Yard Art: Bicycle Wheel Edition

Supply List

  • Bike wheels, ideally in a variety of size the rubber tires removed
  • Drill Brushes to knock the dirt off the wheels
  • Wire Drill Brushes to scuff the finish up to hold paint and buff out rust
  • Rust-inhibiting Spray Paint
  • Can Tool 
  • Drill
  • Drill Bit
  • Galvanized bolts with nuts (galvanized metal will hold up to being outside) – at least 1.5 inches long*
  • Long bolts/nuts – at least 5 inches – with a big head on the bolt.  As many of these as wheels you are going to attach to the spine.  

Wagner Woods can be hard to find.  There is a series of driveways that more or less look the same, and our house is set back considerably from the road. We wanted something to point our friends to – all three of them – when we have people over.  Yard art.  

Pinterest is not your friend in this respect.  You can find ideas aplenty, but so little discussion of *how* these wonders were achieved.  Basically, you’re on your own.  

My requirements for yard art were that it needed to be tallish, the supplies needed to be reasonably priced and available, and it needed to use the bike wheels I got from Velocity.  

For this project, I wanted a little more funk.  I cleaned the wheels with the drill brushes and wire drill brushes that I used on my last wheel project, and proceeded to spray paint them.  

I had decided that I wanted a blue theme, but multiple shades of blue.  This turned out to be more difficult than I had assumed. My local Home Depots don’t carry Rustoleum in shades of blue/teal that I was hoping for.  I found those in Krylon paint at Lowes. Walmart or your local craft store are also potential sources for paint colors.

Note: expect to get at least two wheels out of a single can of paint – if you are lucky and the coverage is good, you will get three, pushing four – this is covering the spokes, the center, and the edge of the wheel that usually is in contact with the tire.  Cover it all – rust is not your friend and the paint will help preserve the metal.  

Once I got into the painting, I decided I wanted a little more variation – I added a metallic gray from Krylon, and a pop of purple as my touch of rebellion.  There are more of these wheel projects coming, so I expect to try some other approaches to color down the line.  

Now I’ve got to figure out how to put this bad boy together.  

First problem: I’m not expecting bike wheels piled on top of each other to be stable, so I need a spine.  The spine needed to be drillable, durable, and tall. After much web surfing, I found aluminum tubing.  This aluminum tubing from Home Depot.  The 96 inch – 8 foot tube was approximately $17.  

Cool.  Now I need a way to screw bike wheels to the aluminum spine.  More drills and bolts, except some of the wheels had a hole at the center of the wheel and some of the wheels had that hole full of gears and other stuff that makes the wheel work for a bike.  I sorted out the wheels with an empty center and chose those as my anchor wheels.  

Laying out the yard art

I laid the tubing down, draped my three anchor wheels over it, and started arranging painted wheels until I found an arrangement I was happy with – keeping an eye to make sure there was a continuous line of touching wheels all the way to support – either a wheel resting on the ground or a wheel attached to the spine.  I didn’t start attaching anything yet.    

Somewhat late to the build process, I started thinking about how to get this bad boy securely in the ground.  After consultation with HH, we decided on another square tube, this one slightly larger than the main tube, to drive into the ground.  I didn’t want to have to mix up concrete and dig a post hole to plant this thing in the ground, so a relatively deeply driven tube, just a little bigger than my spine tube, seemed like the right answer.  This is what we found at Home Depot.  

Easy, right?  

I’m ready to install this experimental thing, so I take my second tube, 3 feet tall, and a big mallet out to the front of the driveway and start trying to hammer the thing into the ground.  I successfully bend the metal at the top and get the bottom inch full of grass. That’s about it.  

We’re going to have to rethink this.  

So I don’t want to dig a post hole and fill it with concrete, but I need something to dig a hole just big enough to get this tube into the ground.  More research, and Amazon to the rescue… I found a long auger bit for the drill that was just a bit wider than the tube I needed to drive at least 2 feet into the ground.  

HH helped me with the installation – his proposition was to attach all the wheels together on the ground and then put the whole thing up all at once.  I was concerned about the awkward weight and having to get the 8 foot tube settled into the buried 3-foot tube, so I attached the three wheels that I planned as anchors on the 8 foot tube, took pictures of the wheel placement I decided on, and piled everything into the wheelbarrow.  

HH used the auger bit to create the hole, then beat the 3-foot tube into place.  This further disfigured the top of the tube, such that the 8-footer wasn’t going to slide in properly.  He got his grinder out and took the top half an inch off of the 3-foot tube and problem solved. We slid the 8 foot tube into the 3 foot tube (buried a little over 2 feet into the ground, and he used self-tapping screws to connect the outer tube to the inner tube.  

Then following the picture I’d taken of the arrangement I liked, we started drilling holes in the wheels and attaching them to each other, taking care that each wheel is connected to a wheel that is fully supported.  

It is an awkward process, full of trial and error.  HH might have been right that attaching everything together while on the ground might have been smarter.  It is also possible that there was just no easy way to do it. Something about the installation is always going to be awkward.  

My final touches are adding solar lights to the piece – I need a latter or the height of HH to get to the upper wheels to string lights on them – and to add anchors to the wheels that are touching the ground.

My consideration for additional anchors included: pegs similar to the ones you’d use on a tent, drill a big hole and drive some rebar through it and into the ground, and plastic anchors from the garden department at Home Depot.  The plastic anchors are usually employed in holding down edging, but I figured if I drilled a right-sized hole, I could drive the anchors in and have just a little more stability.  

After installation

It’s been up for a couple of weeks now, waiting anchors and the second string of solar LED lights.  So far, so good.  

Next spring, I could plant morning glory at the base and have a tangle of happy flowers running riot over it.  My hesitation is having to clear the vines after the fact. I may just leave it with its lights and let that be enough.  

So there you go – a really long story about making yard art that could be a trellis for some kind of a happy vine at some point. Or a climbing rose.  Or maybe it is perfect just as it is.  

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