Got an old bike that needs sprucing up? Picked out a new bike, but you’d prefer it in a different color? Or maybe you’re just a DIY enthusiast… Painting your bike frame isn’t as straightforward as it sounds, and today we’ll give you all the best tips and tricks to make it a success.
You can paint over the old paint if it isn’t chipped or cracked or peeling and the new color is much darker. Otherwise, the first step is to strip the old paint off the aluminum bike frame by the use of a paint stripper and sanding it down to remove stubborn paint. Then prime it and let it dry. Finally, paint it with aluminum paint.
That’s just a quick overview of what is quite a nuanced subject that has different people dishing out different advice. So, below we’ll give you detailed instructions and advice on what and how to use it. Ready to get started? Then let’s dive right in!
Preparing The Bike
Regardless of whether you’re stripping the old paint first or simply painting over it, you’re going to need to remove EVERYTHING from the bike frame. Wheels, tires, handlebars, seats, drivetrains – you name it, it’s got to go.
There’s nothing worse when you start a DIY painting project like this than getting to the end and realizing your handlebars have a streak of paint over them that ruins the design you’d lovingly worked on.
So, before you even gather your materials, make sure you strip the frame down to its bare bones, so you’re left only with what you’re about to paint and/or strip.
Everything You’ll Need
Below is a list of everything you’ll need for stripping and painting the bike frame.
- Paint stripper (that specifically states it’s suitable for aluminum)
- Work gloves
- Paintbrushes (for applying the stripper)
- Tarp (to protect the area you’re working)
- Sandpaper or steel wool (to help remove stubborn paint)
We will give you detailed instructions below to help you decide whether you need to strip off the old paint from your bike.
- Aluminum primer
- Paint for aluminum frames (more on this in the next section)
- Paintbrushes (if not using spray cans)
- Face mask (if you are using spray cans)
- Clear coating (optional: for a shiny finish that will protect the paint for longer)
What Paint Should You Use On An Aluminum Bike Frame?
There are a few options when it comes to painting your aluminum frame, so you can choose whichever you think has the nicest finish or whatever you think is easiest to apply. Here are some of the paints we recommend (followed by some of the paints we definitely do not recommend):
- Acrylic paints (when used with a primer beforehand)
- Acrylic spray paints (again, a primer is necessary)
- Enamel paints (no primer necessary here as it is quite weather resistant)
- Model paints (although this is really a last resort option, because the other 3 options work best)
- Anything that isn’t suited to aluminum (look on the back of all paint before buying to see if aluminum is listed as an appropriate surface to use the paint on)
- Anything not suited to outdoor use (water-based paints, indoor only paints, etc.)
For the best results from my experience and knowledge, I’d recommend using acrylic spray paints, with a spray aluminum primer too. This is a great combo on aluminum bike frames because the primer helps the paint stick to the frame really well, and you end up with a smooth, even finish that looks great.
From this point forward, we’ll discuss our preferred method (using acrylic spray paints and spray aluminum primers) when giving detailed step-by-step guidance, but if you prefer another method, you can substitute the spraying sections with painting on the enamel or model paint by hand, etc.
Painting Over Old Paint vs Stripping Old Paint
Before you get started thinking about getting everything together you’ll need, you’ll first need to assess the old paint. If it’s a new bike and you simply want to change the color, then skip this section as you might just paint over the old paint.
But if it’s an old or used bike, then you’ll need to look at the old paint and see how bad the damage is. You’ll need to decide if you’re going to strip the old paint or simply paint over it. If it’s peeling, chipped, or cracking, then you’ll want to strip the old paint. Failure to do so will result in a poor finish with the coat of new paint.
If the old paint looks fine, and you’re planning on painting the bike frame with a darker color, then you could avoid stripping the old paint. However, if the new paint color is lighter, you’ll still probably need to strip the old paint for best results.
If it was I, I’d advise doing the job properly regardless – stripping the aluminum bike frame back to basics, and then starting again with a new coat.
That’s because you’re in control of the entire process then, and you can guarantee that the primer and paint you’ve used are set up for success and will stay looking great long after you’ve finished your DIY project.
Our step-by-step guide below will take you through everything from stripping the old paint, to prepping the frame for new paint, and some great tips for the best finishes. If you choose not to strip the old paint and skip a few steps, that’s fine, but the finish may be a little different.
Step-By-Step Guide To Painting An Aluminum Bike Frame
Step 1: Removing All Unnecessary Parts
If you’ve been following from the start, then you might already have removed everything from your bike frame down to its bare bones. If not, go ahead and do that now, and prepare your work area too by placing a large tarp down and your aluminum bike frame on top of that.
Step 2: Stripping The Old Paint
When it comes to stripping your old paint, you’ll need a paint stripper that’s suitable for aluminum frames, paintbrushes, and some work gloves. The key at this stage is to simply allow the paint stripper to soak into the old paint to get it ready for removal.
Just dip the paintbrush in the stripper, and apply an even coat over the whole bike frame. If you have an old rag, you might be able to remove some of the old paint by simply wiping the frame down after the paint stripper has been allowed to soak for 5 minutes or so.
However, for more stubborn paint, you’ll need to move on to the next step.
Step 3: Sandpaper/Steel Wool
For older, more stubborn paint, you’ll also need to apply an abrasive surface to remove the paint – sandpaper or steel wool works well here.
However, keep in mind that you’re only trying to remove the layer of paint on top of the aluminum frame, so be gentle. If you rub too hard at this stage, then you’ll not only remove the paint, but you’ll scratch and damage the surface of the aluminum frame, too, which could lead to rust and further damage down the road. Just rub the frame gently with steel wool or sandpaper until the paint has gone. Then you can move on to step 4.
Step 4: Priming
This next stage is all about prepping your bike frame for a new coat of paint. To do this, you’ll need an aluminum primer. These are readily available and they should say somewhere on the product that they’re suitable for use with aluminum.
We know you can for sure get an aluminum primer in spray cans, which we’d recommend here because it’s much easier to get an even coating of the primer on the bike frame than with primer out of a tin applied with paintbrushes.
Simply keep the frame on the tarp and spray the frame until every part has been covered in the primer. Then leave to dry.
How long this takes will depend on the primer you’ve used, so read the product instructions and make sure you leave the bike alone for the allotted time for the primer to dry before moving on to the painting section below.
Step 5: Painting
Painting the bike is much easier once the primer is down, as this acts as an adhesive surface that will just welcome the paint with open arms. For paint, we recommend an acrylic-based spray paint that’s suitable for use with aluminum.
Then simply put on your face mask and spray the frame with the new color. Then leave the frame to dry for the amount of time recommended on the product you’ve used before re-attaching everything to the bike frame again.
Design Tip: If you want to create a funky design with different colors, etc., then you can use thick tape to cover the parts of your bike that you don’t want to be painted in that specific color.
Then wait for the paint to dry, remove the tape, apply new tape to the areas you don’t want to be painted by the next color, and then spray again. By using this method, you can create some really interesting multi-colored designs that look awesome!
Step 6: Finishing Tips
And finally, BEFORE you attach the seat, wheels, etc., again, you might want to use a clear coat. Using clear coating isn’t essential, but it will give a glossy finish to the bike and help protect the paint underneath. It’s also much easier to clean. Again, you can buy these in spray paint cans, so just look for a clear coating spray can that’s suitable for aluminum bike frames and apply it to the frame once the paint is completely dry.
Then leave the clear coat to dry, re-attach everything to the frame, and Voila, you’ve got yourself a freshly painted bike!