Steel wheels. Cleaning them and stopping them.

The chromed steel wheels of the 70's, 80's and before could look great. The combination of a bright day and clean polished rims would turn heads. They were comfortable to ride on poorly surfaced roads and held speed well. Steel rims hold their shape well too, you would have to go very wrong to badly taco a steel rim by over tightening a spoke. A well built steel wheel could literally turn for decades without going out of true. If you are learning to true wheels, steel is a very good place to start practising as they are quite forgiving.

Unfortunately they didn't always look great for long. The popular steel hoops made by Raleigh or Rigida in the 1980's often sported quality hubs such as the French made Maillard which pretty much lasted forever, while the rims gradually corroded and looked awful.

This perhaps unfairly has earned chromed steel rims a bad rep for being rust hoops. I say unfairly as in many cases, rust could easily be removed with fine wire wool and the wheels would look great once again. I tried various cleaning methods as a kid, from Brasso to Autosol polish. Rubbing tin foil dipped in water on the spokes and rims was a good one. All those methods work, but essentially a light scrub with a wire brush or green scourer pad, followed by a wash then polish with a dry cloth is the simplest way to clean vintage steel wheels.

The hardiness of steel wheels does mean quite a few from the 1980's still remain in use. Again they perhaps unfairly have a rep for poor braking performance. I often hear riders complaining their brakes are useless in the wet. This is usually down to them using the wrong type of brake blocks. I see too many bikes with steel wheels with standard modern caliper brake pads. Modern brake blocks simply won't be very effective on steel rims, the compounds these days are designed for alloy wheels. I would always recommend to get brake blocks with leather inserts.

They are perhaps becoming slightly harder to come by but Fibrax still make them (we have some Raincheater ones in stock here) and they make a huge difference to braking performance on vintage steel wheels. In damp conditions they are essential.

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