Cheers.

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