Archive for May, 2013


I Am The King Of The Rattle-can Paint Job

Okay, the bare metal thing was cool for a while, but it is time to face facts that, for a steel bike, paint is pretty much a requirement.  

Sniffing too many paint fumes....

To recap: the first bike frame that I built – Old Number One – was left in a “naked” steel state (torch marks and all). The bare metal look was pretty neat, always garnering a lot of positive comments.  That is, until the warm weather arrived and, with it, sweat.  As in my sweat, running off of my flabby, out-of-shape carcass and cascading down on the unpainted top tube, down tube, bottom bracket, and chain stays of my creation. Based on all of the corrosion spots on Number One you would have gotten the idea that I was riding the damn thing in the Atlantic ocean.

I attempted to preserve the “naked” look of the bike by spritzing it with WD40 and wiping it down.  This actually worked pretty well.  Then I got fancy, coating it with a clear satin paint (Krylon) marketed for indoor-outdoor use.  I quickly found out that this stuff was totally helpless defending against The Killer Schvitz.  

It was time to think about painting the frame and fork.

There are lots of options that one may consider when it comes to painting a bike. First, there is the professional paint job. These vary in price, depending on the skill of the shop and what you want done. A straight shot of color, no decals, no lugs, etc. is a couple of hundred bucks. Add in clearcoat, decals, color panels, and lugs and soon you are up to…well…more than I am willing to pay.

Slight digression here: I don’t begrudge a professional painter the money that they charge to prep, mask, paint, sand, and buff out the finish on a nice bike frame. All that stuff is detail work that takes time. When you hire a skilled craftsman you are not only buying their skill, you are also buying their time.  Hours and hours worth of the stuff.  One look at a Joe Bell paint job, for example, and once you get a handle on all the time and effort that goes into making paint look  that good it is clear that what he charges to paint a frame is entirely fair.

Another option is to powder coat the frame. Like the professional paint job, the basic single color job isn’t hideously expensive but the cost can skyrocket once you start adding stuff like two colors, lugs, or decals.

And then there is doing it yourself.

Back in the day, I used to be pretty good with a paint gun. Here at the Bike Bunker I still have my air compressor and painting equipment (spray gun, door jamb gun, etc.) from the days when I could get away with painting a car in my driveway and not totally piss off the neighbors. Now, if I were to unleash a cloud of international orange lacquer overspray from my garage and have it float across the yard and turn the next-door-neighbor’s azaelas brown I would have OSHA, EPA, and Al Gore all lining up to put me in jail.  Not that the orange lacquer death cloud thing ever happened, mind you. Besides, bright orange is a nice color for shrubbery.

That leaves rattle-cans.

People give rattle-can paint a bum rap. Wrong. The paint inside usually is pretty good. Especially Rustoleum. It is the half-ass way the paint usually gets applied that stinks.  You can do some crazy nice things with Rustoleum if you take your time and prep it right. Like paint a car with a roller and have it turn out, well, nice enough to be featured in Hot Rod magazine.

The key to a good rattle can paint job is (1) taking your time, (2) color sanding the paint to get rid of “orange-peel,” (3) laying down a good clear coat, and (4) buffing out the finish using polishing compound. The guy in this video explains the process much better than I ever could. If you follow these steps, you could basically apply the paint with a toothbrush and, with enough elbow grease, sandpaper, and polishing compound, end up with a kick butt paint job.

Decals?  I made my own. You can buy water-slide decal paper that you can run through your color printer. Anything that you can capture on your computer screen is fair game for a decal for your bike. I applied the decals before the clear coat went on.  The only trick is to remember that the white space in your image will come out clear on your decal.  You can either (1) paint white panels on the bike where you will be sticking your decals, or (2) get decal paper that prints the image against a white instead of a clear background.  This latter solution is tricky – you have to trim the decal very, very carefully in order for it to look right.  Also, the white background isn’t totally opaque, meaning that if you put the decal over a dark color, the white will be a bit shaded, i.e. not blindingly white.

And the result…is pretty good. Total cost: about $20 in materials. The pictures don’t to it justice. It looks NICE.

Classic cool... The blue Benotto tape makes the paint job...

It is pretty enough to intrigue the lovely Hedy Lamarr…

Hedy Lamarr: movie actress and mathemetician, co-inventor of modern spread-spectrum communication technology, such as Bluetooth, COFDM used in Wi-Fi network connections, and CDMA used in some cordless and wireless telephones.  True fact.


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