I have painted a couple bike frames (think really cheap garage-find rebuilds) with varying degrees of failure. Can you help me correct/fill in the missing pieces of my frame painting process?

  1. Breaking Down the Bike: Remove everything except the Bottom Bracket, which can be masked. (Removing BB is to easy for me to mess up) Fork can be removed and painted separately.
  2. Stripping old paint off a bike frame: Easy enough using scraper, sandpaper, and even super-dangerous paint stripper.
  3. Cleaning off Rust: Rust can be sanded off pretty easily, even using tinfoil on sensitive/chrome areas works really well.
  4. Masking: Mask the BB, the Fork and Seatpost holes, and anything else that shouldn't be painted.
  5. Priming: A few coats of primer is absolutely necessary to fight rust.
  6. Painting: Here's where I am lost. I have heard these options:

    • Spraypaint/Rattle-Can: Worst Method, use Engine-Coat Epoxy paints, many coats, need to cure for weeks before anywhere near scratch-resistant. Even then a strong fingernail seems to be able to strip paint.

    • Powder-Coating at an AutoBody shop: Don't know much about the cost EDIT: Costs around $200, according to wdypdx22 below. or pros and cons. Probably not financially feasible on a garage-find bike build, or am I wrong?

    • Other Options?


5 Answers 5


I'm not an expert on this, but I do have a friend who immaculately restores vintage bicycles. I've helped him on a few projects and this is roughly what he does. (My friend started out 5 or 6 years ago with an old cruiser and cans of spray paint. Wound up becoming obsessed and ended up with a spray painting set-up that he found on Craigslist...)

Basically he starts with your steps 1 - 4 for paint removal, although more advanced. My friend has professional grade spray painting equipment and uses industrial grade coatings, so he's not using rattle cans of spray paint.

  • After the paint removal, he re-tapes with a finer grade of masking tape.
  • Usually 2 coats of epoxy based primer.
  • 2 - 4 coats of color, which is an industrial grade polyurethane paint.
  • During the color phase, he deals with lug detailing and decals. This part is tedious and time consuming.
  • Finally, 3 coats of clearcoat. And then the frame hangs in the paint shed for 24 to 48 hours.

If you're serious about it, I can find out what brands, etc he uses.

And for powder-coating, another acquaintance recently spent ~ $200 USD on a frame.

Yeah, totally possible However, sending your bike frame off to the paint shop for powder-coating ceases to be DIY. ;~)

  • Thanks for the information, I fear I may also be getting obsessed with restoring bikes. - I would be interested to know if the stuff your friend uses is NOT the industrial grade epoxy paint that requires special temperatures, thinners and catalysts all mixed at a precise ratio. That's the stuff I have already ruled out.
    – Andy H.
    Commented Jun 12, 2011 at 4:46
  • So the solution seems to be many coats and a primer, which I didn’t use till now. But I did not remove the former color, just roughed it a bit.
    – erik
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 14:29
  • And it seems to depend on the color. The expensive spray can color (400 ml for 14 euros) that I got from a automobile repair shop, lasted much longer on my frames. The cheap spray can color (400 ml for 4 euros) from a graffiti shop has to be touched with care, to not scratch it.
    – erik
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 14:35
  • The spray can color from the automobile repair shop contained acrylic resin. That seems to be more resistant to scratches. Should be used at least for the clear varnish coats (which I haven’t applied yet).
    – erik
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 15:16

I put in a lot of effort painting a bike as you describe, i.e. properly given non-specialist materials and lots of elbow grease. However, for the effort, I do think it is worth removing the bottom bracket and headset cups. (Or getting someone to remove them for you.)

I was traumatized when my freshly painted-in-yellow bike fell over for the top tube to scratch its way down a stone pillar. That made me think 'never again' to spending a whole weekend and a week's worth of evenings 'getting it right'.

For my next attempt I went for stove enamelling. This was with a local place and the price was a bargain. They did not specialize in bikes but they had no problems with my frame/fork. The look was good and I had not had to wait long, just strip my bike down, and on return 3 days later I could build it up again.

Stove enamel is different to powder coating. You can look up the pros and cons of stove-enamel vs powder, personally I think that it depends on the look that you want. Other than that enamel is easier to maintain as it is T-cut compatible with no clear-coat needed.

If you want a bike that looks different then there is a lot that you can do with the stove-enamel paint job. It has a different shininess to it, verging on matte.

With some things it is better to do it yourself if you want a proper job. This is not the case with paint as people that do it everyday have skill and experience that your extra effort and attention to detail is not going to make up for. It is like plastering - all considered it is better to get a professional in.

There are other strategies for painting a bike. You can give it a good clean and slap loads of Hammerite on it with a brush. This will result in the distinctive Hammerite finish - usually reserved for garden gates and tin sheds. Totally bulletproof.

On another bicycle I liked the paint job but I knew I would be kidding myself if I tried to touch it up. So I used a complementary colour. With a wire brush I cleaned the new chips and quickly put the touch up paint on every time I refurbished the bike. This resulted in an 'art-is-tic innit' theme that people complimented me on.

If you want to go for something really unusual you can go for nickel plating. This is like chrome but better when it comes to rust, particularly if you clearcoat it too.

On balance powder coating is better than stove enamel: http://www.windridge.co.uk/content.php/412

Also of note is that a professional paint shop can shot-blast the paint off your bike in minutes, to a better result than spending all weekend with wet-or-dry paper.

My recommendation: posh bike - get the pros to do it. Heap-of-junk, touch up with complementary colour(s).

  • 1
    What are the advantages to stove enameling? I've never even heard of it. Commented Jun 10, 2011 at 16:58
  • 1
    Thanks for your answer, I had never heard of stove enamelling either, but it looks like, according to your link windridge.co.uk/content.php/412 "Therefore the [powder coating] price is comparable, or even cheaper than stove enamelling" - this might rule it out as an option for cheaper bikes.
    – Andy H.
    Commented Jun 12, 2011 at 4:55

Powder coating production has come a long way, and I know at least three shops local to Portland, OR that will do a single bike frame and fork for under $100, which includes a thorough media blasting and some peripheral services. I get a lot of that work done on bike frames I repair and build, and I've gotten excellent deals on larger volumes of work. Occasionally Ill do my own custom paint work, touch ups, pinstriping and such, and if you don't have the experience of doing production work, no amount of care and time will equal the deft hands of a professional. I build an occasional show bike, in which case there's cause to do an uncommonly fine paint job, and for that there's nothing like many coats of lacquer and a hand rubbed surface. Its easy to get great looking results on a bike frame with just rubbing compound by hand because the convex surface of the tube maximizes the friction and you just have to correct the buffing lines to the length of the tube and they disappear into the mirror finish. too fragile for your daily ride, but it bears mentioning, and anyone can do it. Its not practical for a daily driver, but it looks nice.

For the cost of a bottom bracket tool for your socket set, you can save painting your bottom bracket firmly into place, and even though they're not hard to mask, even the tiniest bit of paint on a headset just looks rubbish, so do it well.


I start by breaking down the bike completely, brake components and all. I strip off all old paint and decals and sand the frame with 220 grit paper then smooth it over with steel wool.

Clean the frame with engine de-greaser let sit for a day. Tape off all undesired openings: Head Tube Bottom Bracket seat post, and dropouts.

I apply one thin coat of Rust-Oleum primer, let it sit a few hours, apply two more. After the third coat of primer wet sand your primed frame and clean all residue with a damp white paper towel.

Once you have removed all dust and residue paint your color paint. Try to make as many full passes as possible not concentrating too long in any areas. I like to wait a full day with color paint coats to allow it to fully dry. Repeat this step two more times, and wet sand after the second and third coats.

Clean frame again with damp wet paper towel then apply three coats of clear, wet sanding after the second and third coat.

Clean off with a damp paper towel and then use an automotive compound wax to get the shine you desire. You may need to wax it twice.

Assemble the bike back together then use a showroom shine spray applied to a micro fiber towel and rub down the frame to remove any hand smudges.

  • I'd add that you should use an alcohol surface cleaner (Windex) or solvent (mineral spirits) to wipe the frame down after degreasing. Chemical degreasers leave a film which reduces adhesion from the paint. Commented Mar 14, 2021 at 16:56

You can do it with cans, you just got to do it right which takes time & patience, & lots of cans of paint.... Beginning after bike is completely disassembled, frame is stripped to metal & cleaned... General rule number one, "a can is a coat"... When you spray, you are going to follow the "multiple thin coats 2 or 3 minutes apart" like it says on the cans, until the can is gone & then call that a "whole coat"... what you are doing in the "2 or 3 minutes" is letting it flash over after each pass over so that it doesn't sag, so you can even wait ten minutes or so between each thin "subcoat", if you will, plus because spray cans spray wide you waste a lot of paint, that is the first main con to spray canning a frame, so, yeah, 1 can, 1 coat(of briefly spaced thin coats)… 2nd general rule, "let it sit".... Forever... At least 48 between each can, or "coat of subcoats"... I recommend just blowing it off & finding other things to do for a week between each coat... Then hit it with some wet 600 or 800 until it is nice & smooth... With the primer, you will probably sand through the first can/coat in some places but that is ok because you are going to repeat the whole process a couple more times sanding off less & less each time, by the third can of primer you should only be sanding of the roughness from the "spray can effect", as I call it... So do exactly that process with each coating step... & you WILL have to deal with the "spray can effect" between each coat, that is the second major con with canning... The "spray can effect" is that roughness you get from the way spray cans spray, on a flat sub straight you can spray one direction & avoid it but on a bike frame it is unavoidable... Which means you WILL have to do a color sand & buff & polish back to mirror like one would do with a car body as a finishing process...

The coating steps are... primer, a self etching metal primer, or something comparable or better for metal, at least 3 cans/coats

Color, or base color if multicolor, I recommend doing only one color if you are going to do spray cans, 3 can/coats (If doing multi color then sit time should be much longer between each final can of each color to avoid tape marks...do your three coats, with a couple days in between & wet sand & after the third coat/can let sit for a week, than wet sand, than let sit for another week, than mask & do next color)

Then each other color accordingly & as much as necessary in coats equal to a whole can in relation to area, so like if it is just a stripe or what ever, spray it with a few briefly spaced coats, then sit, sand etc...

Then clear coat, depending on what kind, like six coats/cans...at least... following the whole "subcoats", sit, sand process between each one meticulously..

Color sand/buff/polish grit order.. 600, or 800, I usually start with 800 1000 1500 2000 3000 liquid buff rough cut like a Maguire's "8" Then a "5" or "4" Then a fine cut like "2" & if you want to get really fancy finish of with a super fine swirl remover...

Its a lot of work & takes a while but that is how you do it with spray cans... many coats, lots of time between each coat, lots of sanding & color sand/buff/polish....

Oh, & always meticulously follow can instructions, temp, humidity, etc, etc, get on google & search "local weather" & schedule your spray times by the weather to be sure the humidity is low, temp moderate & wind minimal if spraying outside.. & SHAKE THAT CAN, shake it till you cant hardly shake it any more than shake it a little more... & clean, clean, clean...between every step... & rubber gloves, tack cloths, the whole nine yards... No skin oils or dust....

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