Colorful tires do a lot for your bike’s aesthetic. Whether you’re going for a classic whitewall look, you’d like to remove a pesky brand name or decoration on your tire, or you’re trying to make your bike look more colorful, painting your tires can help you snazz up the exterior of your bike and let you make the statement you want. Here’s a quick guide to everything you need to know about painting bike tires, from the type of paint you should use to the process of painting.
It is possible to paint bicycle tires to give them a custom look. Acrylic paint is typically the best type of paint for this job as it is the most durable type of paint, but if you want to have the option of removing it in the future, latex paint is a better choice. You must avoid oil-based paints as they will damage your tires.
You can definitely paint your bike’s tires, but you might want to think about other options before you start.
While it might seem like a simple process, painting your bike tires requires a fair amount of due diligence to get done correctly, which consists of:
- getting the right paint,
- preparing the surface of the tire,
- masking off everything you don’t want to paint,
- making sure that the paint dries evenly.
After everything’s all done, your tires will bend and stretch as you ride, dramatically eating into the lifespan of your paint.
Worse, the tools you’d normally use to remove old paint (sandpaper and paint stripper) are not things that you want anywhere near your bike tires.
This means that painting your bike’s tires can be a questionable option if you plan to ride frequently for a long time and you don’t think you’ll want to replace the tires after a year or two.
Should You Paint Your Bike Tires?
Here are the key questions you’ll want to ask yourself when considering whether or not to paint your bicycle tires.
How Much Do I Like My Current Tires?
If you’ve got a low-end bike with the tires from the factory, you probably won’t mind replacing your tires if something goes wrong during the painting process or after the paint starts to visibly wear.
If you just picked up a new set of fancy tires for your commuting bike, however, you might want to hold off on the painting process until they’re a bit older and closer to the end of their lifespan.
Be sure to actually check the prices on new tires for your bike, as fat tires and a few other variants can be a lot more expensive than you might think.
How Much Do I Ride?
Air-filled tires are supposed to deform and bend as you ride. This means that any surface of your tire that you paint, even the sides, will be subject to expansion and deformation as you ride.
The more you ride, the more cycles of bending and straightening your paint will undergo. This is generally not a thing that paint likes, even paint that’s designed specifically for this sort of use.
Over time, these cycles mean your paint will peel and crack, potentially making your tires look worse than they did before you painted them.
If you ride a lot, this is probably a big concern. Not only will your paint wear out faster, but you’ll have to endure the fading aesthetic for more hours on the road or trail. If you don’t ride as much, you’ll find that your paint wears out a lot slower, making painting your tires a more realistic option.
How To Paint Your Bicycle Tires
Find The Right Paint
If you’ve determined that painting your tires is the right option, the first step in the process is to select an appropriate paint.
This makes it especially important to find the right paint before you begin.
Latex paint is probably the safest option for your tires, but it doesn’t bend well, making it a poor long-term candidate. It’s very easy to clean off mistakes, however, so if you’re unsure about painting your tires it’s a good place to start.
Acrylic paint is more flexible than latex paint and tends to stick to rubber quite well. The downside of acrylic paint is its longevity. Unlike latex paint, which can be washed off with soapy water and some scrubbing, acrylic paint will require chemical solvents to remove.
When your paint starts to crack – and it will, eventually – you’ll find it very difficult to remove acrylic paint without damaging your tire.
If you’re unsure about what type of spray paint you’re looking at at the store, try to find an employee and ask for help deciphering the labels and finding the right spray paint for your bike tires.
In terms of application, spray paint is always the best type for an even coating, but you need to be aware that spray paint comes in many forms, including acrylic, epoxy, and oil-based, so don’t just grab any spray paint as it may be the wrong type for your need.
No matter what paint you choose, you’ll want to find a compatible primer to help your paint stick. Be sure to avoid any oil-based primers or primers that have solvents that will eat into rubber. Just like with spray paint, if you’re unsure, ask someone at the paint store for help.
Read Your Paint And Primer Directions
Before you go any further, be sure to thoroughly study any labels on the primer and paint you’ve chosen.
You don’t want to be surprised at a later step when you find out that your paint is incompatible with your primer or that you need to perform a special set of steps for the paint you’ve chosen.
Finding out that your paint won’t work after your second coat of primer has dried is no fun at all.
Clean Your Tire
After you’ve found the paint, you’ll want to thoroughly clean the area of your bike tire that you want to paint (usually just the sides).
Start with some soapy water and a rag, then very lightly abrade the surface of your tire with some sandpaper. Next, take some rubbing alcohol and a clean rag and remove any residue from your tire before starting to prime.
Prepare Your Tire
If you’re painting your sidewalls, you’ll probably want to lay your tire flat on its side so that it’s level, ensuring that paint doesn’t drip down in one direction.
Once you’ve got your tire situated and secure for painting, take some masking tape and mask off any section of your tire or rim that you don’t want to get paint on.
Paint is a pain to clean up, so you’ll probably want to take masking very seriously. This might involve masking off your rims, wrapping your spokes with tape, and laying protective strips all around your tire above the sidewall.
Prime Your Tire
Now that your tire is masked, it’s time to apply primer.
Be sure to read the directions on your primer and make sure that you’re covered in terms of preparing the surface of your tire, then apply the primer as per the instructions on the label.
Some primers need to dry completely before you paint over them, while others work best with more than one coat. Again, read the directions and follow them for the best results.
With your tire primed, it’s time to paint. Go slow, apply the paint evenly, and be willing to come back for a second coat.
After you’ve got your paint applied, wait for it to dry, repeat any steps as needed, and then enjoy your result!
Does Paint Affect The Life Span Of Bicycle Tires?
There are two problems with figuring out the exact effect of paint on bike tires.
First, the folks who ride their bicycles for thousands of miles a year don’t generally paint their tires. This makes it hard to find accurate reports on various combinations of paint type and tire type.
Second, tire wear is affected by a number of factors, including your local climate, the surfaces on which you ride, how inflated your tires are, and where your bike is stored.
We can say two things for certain.
First, any oil-based paint or paint that contains solvents that eat rubber will wear out your tire.
Second, tires that have been painted will eventually start to have cracks and other visible erosion in the paint. With flexible acrylic paint applied to an old set of tires, it’s very likely that your tires themselves will wear out before your paint does.
With stiffer latex paint applied to new tires, you’ll probably find yourself washing the paint off of your tires long before the tires themselves show signs of serious wear.
In general, it’s probably a good idea to avoid painting particularly expensive bike tires, especially new ones, unless you’re very sure you know what you’re doing.