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I got a new hardtail 2 months ago and over the past few days I've been thinking of ways to make it "my own."

I thought of painting a design on the brake levers with acrylic paint but am not sure if it's a good idea. The brakes are Shimano MT200 and the lever is made of aluminum.

If it's okay on the brake levers, then am I also able to do it on the frame itself (also aluminum)?

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    Good luck ! When you're finished do come back and post some photos of your before/after shots, and add an answer showing what you learned and wished you'd known before starting.
    – Criggie
    Nov 30, 2022 at 6:23
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    Do you value the warranty at all? There's an excellent chance this will invalidate any manufacturer/reseller's warranty.
    – Criggie
    Nov 30, 2022 at 6:23
  • I do, yes. I'll go check out the details right now. Nov 30, 2022 at 14:22
  • Assuming the warranty aspect mentioned above is not an issue and you’re willing to shell out some money, you’re likely to get far better results by having a pro do it. Speaking from experience, automotive paints work well here if you treat them properly, but your best results are going to be from something like Cerakote’s H or C series coatings (though those get very expensive very quickly, and it may be tricky to find a place to actually do the job depending on where you live). Dec 1, 2022 at 2:48
  • you say you got a new hardtail - is there an older/previous bike you might practice on first ?
    – Criggie
    Dec 1, 2022 at 5:48

3 Answers 3

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Painting a bike properly is about 2% slapping on the paint.

The vast bulk of the work is the preparation and is easily overlooked. But if you skip the prep, your paint job will fail quickly.

Any part like a brake lever that is touched a lot will not work well with plain paint. A 2 part paint like a car would use is much more durable, or get the part powder coated.

For the frame, you're looking at a complete disassembly, peel all the decals off, then if the old paint is in good condition a sandpaper scuff on every surface.

If the existing paint is rough/flakey then sandblasting is a good solution. If there's any rust or aluminium corrosion then resolve that before continuing. Now's a good time to add any braze-ons or bottle cage bolt-mounts, mudguard/gopro/rack fittings etc.

Degrease and dust the frame several times, then mask all the bearing surfaces and threads with paint-proof tape. Prime, undercoat, maybe a mid-coat, two top coats or more if needed, then at least one clear coat. Wait long enough for each coat to harden, then lightly scuff to provide adhesion and tooth for the next layer.

If you want to add decals, do it after the top coat but before the clear coat.

I've never had great luck adding Chrome to a bike via paint personally, but there are many fancy paints now to try or you can use electroplating to add a protective layer on the outside if that's your wish.


The other paint option is to simply squirt it with a rattlecan and accept that the paint won't survive the week.

You can also look at vinyl wrapping, or other stick-on solutions that don't need the prep-work of paint.

As for your brake levers? I'd go with heatshrink tubing on the lever. Its ugly, but provides some warmth in the cold and some grip, but I'd prefer function over form.

Acrylic paint might work fine, but it won't stick to bare metal. That's why you need a compatible set of coatings. Eg, an oil based primer won't play nice with an acrylic top coat. All the paint layers have to be compatible.

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  • Noted. I wasn't thinking of repainting the whole frame itself, just add a light-colored design by some dark parts next to/on the seat tube. So the simplest way to go is paint the brake levers and then powder coat them? Nov 30, 2022 at 14:15
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    @kingfredrickIIisafalseking The powder coat IS the paint :)
    – Mr47
    Dec 1, 2022 at 7:35
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    +1 for the emphasis on prep. Sounds like you've done this a time or 200.
    – Jeff
    Dec 1, 2022 at 23:49
  • @Jeff To be totally honest - any time I contemplate a repaint job on a bike, I take one look at the prep needed, and opt for some touch-up nail varnish instead. The biggest bike part I've painted is some handlebars which had flaking chrome, so they got a grinder coat and then three layers of engine enamel with hot air cookoffs. I "personalise" my bikes by riding them :)))
    – Criggie
    Dec 2, 2022 at 1:31
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If you are concerned from a safety point of view: Most paints won’t harm metal and I don’t really see any way to mess this up in a dangerous way. Unless your paint layer makes the lever get stuck in the open or closed position ;)

A relatively minor safety concern is that paint protects against corrosion. So if you remove the original paint and your new paint starts to flake off it could allow for corrosion to occur. Even aluminium can corrode in the “right” circumstances (e.g. salt water).

As for the frame: If you get paint on threads or bearing mating surfaces (e.g. bottom bracket, headset bearings) it could mess with the alignment and lead to bearing damage.

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  • So there is a chance the aluminum will flake off with the paint. Is there a coat that I should cover the levers with before painting and then add another coat so that it won't flake off? Nov 30, 2022 at 14:17
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    @kingfredrickIIisafalseking The metal will generally not flake off, the issue is exposing unprotected metal. In particularly harsh environments, you can get damaging corrosion, but you’re not likely to be cycling in sufficiently harsh environments (and you’ll have other things failing first if you are). The bigger issue is that the layer of aluminum oxide that will form in ‘normal’ environments is going to be very slick (it’s extremely nonreactive, which is part of why aluminum is so hard to paint/coat properly), which is a less than ideal property for the surface of a brake lever. Dec 1, 2022 at 2:41
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Shimano Specs Page inform us that the BL-MT200 has a painted steel lever, while the master cylinder portion of the lever assembly is painted aluminum. The type of paint that is used is not specified. Any potential repainting of the lever should give thought to the necessity of the new paint not be "hotter" than the factory coating. This means that the solvents of the proposed paint could react poorly to the factory paint. This leads to an unanticipated, undesirable orange peel or wrinkled finish. Spot testing an area for potential reactions is advisable but the size of the workpiece (small) is a bit prohibitive for this technique.

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    Yah - I'd go with stickers, or decals for personalisation as a safe option.
    – Criggie
    Dec 1, 2022 at 5:47

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