How to Paint a Bike

Find out how to paint a bike with these customization options.
By Charles Haine
July 2, 2013
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Learn the ins and outs of cycling culture in “The Urban Biking Handbook.”
Cover Courtesy Quarry Books

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Across the United States people are leaving their cars behind and immersing themselves in the bicycle culture. The Urban Biking Handbook (Quarry Books, 2011) by Charles Haine offers an illustrated guide to cycling culture with repair and maintenance techniques as well as information on the health benefits of cycling. In this excerpt from chapter 4, “Customization,” learn how to paint a bike.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Urban Biking Handbook.

One popular but difficult way to customize your bicycle is to paint it. There are a spectrum of options available for painting a bike, from the grittiest DIY through hiring custom bicycle frame painting specialists, who often cost as much as the price of a new low-end road bike.

How to Paint a Bike

Spray paint. The easiest way to paint a bike is to pick up a rattle can of spray paint at the hardware store and paint away, but this is far from ideal. Since your bike likely has a paint job on it already, the spray paint doesn’t have a good surface to adhere to and will quickly start flaking off. I don’t recommend this unless you are going for a punk-rock aesthetic, in which case, rattle can away.

Detail work. For simple touch-ups or personal decorations, nail polish and model paint, both of which are formulated for adhering to smooth surfaces such as a painted bike frame, are good solutions for detail work.

Powder coating. Popular with gearheads of all sorts, powder coating involves running an electromagnetic charge over raw metal, and then putting it in a room with a cloud of oppositely charged paint, which adheres to the frame evenly and durably. With powder coating, your paint job is incredibly professional looking and durable.

How-To: Get Your Bike Powder Coated


1. Fully assemble your bike (if purchasing a bare frame or used bike) and make sure it all works as planned before embarking on a paint job. Nothing is more frustrating that getting a frame powder coated, then realizing that it has issues that prevent it from functioning properly when reassembled, thus wasting your money and effort.

2. Identify a powder coater in your area willing to do bicycles. Bike shops often have powder coaters they recommend, but if your local doesn’t have a recommendation, call the powder coaters in your area.

3. Decide how important color is to you. Setup and cleanup for powder coating is a large amount of the work, so if you are willing to be lumped in with another color batch, you can often save yourself a lot of money. Talk to your chosen powder coater to see if this is possible.

4. Strip all parts off your bicycle. If you are new to mechanics, this might seem intimidating. Be sure to place everything you take off your bike together in one box. Label anything you are unfamiliar with. Keep grouped items (like the headset or the bottom bracket) together in zippered plastic bags to ensure the right pieces stay together.

Painting Day

At the powder-coating facility, they will sandblast off your old paint job, then powder coat your bike. Check with your paint shop to see if they will paint handlebars, stems, and other pieces as well. Be careful; items once powder coated change size and might not fit like before.


1. Face your headset and bottom bracket; in other words, scrape the paint off of these surfaces. These areas have delicate items threaded into them, and if the threading surface isn’t perfect your bike’s alignment can be thrown off. Extra paint from the powder-coating process can get in the way, so you need to face these surfaces for good fit. This is a difficult and potentially destructive step; if you don’t feel confident doing it, most bike shops will only charge a small fee for headset and bottom bracket facing.

2. Reassemble your bike, using the parts you removed.

Read more: Learn more about bikes in How to Choose a Bike: Types of Bicycles and Tips for Buying a Used Bike.

Reprinted with permission from The Urban Biking Handbook by Charles Haine and published by Quarry Books, 2011. Buy this book from our store: The Urban Biking Handbook.

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