You may be tired of your bike’s color and want to change it. Or maybe your bicycle’s a few years old, and the wear and tear is starting to show on the paint.
Whatever the reason that brought you here, you’re wondering about one thing, and that thing is whether or not you can change the color of the frame on your bike. The long answer short is yes—you’ll just have to decide how to do it.
To change the color of your bike’s frame, you need to repaint it. The process costs several hundred dollars if done by a professional, which guarantees the best results, or takes several days if done at home, which saves money and helps you get to know your bike.
In this post, I’ll give you a brief overview of both options so you can decide which is the better one for you.
Option #1: Have the Frame Painted
As with many other things in life, the quickest and easiest solution is to have someone else do it. But keep in mind that having a frame professionally painted can be expensive; hundreds of dollars expensive.
If you don’t want to change the color of the frame of your bike on your own, go to your local bike store and ask if they can handle the whole process for you.
This includes disassembling the bike, stripping the frame of cables, accessories, and the old paint, painting it (or sending it to a paint shop for blasting and powder coating), and finally reassembling it.
To save money, you can disassemble and reassemble the bike yourself. But disassembling and reassembling a bike can be very tedious, especially if you’ve never done it before. And—as Michael Charboneau recounts for Men’s Journal—it can easily take days to weeks. (Charboneau’s two cents? Don’t forget to take notes and take photos.)
You can reduce the cost even further by removing the stickers and using paint stripper to remove the old paint yourself. Time the stripping and the visit to the paint shop closely, or your frame can corrode in no time.
Option #2: Repaint the Frame Yourself
Whether you want to save money from professional painting services or get to know your bike better, you may want to repaint the frame yourself instead of having it done for you.
Before you can roll up your sleeves and get to work repainting your bike’s frame, there are a few things you need to consider. These include the tools you’ll need and the decisions you’ll have to make for how to strip the old paint and apply the new.
Stock Up on the Right Tools
Disassembling a bicycle can be quite a challenge.
If you’ve never done it before, you probably don’t have all the tools you need, even if you have wrenches and what-nots hanging on your garage’s wall.
Park Tool, a Saint Paul, Minnesota-based company that’s been making bike tools since 1963, has a really useful section on its website that can help you identify the right tool for every bike park; use it.
As an alternative, Men’s Journal’s Charboneau suggests finding a bike shop with open benches where you can work on your bike—with their tools—for a fee. The fee is usually much lower than buying the tools, so consider this option if you won’t necessarily need the tools after the paint job.
Decide How to Strip Off the Old Paint
The most effective way to remove the old paint from your bike’s frame is to disassemble the bike and take the frame to a paint shop that can blast it for you.
Steel frames can be sandblasted, while aluminum and titanium frames shouldn’t. The good news is that you can still have them blasted, provided you talk to the guys and gals at the shop and ask them to use softer blasting media like glass beads, plastic beads, crushed walnut shells, or baking soda.
Carbon frames shouldn’t never be blasted. This can damage the fibers and cause the frame to fatigue and fail prematurely. Considering how much these frames cost, this is the last thing you want to do. Use paint stripper instead.
Select What Paint to Use (And How to Apply It)
If you want to repaint your bicycle’s frame yourself, you generally have two types of paint to choose from: brush paint and spray paint.
Brush paint is paint that you apply to the frame with a brush. As John “Drizzle Paint” Allen explains at the late and great Sheldon Brown’s website, you can either use enamel paint or marine-epoxy enamel paint. The former takes forever to dry, so, nine times out of ten, you want to go for the latter.
Spray paint is paint that comes in aerosol cans. You spray it on the frame from a distance of 0.6-1 ft (20-30 cm). There are all kinds of paints on the market, from glossy to matte, in all kinds of colors. Unlike brush painting, which usually requires only one coat, spray painting requires three-four coats to achieve a good result.
Don’t Forget Painter’s Tape and Metal Primer
You shouldn’t paint certain parts of the frame of your bicycle, such as the bottom bracket and the steerer tube, as this prevents the free movement of the parts that slide in them. To seal them, you’ll need painter’s tape and a few sheets of newspaper.
After you remove the decals and old paint, and before you apply the new paint, you should apply one or two coats of all-purpose metal primer to protect the frame from corrosion and rust and help the new paint adhere better.
How to Repaint Your Bike’s Frame Yourself
Disassemble the bike. Strip the frame completely naked by removing all parts, cables, and/or accessories attached to it. The only thing you should see is metal with decals and an old paint job—no nuts, no bolts, nothing sticking out.
Depending on how old your bike is and how corroded and rusty the parts are, you may need to use WD-40 Multi-Use Spray and a little finesse to get some of the parts unstuck.
Clean the frame from decals and grease. To remove decals and stickers without hassle, point a blow dryer or heat gun at them for 5-10 minutes. The heat will warm the adhesive and get them to peel off in a jiffy.
You’ll also need to use a degreaser, like Easy Off Heavy-Duty Degreaser Spray, to get rid of the grease near the chainstay, the bottom bracket, and steerer tube. Don’t skip this step; the grease will make it harder for you to strip off the old paint job.
Remove the old paint. To remove old paint from a carbon frame, use paint remover and wipe gently. You apply the paint remover with a brush all over the frame and let it sit for the time recommended by the manufacturer in the usage instructions.
Metal frames can be blasted—steel with silica sand, titanium and aluminum with softer abrasives—although most of this post’s readers will most probably also use paint stripper on their metal frames.
You could, of course, splurge on an electric paint shaver. But if you don’t have experience using such a device and your frame isn’t made of steel, it’s better not to do so, as you may end up damaging it even if you’re careful.
Seal the frame with painter’s tape. Cover up all parts of the frame you don’t want to paint over. Typically, this includes the inside of the bottom bracket, the fork frame, the steerer tube, and/or seat tube.
If you’re spray painting the bike and are confident in your movements, you can do what Cobra Framebuilding does and use your gloved hand as protection to prevent paint from getting into the tubes when you’re painting near them.
A foolproof method is to stick a sheet or two of newspaper in the openings and mask them off with painter’s tape (or, depending on what you have in the garage, duct tape).
Position the frame for priming and painting. Since you will be using aerosols for the metal primer and/or paint, find an open space to work, such as your yard, an alley, or your apartment building’s rooftop, and wait for good, sunny, windless weather.
There’s more than one way to position the bicycle frame for priming and painting. Some lay a piece of cardboard on event ground and put the frame on it (for brush painting). Others hang the frame from a hook or string (for spray painting).
(If you’re planning to repaint the bike on public property, make sure it’s legal to do so in the first place. Some communities may have rules against this, and the police may enforce them with hefty fines.)
Apply the primer. Finally, it’s time to get spraying!
With the frame (a) dry, (b) free of stickers, grease, and paint, and (c) positioned so that you can spray all tubes, apply a nice and even coat of all-purpose metal primer from a distance of 0.6-1 ft (20-30 cm) and in long, steady strokes.
Applying primer to metal is a Goldilocks dilemma: You shouldn’t apply too much, as over-spraying will result in thick, gritty coats that look bad. But you also shouldn’t apply too little, because if you don’t apply enough, the metal is susceptible to corrosion.
Practice makes perfect. So temper your expectations and keep a paint and body scuffing pad handy for when you make the coat too thick and grainy. Most of the time, two to three coats of primer will do.
Allow the primer to dry. Do this for as long as recommended in the manufacturer’s instructions on the can. It’s important to be patient during this step; if you don’t wait for the primer to dry, the paint won’t adhere properly to the frame.
Once the primer has dried and before proceeding to the next step, use 600 grit sandpaper dipped in warm water to smooth out the rough, gritty areas of the primer before applying the paint.
Be gentle and don’t put in too much elbow grease; it can be counterproductive.
Apply the paint.
Spray cans don’t give you great trigger control, as GCN Tech demonstrates, so it’s best to start spraying from the end of the bike’s rear, where the chainstay meets the seatstay, until you get it right.
Spray the frame in long, even strokes. Again, spray from a distance of 0.6 to 1 ft (20 to 30 cm), staying careful to apply as even a coat as possible. You’ll likely need two to three coats. Wait 10 to 15 minutes between coats to allow the paint to settle and not run.
Brush paints, especially if you’re using marine-epoxy enamel as you should, are applied in thicker coats with slow and steady brush strokes. A high-quality brush can make all the difference in the world; pay up for one accordingly.
Let the frame dry for 24 to 48 hours in a place free of rain or snow. The warmer it is, the faster the paint will dry. Paint shops speed up this process by “baking” the metal parts at 150-200°F (65-93°C). In your case, the success factor will be patience.
(If you have to move the frame, keep in mind that most paints are dry to the touch within 15-30 minutes, and dry to handle within 1-2 hours.)
Apply clear coat. Clear coat is a colorless coat of paint that you spray on top of the paint to shield it from exposure to the elements.
Once the frame is painted and dry, double check that the inside of the tubes are masked off and apply clear coat to all the metal. Most bike owners swear by Krylon Fusion All-in-One Paint for this task.
Let the clear coat dry for 1-2 days before reassembling the bike.
If you want to breathe new life into your bike, repainting the frame and changing the color is one of your best bets. Just remember that it will either be an expensive process, or one that will take you days to figure out how to do yourself.