Saturday, October 7, 2017

Spray.Bike: A easy and fun way to rejuvenate your bike

“Spray.Bike DIY painting party.” That's what the poster said at Cafe Domestique, a bike-themed coffee shop here in Madison. I was intrigued but didn't have a clear idea what such an event would look like. Crappy rattle can paint jobs that are a big mess and start peeling off immediately? After looking at the Spray.Bike website and Instagram account and talking to Dan, the owner of Cafe Domestique, I was intrigued. If the claims were true, Spray.Bike paint was quite different from regular rattle can paint. And the paint jobs that people were able to achieve, with intricate patterns and great colors, looked great.

Before: From a distance, the paint doesn't look too bad...
My everyday ride, a 9-year-old Surly Cross-Check was a prime candidate for new paint. Numerous scratches, dents, and rust spots had accumulated over the years. For $59, Cafe Domestique offered two cans of paint, one can of clear coat, work space for at least four hours, and unlimited coffee during the event.

...but when you look more closely....

Sanding, sanding, and more sanding

Picking colors wasn't easy. Most of the colors offered look amazing, and fortunately the Spray.Bike website groups them by collections, making it a little easier to pick colors that will go together well. In the end we chose “Battersea” and “Coldharbour Lane,” aiming for some kind of snakeskin effect two-tone paint job, with masking materials to be acquired at some point. Of course, life was busy and the date of the paint party crept up on us. I barely had enough time to take apart the bike and sand the many rust spots on frame and fork. But with a hardware store across the street from Cafe Domestique, we figured we could just wing it on the day of the event.

Nicole applying the first “Battersea” coat

Two other people were signed up for the party. Teddy repainted a vintage Trek 760, and Sean gave a modern carbon Trek frame a facelift. Ealier in the day, Dan had already experimented with some of his own bikes and offered good guidance. The first step for all of us was to do more frame prep. While Spray.Bike paint doesn't require the old paint to be stripped completely, both Teddy and I kept discovering rust spots that needed sanding. And Sean spent a lot of time taking off the clear coat on his frame. While we were sanding away, Nicole went exploring the hardware store for masking materials and returned with a mesh laundry bag.

Full coat in an awesome color
Second coat, leaving the frame joint areas uncovered, except for the head tube
Our initial plan was to start with a coat of the darker Battersea and then add the light Coldharbour Lane over it. After laying down the Battersea, though, we were both in love with the color and wanted to make sure that in the end it would remain very prominent. So we added a solid coat of Coldharbour Lane to most of the frame and only applied the mesh masking before the final color coat with Battersea.

Applying the laundry bag masking

Great results!

On the headtube I added a coffee cup stencil, supplied by Teddy, who had access to a CNC vinyl cutter and brought all kinds of cool stencils. The edges on the stencil turned out nice and crisp!

Teddy's tesselations turned out great as well. He finished the frame with a gold sparkle

Dan of Cafe Domestique acting as a human shield
Application of the paint was easy: Shake the can for 5 minutes, and then apply from a distance of 5-8 inches, with the can always moving. Occasionally we'd get spots with bubbles or other imperfections, but overall the paint went on nice and smooth. To improve durability and add gloss to the otherwise very matte paint, you finish the painting with a clear coat (available in matte and glossy, and also with golden sparkle!). The paint dries very quickly--within a few minutes it's dry to the touch, and after only twenty minutes you can apply another coat.

Fork detail: snakeskin on the legs, full coat on the crown, with a masked lug window

So how did it all turn out in the end? Both Nicole and I are very, very happy with the end result! For relatively little money and a manageable amount of effort I got an awesome new look for my bike. A lot of credit goes to Nicole for her creativity with the masking. The mesh masking worked great, produced a pretty result, and was easy to apply.

Re-assembled. We had considered painting the fenders as well, but I think they look better in silver

Hauling the frame set back home by bike

One concern is the durability of the paint. Within the first week I already noticed chips on the top tube. They were located where my heavy u-lock touches the frame. I tried to address this with another layer of clear coat, and we will see if this helps.

Chips on the top tube

My overall rating of the Spray.Bike experience is 4/5, with one star taken because of durability issues. If those are indeed resolved, I'd go with 5/5. Doing the painting as a party with others is highly recommended and added a lot to the experience. Dan of Cafe Domestique was a great host, keeping us caffeinated and offering help in many ways. In the party setting you can also experiment with more colors, learn from others, and exchange masking materials and ideas.

Regular colors are $16.99, sparkling finishes are $19.99. Available directly from or locally at Cafe Domestique.

Disclaimer: I received a 25% discount on the registration fee for the event.

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