Re-treading Racing Wheelchair Pushrims by Sarah Werner
The pushrim is an integral part of the racing wheelchair. You can’t get anywhere without a solid pushrim and a good pair of gloves! Though the pushrim surface is sturdy rubber, it eventually wears out just as tires do. They usually need to be replaced every one or two seasons, depending on the amount of mileage you put on them and the wear and tear they receive. One way to tell that the rubber on your pushrims is wearing out is that the rubber will start to come off in small chunks. This can prevent good contact between your gloves and rims and cause slippage. Sometimes the rubber can become so worn that you will start to see the threaded surface beneath. The more worn out the surface, the harder it will be to get an efficient push stroke, increasing your effort and decreasing your speed.
There are two main types of pushrim surface: rubber and laced. The rubber is either specialized tubing or tire tread, both of which are glued to aluminum rims. Laced pushrims have rubber laces wrapped around them for additional gripping power. Purchasing replacement tubing can be expensive, and using tire tread is an easy way to recycle your used tires. I prefer to use old front tires because they have less wear than rear tires and so will last longer on your pushrims.
- Flat head and Phillips head screwdrivers for removing pushrim screws and for prying tread
- 1-2 rolls of hockey or athletic tape (made of fabric)
- 1 bottle of original Gorilla glue
- disposable gloves
- Tire tread equivalent to the circumference of your pushrims, ideally tread from two front tires
- Sturdy pair of scissors
- Cardboard or a plastic sheet to protect the work surface from excess glue
- A person with good hand dexterity to help
To start with you need to remove the pushrim from the wheel, which you do by unscrewing the bolts on each spoke clip.
Then you have to remove the old tread or tubing from the tire. You might be able to use plyers to just pull the tread off of the rim. Mine had been on for a few years, so I had to use a screwdriver to separate the tread from the rim. As you can see in the photo below, one of my rims peeled off more cleanly than the other, perhaps due to the different ages of the tread I had on them. This process can take anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours, depending on the kind of glue used to adhere them and the age of the tread. You don’t need to worry too much about scratching the pushrim with the screwdriver or plyers because it will always be covered with glue and tread, as long as you don’t bend it. It’s also ok if there is still some residual glue on the aluminum. I am wary of using goo gone or other solvents to remove the glue because it can leave a residue that makes the new glue not stick to the rim.
For my new tread, I cut along the edge of the rubber and fabric on an old pair of tubular tires, as shown below.
I used original gorilla glue, though I know others use rubber cement, which I find extraordinarily hard to remove. You can also use store-brought tubing and follow the same gluing method described here. Tubing wraps around the rim more completely and provides a slightly larger pushrim surface, which some people prefer.
Gorilla glue is designed to foam up to three times its size on contact with water, which helps it adhere to both surfaces really well, though it can be messy. It also sticks to skin very quickly, so it’s important to wear disposable gloves when handling it and to protect your work surface with cardboard or plastic.
To start the process, you need to get the new tread wet by running it under the tap for about 30 seconds. Then you just start working your way around by putting a thin layer of glue on the back of the tread, and taping it onto the rim using hockey tape or athletic tape. You want to make sure the edge of the tread is on the same part of the rim all the way around to create the most even push surface. Also make sure to pull the tape tightly so that the tread is in contact with the rim all the way around. When you get to the end, it’s helpful to leave a little “tail” of extra tread overlapping. You can trim this off after the glue has dried so that the tread is flush all the way around the pushrim. I follow up with a second layer of tape to make sure the tread is secure, making sure it is still lined up straight as I tape. It’s ok if the glue foams out between the tape layers; that just means it’s working.
After 24 hours carefully remove the tape, making sure not to pull the tread away from the aluminum surface of the pushrim in the process. If there are any gaps, you can add more glue and re-tape, making sure to wet the surface before you add the glue. After all glue has dried for 24 hours, and you’ve unwrapped the rims, the last step is to trim the tail off the edge of the tread and put a layer of tape around the spot where the edges of the tread meet, as shown below. Then you can screw the pushrims back onto your wheels and get to racing!
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