New car­bon wheels for £200. What’s go­ing on?

This bike is worth £1,000 – on a good day. So why stick a set of car­bon wheels on it?

Fast Bikes - - CONTENTS -

While we bang on, with no apolo­gies, about car­bon wheels and their as­ton­ish­ing ef­fects on a bike and its per­for­mance, we re­alise that there is a limit. With prices start­ing at around £2,500 for a pair of BST or Dy­mag car­bon rims, there doesn’t ap­pear to be much sense in stick­ing a set on a 16-year-old hack, does there? But look what this old ZX-6R G2 is rolling on, a set of car­bon spin­ners that look ab­so­lutely stun­ning – and ap­pear to triple the bikes value in an in­stant. So why do it? Why treat a bike of this vin­tage to wheels that are clearly a few leagues above it? Why not spend that £2,500 on some­thing de­cent! Well, who says we spent that much money…

LIt’s the prep work that makes the di ffer­ence. you need to work hard here...

et’s sort one thing out straight away. These are not car­bon fi­bre rims. I haven’t dropped £2,500 of my daugh­ters’ non ex­is­tent col­lege fund on adorn­ing my ag­ing ZX-6R with the best wheels in the busi­ness. What I have done, how­ever, is used an emerg­ing tech­nol­ogy to its best ef­fect, cre­at­ing the il­lu­sion that I am in­deed the fi­nal ar­biter of style and taste!

I got in touch with a com­pany called Aqua­graphix, based in the Val­leys in South Wales. The com­pany, though rel­a­tively new to the game, of­fers ex­per­tise in the field of wa­ter trans­fer print­ing or hy­dro­graph­ics, a process of­ten re­ferred to as dip­ping. Eve Wal­sham and David Web­ber of Aqua­graphix of­fered to dip any­thing we wanted, so af­ter rul­ing out some of the ruder sug­ges­tions, we plumped for a set of wheels off the ZX-6R project bike and headed over the Sev­ern Bridge to find out what the hell dip­ping was – and whether any sheep are harmed in the process.

The ba­sic premise of hy­dro­graph­ics is the trans­feral of ink pat­terns to a solid ob­ject. It’s been around for years now, but has only re­cently been avail­able com­mer­cially, as ex­plained David, “This tech­nol­ogy is years old, I think it started back in the 1980s with fake wooden dashes and that. The big car man­u­fac­tur­ers owned all the patents to it, so we never got to see it. I found out about it through try­ing to find out how some Smart cars I’d seen were styled up and stum­bled across the process. Then I found out that the patent had ex­pired, and I was out of work at the time and thought that I could do that – and here we are, two years later.”

The process it­self is rel­a­tively sim­ple, and has spawned many peo­ple to try their hand at it, much like David started. Not all, how­ever, have an ap­ti­tude for it and its in­tri­ca­cies… “I con­tacted a sup­plier, got some sam­ples, stuck a bucket in the back gar­den and away I went. The ba­sics are that you need a vol­ume of wa­ter at a cer­tain tem­per­a­ture. The print is printed on a PVA film. So the pa­per is PVA. It starts off as a liq­uid, then they make it into a film and they then print on that. It’s printed the same way news­pa­pers are printed, on a big roller for each colour. So you need the right inks and ev­ery­thing like that. You then float the PVA on the wa­ter, the wa­ter hy­drates the PVA to make it flex­i­ble and stretch. You let that soak for a cer­tain time, then you put a chem­i­cal on the top called an ac­ti­va­tor. That turns the ink back into liq­uid. That chem­i­cal then goes into the PVA to make it more flex­i­ble, it ex­pands out, and you then put the part in. Here, the wa­ter pres­sure pushes it into all the nooks and cran­nies. The film stops the wa­ter hit­ting the part first. Once that’s done, we take it out of the wa­ter, then we rinse off the PVA so all we’re left with is the ink that was on the PVA. Job done. Then we lac­quer

it af­ter­wards in what­ever fin­ish you want.”

The army sur­vives on the mantra of prior prepa­ra­tion pre­vents piss poor per­for­mance, and the same is true in Aqua­graphix’s unit. “The dip­ping part is the easy part,” says David, “it’s the prep that makes the dif­fer­ence. The more work you put in here the bet­ter, oth­er­wise if you don’t put the ef­fort in it’s go­ing to look shit.”

So that prepa­ra­tion en­tails the fol­low­ing, “We have to sand down ev­ery­thing that we can, fill any gaps with primer, smooth it off, and away you go. For a set of panels, the prep is like any­one spray­ing it. Your wheels were blasted, etched, primed, filler primed, rubbed down and smoothed off, base coated, and dipped and lac­quered.”

In terms of what pat­tern you want, the sky is the limit, “I’ve got a cat­a­logue with all sorts in, thou­sands. One sup­plier has 200 dif­fer­ent car­bon fi­bre pat­terns alone.” You can even look into your own unique pat­tern, although set up costs push that op­tion into the thou­sands.

So if you’re happy to pick from the cat­a­logue the full cov­er­age of a bike goes from about £500 to a grand, de­pend­ing on the size of it. That in­cludes the tank. My wheels were around £110 each, so you can see it’s very com­pet­i­tive com­pared to the other op­tions avail­able. I’ve had a set of tyres stuck on, and the fin­ish sur­vived that or­deal, so as long as they are lac­quered well they should bat off knocks well.

The key to get­ting a great re­sult is to know what fi­nal look you want, and to pick the right peo­ple to do it, peo­ple that know what they’re do­ing an haven’t just set up. Given what I’ve ended up with here, I know I’ve started a lit­tle ad­dic­tion that’s go­ing to be hard to shake.


Aqua­graphix for the tea and dip­ping! Go to www .aqua­graphix. or check out their Fa ce­book page. Also, much love to Blast­coat (www .blast­ 07939 825113) for the strip­ping and blast­ing of the wheels, while thanks go out to Lees MOT (01443 833 539) for get­ting the bear­ings in and out!

A new tech­nol­ogy needs a selfie... Doin’ the dip Ac­ti­vat­ing the ac­ti­va­tor... Make sure the prep work is done

Words: si­mon ‘rootsy’ roots p ic s: Roo t s y, Aquagr a p hi x

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