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Painting Bicycles

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Advice: Don't do it! Most homemade bicycle paint jobs are disappointing. Whether you plan to use a compressor or spraycans, consider the environmental and personal impact. All paints are bad for the environment, wasteful of resources, and poisonous to some degree.

But, if you feel you must, then:

1. If you have an air compressor and a good paint gun, you can follow these steps:

a. Sand blast with a low pressure and a light sand to remove all traces of the old paint and contaminants. From this point forward, handle the frame only while wearing gloves, or fasten a seat post into it as a handle.

b. Shoot a coat or two of primer.

c. Shoot color.

d. Overshoot a contrasting color, add pin striping, decals, etc - whatever fancies you want.

e. Optionally add a clear coat for added protection. Depending on what type of paint you use the details will vary. Some require a long period of drying before you can reassemble and ride the bicycle. Lacquer paints used for custom automotive finishes are not very strong, but they can sure look good! Enamels are generally stronger, with DuPont Imron being regarded as the best by many painters. Many paints, and especially Imron, are extremely toxic. Paint only with a good charcoal mask, and do not subject your neighbors to the fumes. Better yet, don't paint your bicycle, but we already covered that.

2. If you do not have a compressor, it is possible to paint your bicycle adequately with spraypaint cans - you know, the same kind vandals use. Follow these steps exactly:

a. Remove all traces of the old paint. If you can't take it to an automotive body shop for sandblasting, use a cabinet scraper, followed by sandpaper.

b. Shoot a can full of primer at the bicycle. This is generally two and a half coats.

c. Shoot an under color. White or silver are recommended. Since all paints are a bit transparent, this will bring out the best of whatever color you put on top.

d. Shoot your color. Do not scrimp. Paint in good lighting. You wouldn't believe how easy it is to miss an area, coat after coat, because you couldn't see clearly, or were unaware of all sides, areas of the frame.

e. Shoot an overspray color, add pinstriping, decals, etc.

f. Shoot a coat of clear cover for added protection.

Hold the spraycan or gun about one foot from the bicycle. Too close and you cannot control the application - the paint may run or sag. Too far, and the paint may be dry by the time it hits the bicycle, resulting in a grainy finish, and weak paint. You may need to adjust closer or farther away, depending on the paint and equipment. Experimentation will tell. If you feel yourself rushing, you may be too close.

Paint all sides of each intersection and dropout first. Then, working one tube at a time, go all the way around each frame tube. Depending on what kind of paint you use, wait the recommended time between coats. Make sure not to mix brands or types of paint.

Paint only when the weather is right. If the temperature is too cold or hot, of if it is too wet or windy out, you may have an assortment of problems, such as insects getting stuck in the paint, or paint which refuses to harden.

Remember that the outcome will be much weaker than the original factory paint. They have some tricks up their sleeves that you don't - such as huge ovens with carefully controlled temperatures in which to bake their frames, and electrically charged painting booths. I hope your bicycle turns out artistically wonderful! - Jeff Napier -

Touching Up Scratches

I recently received this email from a BicycleWebSite reader:

Hi Jeff,

Thank you for providing great information at I just bought a brand new mountain
bicycle a couple weeks ago. Due to an unfortunate mishap
w/ a bicycle carrier there are a few scratches on the
frame. The scratches are not deep and someone from a
bicycle shop mentioned I could rub the scratches out and
add clearcoat over them.  I didn't get detailed
information from the bicycle shop, so I was wondering if
you had step by step information on how to repair the
bicycle scratches (Is there a certain compound I need, is
clear coat really necessary, etc). 

Thank you!


Hi Mike,
    'Rubbing out' scrateches mostly doesn't work except for very light scratches in a laquer finish. If the scratches do go through the paint to another color, or the metal below, you may be able to find or mix up some touch up paint that matches fairly well. Try to put on as little as possible, maybe using a sharpened toothpick. Ideally, the touch up paint will not overlap the factory paint, but only fill within the scratched area.
     You might like to note that once you have scratches on your bicycle, you are no longer as much a slave to it. You can now ride it comfortably, knowing that you don't have to worry so much about scratching it up, since it already has scratches.
Have fun!
- Jeff -


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