When we got this great idea to ride our bikes a long, long way, we thought it would be fun to build bikes from scratch. I.E. get an old school frame, restore it, buy all the necessary components and create a rig that was a “one-of-a-kind”. It turns out that used frames can be unreliable and very expensive to build up from scratch. So after much research, we decided that the Bianchi Volpe was a good fit and would take care of our needs. It is a “cyclocross” bike, something between a road bike and a mountain bike from the early 90’s. The frame is chromoly steel. It has drop handlebars similar to a road bike and really “beefy” wheels.
One of our main reasons for wanting to build our own bike was to have a custom paint job. Since we did not buy old bikes we had to paint the new ones that we bought. It took a little anxious anticipation before I could completely disassemble a fully tuned, brand new bike with an immaculate factory paint job, but the need for some custom artwork overtook the urge to leave the bike in its factory condition.
First, I took apart the bikes piece by piece, carefully labeling each part as it came off the bike, making notes of bearing orientations, brake lever settings, where all the shims & spacers went etc… Second, once the bikes were completely disassembled and the entire frame was sanded with 200-grit sandpaper. This created a good surface for the primer coat of paint to adhere to. Next, the bikes were each “shot” with a coat of automotive gray primer. I actually liked the way that this looked, and contemplated leaving mine this color. Cari on the other hand was not so satisfied with a primer gray bike. She wanted a pink leopard print bike.
So the leopard print paint job began. I took some time pondering how I could pull off a pink leopard print job on such an awkward shaped item (by awkward I mean the bike has lots of nooks, crannies, tubes that change dimensions etc…). It’s not like painting on a flat sheet of paper or canvas. All my experience with painting has been with car parts using spray paint. Spray paint has always been my favorite media to work with. So for any of you who know what using spray paint is like, it requires A LOT of masking tape. Essentially, everywhere you want a “line” or color break to be, there needs to be a piece of tape to mask the color that you are spraying and leave the color that is underneath. When you paint with spray paint, everything needs to be painted in “layers.”
Cari’s Bike was painted in 4 layers (not including the clear coats… I will explain). Cari wanted the bike’s base color to be silver, and have black spots with pink centers. The first layer was the primer coat that was shot over the entire frame. This gave me a blank canvas to work with. Once the primer was allowed to dry, the entire frame was shot metallic silver. In performing this coat, I noticed that the metallic based paints behave much different than the enamel paints that I am used to working with. The metallic paints tend to not coat as uniformly as the enamels, so with a little practice and frustration, I was able to figure out how to get a nice even coat.
Following the Silver coat was a coat of clear. This allowed me to sand the bike with 2000-grit sandpaper and remove any dust, bugs, or any other contaminants that got in the wet paint.
Now the fun part… Every part of the bike that I wanted to remain silver had to be covered with masking tape. In order to mask off the silver, I needed masking tape that was cut with leopard spots. I made sheets of “masking paper” to do this; I took a bunch of sheets of binder label paper from work and removed all the labels. This gave me a blank sheet of wax paper that tape will not adhere to. Then I took 2” wide masking tape and covered the entire sheet of wax paper with it. This essentially gave me an 8 ½” x 11” sheet of masking tape. With that, I drew a leopard print on the masking paper and cut out the pattern with an x-acto knife. When the pattern was all cut, the centers of the spots were removed (I saved the centers of the spots to be used at a later time) and I had a pattern that I could overlay on the silver coat of paint. Here is a picture of the bike when the layer masking of the silver was complete.
Once the masking of the silver was complete, the entire bike was shot with a coat of clear paint. This fills all the gaps in the masking tape where the next color might leak under the tape. Once the clear dried, the entire bike was shot with a coat of metallic pink. Everything that was not covered with the masking tape was now pink. (Keep in mind that the outsides of the leopard spots are supposed to be black, not pink). In order to make the centers of the spots pink and the outsides black, I put a piece of tape in the center of each spot. After all the centers of the spots were masked, the entire bike was shot with a coat of metallic black. Once the black was dry, the masking tape could finally be removed.
I was like a child at Christmas while removing the masking tape from the bike, slowly this all black frame began to transform into a silver, pink and black leopard. I was very pleased with the look of the bike when the masking was removed, but there was still work to do. When masking tape is removed, it leaves sharp edges where all the edges of the masking tape were. Essentially, there was a rough “ledge” about the thickness of a sheet of paper where each color transitioned. In order to smooth the paint out, the entire frame was again sanded with 2000-grit sandpaper. This removed the sharp edges and smoothed the surface out quite nicely. But sanding paint also leaves it dull, so in order to restore the glossy shine, two more coats of clear were shot over the entire frame. This made the paint job look shiny and new and once the paint was complete, the bike was rebuilt, and viola, a leopard print touring bike!
Well if you made it this far through the paint job section of the blog, I will try not to bore you with the fine details of my bike. With Cari’s bike being so extravagant and fun, I definitely could not just leave my bike primer gray. I needed something wild, something that would potentially grab some attention while alongside the pink and silver cat. In the end I chose a green, black and blue argyle print… Argyle wild? Argyle fun? Well maybe it wasn’t the wildest print I could have chosen, but it gave me a very interesting challenge to put onto a bike frame.
In order to get the argyle pattern, the entire bike was shot green over the primer coat, and then everything that was to stay green was masked. All areas that were blue or black were left uncovered and shot with a coat of blue. Following the coat of blue, the parts that were to remain blue were masked off and the bike was then shot black. Once the black dried, the masking tape was removed and I had a frame that was covered with green, black and blue diamonds. In order for it to be true argyle, it needed a thin lines crisscrossing through the centers of each diamond. In order to do that, I masked off everything except the lines “swirling” in one direction, shot the bike with a coat of cream white, removed the masking, re-masked the lines that “swirled” in the other direction and then shot it with another coat of cream white. I then removed all the masking, gave the bike a 2000-grit sand and shot it with two coats of clear. The end result… an argyle painted bicycle.
Looking back on the paint jobs, it was by far the most challenging paint job I had ever done for anything. The entire process was a blast and the end results turned out much better than I had hoped for. There is roughly 30 to 40 hours of time invested in each bike and that time was well spent and enjoyable. People have often said “you should do this as a side job”, but unfortunately, nobody would ever consider shelling out a week’s worth of pay for a bicycle paint job.