Vintage Bicycles Done Proper :: Corvallis, Oregon
Restoring bicycles. Not always simple but experience teaches. Painting bicycles? This is the line at which many restorations cease.
The challenge of painting bicycles can be multifaceted.
There certainly are more reasons but the point being is that with all these roadblocks, why even venture into this world? Because you, like me, enjoy the struggle. You live for the challenge and you understand that patience to any good project is a virtue. But, there’s also another reason. Because sometimes, a project doesn’t have to be show-room quality so there’s no reason to break the budget to create a show room finish. This last reason topped all other listed justifications and became my call to action into the world of bicycle painting.
But first, let me set the stage. Luckily, I didn’t need to paint the entire bicycle frame.
I only needed to paint the fork.
Mid-80s touring bikes were a special breed. They were built on a blend of solid brazing techniques, usually crafted in Japan, strong yet lightweight steel and decades of touring design evolution baked in. They had it a lot going for them. Yet, unbeknownst to the builders, many of these frames were doomed for future brake option failures as cycling progressed.
At this point, cantilever brakes were the de facto standard for touring bikes. The problem was the distance between the front fork cantilever studs. These figures landed around 75-80mm, which is much too narrow for modern cantilever, or other styles, of brakes to handle. Modern cantilever brakes won’t close on the rim and seat properly, as pictured above. The solutions to this are to either stick with the original brakes, find a set of modern brakes that fits (which can be incredibly difficult) or alter the fork.
I plan to keep this build so I used it as an opportunity to try my hand at painting the fork myself.
Through a local Portland frame builder, I was able to have the old cantilever studs removed and new studs brazed appropriately for a modern set of cantilever brakes.
As the fork was being altered, I dug into my local paint options. Portland is lucky enough to have a Sherwin-Williams branch specializing in automotive painting. The shop was small but the knowledge of the sales team had plenty of real-world experience depth along with product lines robust enough for any automotive, or bicycle, project.
I left with an aerosol can of self-etching primer, one aerosol can of paint that was made on-site from the metallic gray I was trying to match, one aerosol can of single stage gloss, a few pieces of high-end wet sandpaper in a menagerie of grits along with a head full of do’s and don’ts.
The process was simple… but tedious.
So I’m told, what separates good jobs from bad, much like any good project, is all in the prep work. This was harped on over and over by the Sherwin-Williams specialists. Some of the pull quotes burned into my mind were things like, “take your time”, “be thorough”, “let it fully dry”, “be patient otherwise it will show in your final product”.
The long spans of smooth fork blade were simple to sand but the nooks around the crown and eyelets constantly caused challenges. I wasn’t going for show quality, nor could I achieve that with an aerosol can, but not giving these areas the attention they deserve would certainly show in my final product. So, dutifully, I sanded on.
Throughout the stages, I noticed how imperfections and areas not prepped well were highlighted. Deeper blemishes in the steel shone like a waving red flag when wet. Dried back, the defects weren’t quite so bad but were still noticeable. My best examples are shown in the images of the cantilever posts above. The right cantilever post has a small pinhole dimple visible in the priming shot and also in the shot showing after paint is applied. Both images clearly show the dimple and the error is unmistakable in the final product. Although, as full disclosure, this deficiency was due to a less than stellar brazing and filing job. It’s also why I don’t mention the name of the frame builder who performed the work. Funny how it so many projects come back to thoroughness of prep and patience.
Easily, the most satisfying portion was using the aerosol products to create instant results. Of course, this only takes mere seconds while you could spend massive swaths of time wet sanding. Even while sanding, I found myself yearning for that next coat.
So how does it look? Overall, not too bad. Does it pass the 10 foot test? Absolutely.
There’s some very slight orange peel texture in small areas but overall, for a first attempt, I’m satisfied with the results. I anticipated the amount of gloss I applied was enough to bring it up to the same standards as the original paint job but I can see now either I didn’t apply enough layers or my gloss isn’t glossy enough.
Looking back, the process was straightforward. The down side, it’s also fairly monotonous. But, the steps are there. All you have to do is follow them. There was no expensive equipment to purchase, although the aerosol products aren’t what I would consider cheap by any means. But, unused portions of primer and clear coat could easily make their way into other bicycle paint projects, cutting down future costs.
I didn’t spray the fork indoors because I don’t have anywhere that could act as an impromptu paint booth. So I took advantage of mild, clear, windless spring Pacific Northwest days and performed the work in shadows rather than direct sunlight. It was nothing but a joy to be outdoors while painting but that type of glorious weather has a small window of time so other seasons would have the complexity of where to paint and allow for proper curing.
The end result was a painted fork that blends in with the rest of the build. So, mission accomplished. And although there were a number of small victories in this first attempt, what was most enjoyable to me was accepting a new challenge. It was learning how to tackle it the right way and expanding a new skill set. I don’t have plans to expand into this world nor try another home paint job but who’s to say it wouldn’t happen again. Because, hey, who doesn’t enjoy a little struggle sometimes?
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