Looking to buy an used bike but some spokes are rusty.

Should I try to clean rust with chemicals and metallic sponge? Or nothing will help and these wheels needs to be replaced?

Bike must be just 4 years old. Humidity is high there.

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  • 3
    The main problem you have (besides the optics) is that most likely, the spokes will be rusted stuck in the nipples so that you cannot true the wheel any longer, or tighten the spokes in response to lengthening which may occur over time. Until that need arises, there is no technical reason to do anything. Commented Jul 11 at 14:52

4 Answers 4


Interesting problem - the rim appears to be decent quality, with eyeletted spoke holes. The wheel is let down by poorly-chromed/finished spokes.

Cleanup options:

  1. Do nothing. Spokes are adequate as-is because its just surface rust. Downside, it looks ugly, its not aero, and the rust can stain anything that touches the spokes.
  2. Clean the spokes in-place - remove wheel from bike and either remove brake rotor or wrap it up really well. Then use steel wool and a light oil or WD40 to clean each spoke as much as possible. Wash the whole thing, dry it, then apply something to protect the spokes, which could be a light spraypaint, or a protective wax that will harden and stay in place.
  3. Remove and replace all the spokes. This is expensive and time-consumimg.
  4. Replace the whole wheel. This is quicker, but still expensive and may be a lower quality rim.

Regardless, try and store the bike inside, not outside to help preserve it.

Personally, I'd go with option 2 first, and if that doesn't clean up well enough then replace.

  • 2
    Ditto option 2. If relatively prosperous use a proprietary rust cleaner/protector, otherwise use steel wool and linseed oil. In either case protect the rims from contamination. Commented Jul 11 at 11:54
  • 1
    Kudos for using proper terminology as per "The Rules": velominati.com
    – Jpe61
    Commented Jul 12 at 6:54
  • 1
    @Jpe61 errr - thanks? Complete accident, which word are you referring to ?
    – Criggie
    Commented Jul 12 at 8:49
  • 1
    @Criggie "aero". I just checked and the rules actually mentioned this only once, my recollection was that it is more common. Nevertheless it is the correct way to address aerodynamic efficiency 😅
    – Jpe61
    Commented Jul 12 at 13:17

Small details in the photo suggest you will be riding a lot and at speed.

The advice of rubbing them clean with steel wool and oil/polish is good and most likely adequate, but be aware:

If polishing does not fully clean the spokes you should change them. This is especially the case if the spokes are left with any needle sharp dark streaks.

This is because the spokes are metal under (high) tension and this may lead to stress corrosion. Grannying down the beach boulevard with compromised spokes won't matter, but you do not want a spoke snapping when doing 30mph downhill.

If the spokes clean up nicely, you're good to go.

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Jpe61 is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.

I've had good success using steel wool to clean the rust on spokes without removing them. They aren't shiny new but they do look a lot better.

  • Yes, I have had success with steel wool for this purpose as well. You can experiment with adding some polishing compound to it. Works a treat. Commented Jul 12 at 4:01

Pass on that bike. If the spokes are rusting, what else did they cut corners on? Crappy BB? Stamped steel hubs? Crappy crankset, deraileurs and shifting? Wheels look like low end Vitesse. (Kent)

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