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Make Money Painting Bikes

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There are two variations of the painting business. One is painting complete bicycles, which may or may not include disassembly, reassembly and tuning. The other is adding artistic embellishments to fully-assembled bikes.

Adding Embellishments

If you have artistic ability, and can apply it nicely to round tubing, there may be great demand for your work. You might be good at hand-painted art, air brushing or pinstriping. In any case, if you were to fancy up a number of bikes, maybe even for free at first, they would advertise your business for you. Example: "Hey, that dragon is great! Who painted that on your bike?"

Complete Painting

This is not work that I would want to do, but perhaps you think otherwise. I regard paint as a cumulative poison, one which may bring a painful death in your later years. However, if you want to disregard my advice, you may want to start a bicycle painting business. Here's what I can tell you about it:

There are two or three ways to do this business. You can take complete bikes from your customers, disassemble them, prepare the frames and forks, paint them, reassemble and tune them, and make a whole bunch of dollars.

Or, you can farm some of the steps out. For instance, you may have everything except sand blasting equipment. So you do everything except that stage. Take the bike to an industrial or automotive painter, and pay them to do the sand-blasting. (Make sure they use glass beads, or a fine sand for a short period of time to avoid removing metal.)

While it is possible to do a nice-looking job with spraypaint cans, it is difficult to match the durability and appearance of professional painting equipment.

The average home air compressor is designed to draw no more than a household 110-volt circuit can provide, about twenty amps. Therefore, the power is limited to about one horsepower. If you use a siphon-feed paint gun, this is just barely adequate for painting bicycle frames. You may have to wait now and then for the air pressure to recharge. If you use a pressure feed gun, you'll find yourself out of control most of the time. Bicycle frame are hard to paint because of all the intersections.

When I used to paint bikes, I inserted a junk seat post in to the frame to hand-hold it. For each coat, I would shot all the way around each intersection with short, quick strokes. Then I would shoot all the way around the length of each tube. Other painters will hang the bike, often with a wire through the headtube, or through the seatpost binder bolt hole.

Make sure your lighting is good. The difference between painting with good light and otherwise is remarkable. Needless to say, work in a well-ventilated area. Lacquer and especially polyurethane (Imron) paint fumes are deadly, so wear a proper mask.

Heat-baked or electrostatically applied paints are much more durable than cold, sprayed-on paints, but are not within the means of most home-based business people.

Inform your customers that the paint they will get as an aftermarket product from you cannot be as strong as the factory original. Knowing that, most customers will carry out their plans, but won't bother you later on if they get a scratch on their bikes.

If you do not have sand-blasting facilities, there are other ways to remove paint. Liquid strippers work on most, but not all paints. You may consider having a furniture stripper prepare frames for you.

You can use a cabinet or ski scraper, a credit-card-sized spring steel sheet with sharp edges to remove paint fairly quickly. Finish the stripping with sand paper.

For a very nice effect, you can send the bike out to have portions chromed before painting. If the bike is a brazed frame, make sure the chromer knows not to use processes which would leech out the brazing material. After chroming, sand right up to where the paint will be applied, so it will stick fairly well to the chrome.

You can also simulate a chromed finish by fine sanding the middles of tubes, and then spraying the polished areas with only a clear finish.


If you want to make some bikes with a nice effect, you can spray a blended two-tone effect. Paint the whole bike one color, perhaps yellow. Then follow up with a complimentary color such as red, just at the intersections, artistically fading toward the middles of the frame tubing. Spray the entire head tube, fork crown, seat cluster, and bottom bracket area. Optionally, you might also want to catch all four dropouts.

There will be no shortage of business if you choose this as your line of work. Many bike shops field requests for painting from their customers, but decline such work because they are not equipped for it, because they have plenty of easier, better-paying work, and because they want to live long lives. So, in addition to all the standard ways to advertise, let all the local shops know you are available to paint bikes, and they are like to send customers to you. This would be especially true if you don't want to deal with disassembling and reassembling the bike. Then, the shop can profit from the overhaul, and send the frame and fork to you for painting.

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