Cleaning Up Vintage Steel Bicycle Wheels

Last Updated on May 15, 2021 by FAB Jim The Cyclist

I recently purchased two 1974 Raleigh Sports bicycles that needed a lot of cleaning and a good refresh to get back on the road.  This involved cleaning up the steel wheels which were quite dirty and had bits of rust on them.  I wasn’t too sure how to go about cleaning these up, so I scoured the internet for days looking for the best options.  Lotta different stuff out there, but I decided to use the option that I already had most of the materials for.

Everyone is familiar with WD40, a good penetrant and it does have some rust cleaning properties.  I teamed it up with some balled up aluminum foil and went to work.  First, I sprayed the rim, then scrubbed at it with the foil.  The theory is that aluminum foil is softer than chrome, so it only removes the rust.  Cleaned them up surprisingly easy. 

After I went around the rim and checked it over for any spots I may have missed, I wiped it all down with isopropyl alcohol to remove the WD40.  Now I went over the wheel again with Mothers California Gold All-Chrome cleaner and protectant.  This didn’t really make them look any better from what I could see, but I wanted to add some protectant so they wouldn’t get rusty again.  After this I cleaned just the brake surface of the rim with isopropyl alcohol to remove any polish and help with braking.  Here is a before image and some from after the cleanup:

There is still some pitting from the rust, but I think the rims look much better.  I’ve read that the pitting can’t be removed, and I’ve also read that they can, but you have to sand them out.  I’m not sure which is right, but I’m not going for a like new look so happy with the results I have. 

Here is a link to purchase the polish from Amazon:

Mothers 05222 California Gold All Chrome Polish, 12 oz. – AMAZON

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