How to Airbrush Bike Frames

by Larry Simmons
Give your bike frame the look you want with a custom paint job.

Give your bike frame the look you want with a custom paint job.

Photo and Co/Lifesize/Getty Images

The appearance of your bike frame says a lot about you as a rider. An off-the-shelf paint job just doesn't present the same image to those admiring the bike, as does a custom paint job, airbrushed on smoothly without a single scrape or scratch. While the custom paint isn't likely to last untouched through the first few spills, its still a great way to present your bike, and not at all difficult to apply. With an airbrush you can create everything from single or dual tones to extensive patterns or designs, letting your imagination be your guide while creating a look that's all your own, at least until the next big spill.

Items you will need

  • Car washing detergent
  • Bucket
  • Sponge
  • Degreaser
  • 180-grit emery cloth
  • Masking tape
  • Broom
  • Mop
  • Tarps
  • Fan
  • Clamps
  • Broom stick
  • Safety goggles
  • Respirator
  • Airbrush and compressor
  • Auto-body primer
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Tack cloth
  • Auto-body top coat
  • Clear coat
Step 1

Clean the frame of anything that could interfere with the new paint job. For light dirt and debris, use a sponge with car washing detergent mixed in a bucket of warm water. For heavier caked-on dirt, switch the sponge for a stiff nylon-bristled brush. Use a degreaser if there's any oil on your frame. Remove any rust after cleaning by scrubbing the frame vigorously with a 180-grit emery cloth. Put on a respirator before scrubbing the rust, since inhaling the metal can cause damage to your lungs. A pair of safety goggles is a must have as well, to protect your eyes from the rust particles. Wipe the sanded area with a tack cloth, and then let the frame sit in place for a few hours to dry out.

Step 2

Tape any area of the bike you don't intend to paint with strips of masking tape. Check the edges of the tape after application to make sure it's flat on the frame, otherwise you'll have paint seeping beneath, causing an unflattering random feathering around the unpainted edges.

Step 3

Choose an open area with extensive ventilation to paint in. Like the loosened rust, paint fumes can wreak havoc with your lungs. Try a garage, or set up to paint on a patio. Make sure the area is as clear of dust as possible by sweeping and mopping the floor before laying a tarp in the center. This is where you will set the frame; the tarp will catch any errant paint. Attach a second tarp on the wall in the direction you're spraying in to catch any overspray. Increase the ventilation, if you're in a garage or basement, by adding a fan to the area to circulate the air.

Step 4

Use clamps on the bike to secure it in the center of the tarp. Position the clamps over portions of the bile you don't intend to paint. If you're unable to find a good position for the clamps, then clamp a broomstick in place and slide the frame upside down over the stick, using the hole for mounting the bike seat. The less movement you have in the frame as you paint, the cleaner the paint job will be.

Step 5

Change into clothing that you won't mind getting a bit of paint on, and put on the safety goggles and respirator. No matter how careful you are at spraying, you're still likely to get some paint on yourself during the spray process.

Step 6

Fill the reservoir of your airbrush with auto primer, then start up the compressor. Hold the airbrush about 4 inches from the bike's surface and then spray a layer onto the frame, moving your arm back and forth to create an even coating. Make sure you get the top and bottom of the frame, Allow the primer the manufacturer's recommended time to dry.

Step 7

Sand the primer smooth with wet fine-grit wet/dry sandpaper to remove any drips or sags, then wipe it off with a tack cloth.

Step 8

Fill the airbrush with the top coat, again using auto paint for a solid, scratch-proof coating. Follow the same application process to paint on the top coat. Wait for the top coat to dry, again following manufacturer's recommendations for drying time.

Step 9

Sand the top coat with the wet fine-grit sandpaper to create a smooth, even appearance. Wipe with the tack cloth after sanding to remove all traces of sanding residue.

Step 10

Spray a layer of clear coat to protect the top coat from scratches and to create a glossy finish. Allow the clear coat 48 hours to dry before reassembling the bike for use.

Tips & Warnings

  • Add decals to your bike frame by placing them over the top coat and allowing them to dry in place before applying the clear coat layer.

Photo Credits

  • Photo and Co/Lifesize/Getty Images