My background is that I ride mountain bikes often. I recently caused several welds to break on my ancient full-suspension frame, which is 10 years old. I made the decision to purchase this low-cost solid-tail frame from pricepoint.com rather than shelling out many thousand dollars for a brand-new frame, which was beyond my financial means, or attempting to find someone to patch together the older frame.
After doing some research on mtbr.com, I came to the conclusion that this may not be such a terrible idea after all. I realise that some of you bike snobs may believe that you cannot obtain a nice frame for less than $100. I also discussed the concept with some acquaintances of mine who work at the local bike shop (LBS), and they informed me that the majority of bicycles are produced in the same two factories in Taiwan regardless, so there is a good chance that it was manufactured in the same facility that produced some of the more well-known frame brands.
So, I was set. Except…
I wasn’t exactly happy with the fact that I had a basic black bike. I felt that it needed a little more flavour. Aside from that, I was desperate to have a creative project on the side, and according to the reviews on mtbr.com, the paint was subpar and had a propensity to chip. So I decided to give it a go.
When I first began thinking about the possibility of painting the bike frame, I recalled an article that a buddy of mine who is passionate about cars had sent me. It was about how one person made the decision to paint his whole automobile using Rustoleum paint and how he did it. It turns out that there are a number of videos and instructions on YouTube that are pretty much in line with this particular guide for painting a vehicle using the paint-on version of Rustoleum as well as the spray paint version of Rustoleum.
There are a large number of lessons available online for painting automobiles, but there are fewer resources available for painting one’s own bicycle. I’ve written this with the hope that others may be able to benefit from my experiences and possibly even improve upon the method. Painting a bike is a delightful activity that also offers you the unique sense that you are in possession of something that no one else does.
Unboxing Bike Frame
It was delivered in a box. The appearance of the frame at the first inspection suggests that it is sturdy. Nice welds, solid milling, and to tell you the truth, the paint job that it now has isn’t really all that terrible to begin with. Nevertheless, I will see this endeavour through to the end. It won’t be long until the frame is no longer dark.
Setting Up The Garage
To tell you the truth, I had no clue what I was getting myself into when I agreed to do this. Because I work as a technical systems analyst, it would be an understatement to claim that I have delicate hands. When it comes to painting a surface, everything I’ve read indicates that surface preparation is one of the most critical elements to pay attention to. When I was in cub scouts and building my pinewood derby car, I believe that you asked me that question.
Sandblasting the frame till it reaches the metal in its centre is the most optimal method for the preparatory process. I don’t have a sand blaster. I can’t afford to rent one right now.
The next best thing would have been to use sandpaper to scrape the frame down to its bare metal, since this would have been the next best thing. My lack of patience prevents me from becoming a Zen master. That was not a choice available to me. I wasn’t about to spend many weeks of my time sanding the frame down by hand until it was completely smooth.
Sanding the frame with sandpaper of a coarse grit was the final and best thing I could do to ensure that the primer would, at the very least, adhere properly. This strategy gave me reason for concern since, strictly speaking, the primer would be adhering to the factory paint job that had been roughed up. In practise, this means that the paint job I do won’t adhere to the frame nearly as effectively as the paint job the manufacturer would use. If you have more time on your hands or the necessary gear, the thorough stripping method is the way to go. Utilize my strategy if you, like me, are a slacker and a penny pincher.
Sand paper with a grit of 100 should be used for this task. The importance of the wet sand paper increases as the process progresses since it reduces the amount of dust produced.
I first had a very severe case of obsessive compulsive disorder with removing all of the painted Sette logos off the frame since I was afraid it would mess up my finished result. After spending half an hour on only one of the five painted decals and logos, I came to the conclusion that it was probably not as important as I had first considered it to be. Because the painted logos were just as susceptible to the sanding as the rest of the frame, I reasoned that it would be ideal to scuff a lovely level surface all over the frame rather than getting too caught up in being too careful. After all, this was simply a frame that cost one hundred dollars, and I couldn’t wait to ride it.
As soon as I had finished sanding the whole surface, it was time to construct a makeshift paint booth.
Painting The Booth
I believe that overall, this endeavour made my wife rather content with how it turned out. Because of this, I had no choice but to clean and arrange the additional garage we had so that I could have a space that was less prone to being affected by wind, dust, and other flying debris.
After I had finished cleaning and arranging the garage, the next thing I did was lay down a tarp and set up a hanging system for the frame. I didn’t want to have to fiddle with a stand or clamps in order to be able to walk all the way around and under the bike.
Using The Hanging System
I grabbed some extra hanging hooks from the other garage and inserted them into the wooden support beams overhead.
I then used a 3 foot metal pole to thread through the bottom of the bottom bracket shell. I used some tape and straps on the end of the pole and strapped the pole to the overhead hooks.
To support the front of the frame I ripped apart a toilet stopper. I ran a couple threads of high tess fishing line through the plunger and the ran the fishing line back up to the hanging hooks.
It wasn’t a very eloquent solution.. but it worked. The bike was magically suspended in a garage that could be closed off to most wind and dust. I had my paint booth!
Sealing The Important Parts
There are a few places on the bike that are very important to seal before any priming or painting can be performed. If you don’t seal these parts, you risk not being able to install critical components such as the bottom bracket, the headset or the seat post! If you end up getting paint in these places, it isn’t the end of the world. You will most likely have to take the frame up to the LBS and have them prep whatever place got painted. They have tools for it. Save yourself some time and money and just make sure you seal up the following places:
Priming The Bike
Make sure you have proper ventilation, a paint mask or a respirator and some eye protection.
Even with proper ventilation, you may want to choose the time you spend in the paint booth wisely. There were a few points during the project even with my mask that I noticed I was light-headed.
You should also be aware that primers and paint will hang around in the air after they have been dispensed from the aerosol can. So keep your mask on even after you finished the spray.
Also, whatever isn’t covered in the paint booth will end up getting coated with a fine mist of paint. So, if you don’t want your junk like cell phones or cameras painted, don’t bring it into the booth.
I ended up using Rust-oleum’s self-etching primer. I don’t have a real good reason to use it.. other than believing all the marketing jargon all over the front of the can. I figured the anti-rusting compound would be good for a frame since it has to endure the elements. I don’t know if the self-etching crap works. I’d like to think sanding the frame surface helped along with that feature to set a good base primer. It’s important to note, I did lay down about 3 coats of primer. Just follow the instruction on the back of the can.
One note, if you do end up using the same primer as me; make sure to wet sand your final coat of primer once it dries. For whatever reason, the self-etching primer finishes with a slight popcorn finish. I actually tried to apply a test coat of paint in a small area of the frame and the popcorn is way to gritty. The final paint finish would have been bumpy and not smooth. So sand it down! I did a quick pass at the frame with a wet sand 100 grit paper.
- when you leave paint on the bike you don’t need primer! save you some cash (obviously give a sand and all that)
- I didn’t even use a whole can of each of the types of paint/primer I used.
- after priming and quick pass at the frame with a wet sand 100 grit paper, remember to use a damp paper towel to wipe down the dust.
Painting The Frame
Close your eyes. Seriously.
Imagine your newly painted bike frame. Imagine all the details and intricacies.
Now open your eyes and forget about fulfilling half of those details! Seriously. Using sprays cans makes it very difficult to make clean and accurate detail painting. If you’re patient enough, I’m sure you could use a paint pen or brush and go to town.. but that’s not me. I wanted something good looking and unique. I didn’t have to go crazy on the details.
That being said, if you are going to use multiple colors and stencils like I did, remember to think backwards.
“What does that mean?” you ask? That means that you have to think in layers. If you have a top-most detail, that will need to be painted last. The color that underlines it will need to be painted first.
As an example, to the right is my first run of of my maroon base coat.
Tips and Considerations:
Here are a few things I used or learned along the way:
- Stick to the same brand for painting, including the clear sealant. There is no science that proves this, but I would imagine products engineered by the same company generally work best together. I used Rust-oleum for the whole project.
- Use several coats at each layer. At the end of the day, this bike will still have to be able to take a beating on the trail.
- Sketch out your design ahead of time. This will save you from getting into the project then changing your mind mid-project. Then again, it may not… but it helps to make you think out some of your ideas even if you can’t draw like Leonardo…
- If you are going to make stencils, go to Michael’s or a craft store and get an Exacto knife, a cutting mat, and some adhesive stencil paper. In between the coats of your first layers, you can work on drawing the stencils and cutting them out.
- SPRAY FROM 12 INCHES PLUS LIKE THE CAN SAYS. This was my first mistake. I thought I could safely get close than that to make the paint coating a little heavier. It simply ended up running the paint (look at the picture on the right) and I had to wet sand the paint down and re-apply a couple of coats. It takes less time to make multiple lights passes. Most of the paints I worked with allowed you to apply a second coat 15-20 minutes after the first coat. Basically, what I’m saying is, light coats are cheap on time, running coats are expensive on time.
- Use Frogtape for detailed paint lines. Avoid using the blue crap for detail lines on the frame. It’s okay to use for larger surface areas. I would also recommend grabbing some used newspaper or packing paper. You’ll need it to wrap larger areas of the frame.
Design & Masking
It’s kind of hard to describe in writing the next steps I took to get through the project. Keep in mind, each paint stage has several coats laid down and was given about 24 hours to cure enough for me to handle the frame in order to prep for the next stage. I’ll just lay out the pictures of the next stages and leave a brief description of what was going on. Like they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
As I mentioned before, you need to work backward. The maroon was my first base coat for the rear seat stay and chainstay. The front triangle base coat was white. I had to mask off the previous maroon base coat in order to not get any what overspray on it.
My next step was to add some detail that I wanted to add to the seat and chain stays. I ended up using some yarn to wrap the stays to get some of the design detail that I wanted. Notice how I masked and wrapped the front half of frame to prevent over spray:
What the detail looked like after a couple of passes of white paint on top of the maroon base layer:
The next part was tricky. I wanted a fire engine red on the frame that was primarily on the seat tube and bottom bracket shell but blended more intricately than just plain lines into the white base layer. First, I had to protect the detail I had created. I was very careful with my Frogtape to make sure I covered every line I wanted to preserve:
To get the detail I wanted for the fire engine red to bleed into, I first drew out my pattern on some adhesive stencil paper I got from Michael’s and then went to town with an exacto knife. NOTE: Make sure to measure the circumference of the tube you’re making the pattern for. Most bikes have a larger down tube and a narrower top tube. As such, your stencil paper will end up being two different widths. This step actually took me a couple of tries to get right. Symetric patterns work best… unless your some sort of geometry savante:
The next hardest thing from cutting the pattern on the stencil paper was getting it to stick on a round tube without any air bubbles at the edges:
I masked out the rest of what I didn’t want fire engine red and then laid on a couple of coats of the red:
The last step was to paint the front end with the hammered black and to put a silly logo on the head tube of the bike. It wouldn’t be custom without a silly custom logo, no?
The silly logo:
The Rust-oleum hammered black was actually my favorite paint out of this project. It has a pretty wicked finish that looks great on a bike. If I were to do a frame in a single color, I think I would grab one of the colors from the hammered finish line. Again, with all the coats, I did several passes with this color.
Almost done with the spray paint job, everything is pretty much done. Just need to peel off the stencils and unmask the entire bike. Make sure to leave the head tube, bottom bracket and seat tube sealed. After you get everything off the frame, you’ll be spraying it down with a clear sealant. NOTE: Be careful when peeling back the tape and stencils. You run the risk of ripping the new paint if you move to quickly and carelessly.
The last step, once everything is peeled off, is to spray several layers of clear enamel over the bike. If you’d like, you can run a very fine wet sand over the paint before applying the clear enamel. I used 400 grit to go over most of the bike. The same tip goes for this step as with the rest of the spray paint; use multiple light passes to apply a layer and avoid laying it on heavy. Just because its clear doesn’t mean it won’t drip…
Also, be careful when you wet sand the final paint. You’re wanting to mildly scuff the surface so the clear enamel binds to the paint well. You don’t want to strip any paint off!
Again, make several passes with the clear enamel. This will dry hard and be part of what protects your paint! I did so many passes that I actually emptied the whole can on the bike. Whether you are painting a road bike or a mountain bike, you will have rocks and road debris flying at your frame. Too many coats is probably not enough here!
IMPORTANT: Once you’ve applied the last cost of enamel, let your frame sit in the paint booth for a week! This alloys the paint to completely cure. Remember, you’ve applied many layers to the frame. You’ll need to let it go through this process to get the moisture out and allow for the paint to harden to its final state. If you take your bike frame out for a spin before its done curing, the paint will be soft and you will easily damage the paint you just spent so much time on…
Some other thoughts and stuff..
While you go through the process of painting your frame, you’ll end up with a lot of waiting time on your hands. If your using any components off an older bike, I’d recommend you take the free time and clean those components. I cleaned my cassette, scrubbed old rust off my disc brakes and cleaned my rear derailed while I was waiting for coats to set in between. It ends up giving the final bike a very polished look… even if it is a spray paint bike!
Clean dem wheels:
Clean dat disc:
In my case, it was short lived. It is after all, a mountain bike. Below is the final, assembled product and probably the only day I will ever see this bike this clean.
Final Verdict of The “Spray Paint Bike” Project
I finished the spray paint bike project about 6 weeks ago. Since that time, I have taken the bike on a ride once or twice a week. I ride some pretty rough and rocky trails. For those of you familiar with Salt Lake, I regularly run this down the Bobsled Trail. I’m actually surprised how well the pain has held up! There hasn’t been any rips in the paint. It’s taken on a few dings.. but honestly, it’s nothing I’ve never seen on a factory powder coated bike! Next time I need a new frame, I think I may repeat this project!
I just went outside and wiped down the bottom bracket, an area that would normally be subject to the most regular abuse, and took a picture to let you see how it is holding up:
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