My wife has a 1980 Schwinn World Tourist that has a good frame and is mechanically sound. The rims have developed rust on the rims even though it is in the garage. Is there a good way to remove the rust or any rust remover that works well on chrome wheels? Please do not recommend Coke and aluminum foil. I have tried that and it does not work (I used the same method shown on You Tube videos). Granted, the bike is not worth much, but with the rear baskets, it looks like the "wicked witch of the West's" bike and has character.

  • How bad condition is the chrome in? Pictures would help. If the actual chrome is damaged enough, you can't really do much.
    – Batman
    Jan 30 '17 at 5:42
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    What's your main goal - a rideable/safe/usable bike, or keeping it in original condition?
    – Criggie
    Jan 30 '17 at 5:44
  • Note that having rusty rims is a great theft-prevention device. Also, unless the rust is on the inside of the rims (where it'll hurt the tube/tire) or on the spokes (which might break), then it might be largely cosmetic. Braking a few times will help take off the rust (do this with old pads as it'll glaze the pads and then replace the pads).
    – RoboKaren
    Jan 30 '17 at 8:43
  • Go to the paint department at your local Home Despot and find a can of oxalic acid. It's a chemical often used for cleaning surfaces prior to painting. Brush the stuff on and let it stand a bit, then work it with fine steel wool. Jan 30 '17 at 13:24
  • Thanks to all that provided input. I will give them a try.
    – Paul K
    Feb 2 '17 at 13:27

If you want to keep the steel wheels, you need to remove the rust and stop it coming back.

For Pinheads of Rust

  1. Strip off everything that is not metal (tyre/tube/rim tape)
  2. Poke at the big rust spots, look for rust under the chrome. You need to expose the rust to treat it
  3. Sand off any large lumps of rust with sandpaper (this is tedious)
  4. Treat the whole wheel surface with a rust resolver like "Rustbuster" which is an acid. Use gloves and eye protection - this stuff dissolves skin nicely.
  5. Allow it to dry/cure overnight
  6. Next day, sand any lumps of black rust ready for painting
  7. Immediately prime the whole wheel, spraypaint works well. Then immediately wipe the primer off the chromed parts because it won't stick there anyway.
  8. You can try applying a spray chrome paint last. Avoid the brake track, it won't last there.

Personally I used grey primer and simply left it at that.

Significant Rust

If the rim is too rusted then you're up for some more in-depth work. If flakes of chrome come off because of rust underneath, then its significant. The rust will have penetrated under the chrome, and its very hard to get to. So the fix is to take it all off.

  1. Disassemble the whole wheel, loosen all the spoke nipples, remove the bare rim hoop. Order replacement stainless steel spokes and brass nipples.
  2. Send the rim hoop to a commercial shotblaster for cleanup, with whatever product they recommend. Could be glass pellets, walnut shells, sand, or similar abrasive powders.
  3. While these steps are happening, service the hub with new bearings etc.
  4. Once the whole rim is bare metal, get it commercially rechromed. A proper chrome expert will know the appropriate grades to use so the brake track works.
  5. Reassemble with new spokes and nipples (you may as well do it right) on the fresh hub.

Upgrade for Safety

Personally? I'd scrap the steel wheel, and replace the whole rim with a modern alloy rim. This will make braking work much better too.

Downside, is that modern 700c wheels are a few millimetres smaller than your existing 27" wheels. So the brakes have to reach a bit further, and you need new tyres. Your spare tubes should be okay though.

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    Yeah, the problem is flaky rust/chrome on the brake tracks. :-( I just replaced my wheels with 700c as you suggested.
    – RoboKaren
    Jan 30 '17 at 7:43
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    p.s. Note that you want to inspect the inside of the rim. Outside rust is rarely significant and will get rubbed off by the brakes, but inside rust can damage the tube and tire. Also, rusted spokes are also a problem.
    – RoboKaren
    Jan 30 '17 at 7:46
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    You can still get 27" wheels -- velo orange makes them. Bit pricey, but feasible. Harris Cyclery (Sheldon Brown) stocks a few at a more reasonable price, as do many other places. The annoying bit with swapping in a 700c wheel is also you might need new brakes and to spread the frame.
    – Batman
    Jan 30 '17 at 8:38

In addition to the other excellent answer, this stuff works miracles. Available in most bike shops, its a paste that you rub in and buff out and it works really when on surface rust and cleaning up old chrome.

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Use a brillo pad on light surface rust. Spraying some WD40 also help. A wire brush works too and helps with stubborn spots.

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    This helps treat the visible signs, but the root cause is still there, which is damage to the Chrome allowing the vulnerable steel to show to the elements. This is worse in areas that salt the roads, or are near the ocean.
    – Criggie
    Jan 30 '17 at 6:01

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