Grant Muller

Schwinn Prelude Bicycle Restore: Painting I

In the last post I wrapped up all of the prep work on the bike frame. It was taken apart completely, sandblasted to remove rust and sanded from top to bottom. Now it’s time for painting!

Most of the tools I got to use on this project belong to my father-in-law. In the past he has painted cars and motorcycles, so using this kind of equipment to refinish a bike is probably a lot like using a firehose to fill a bucket, but its a treat to use this high-end stuff.

The first step was to get a coat of primer on the bike. I forgot the name of the primer we used, but its a high-end steel primer that prevents rusting on cars, and requires a two chemical mix to activate it. We hung up the frame in a dedicated paint room, put on some respirators (the chemicals in the paint are REAL safe), and went to work. We used this Iwata spray gun to put both the primer and first coat of paint:


With primer and the base coat on bike, it looked a little like this:


As you can see most of the pitting around the top tube no longer shows:


We pined for a few days about how to do the detail work. Since the lugs, drop outs, bottom bracket, etc were all going to be painted red,we needed a way of getting the paint on there without ruining the base coat. There are at least a half dozen ways to do it, with a brush and a lot of patience perhaps. In the end we elected to have Cary (my wife) tape off the sections we were going to paint with plain ol’ painters tape, and attack it with this small scale airbrush, also from Iwata:


Cary is an expert paint taper, not to mention painter. She warned us about things like leakage, less-than-perfect-lines, but agreed to do it anyway. We elected to use the fork for the first test, so Cary taped the lugs and drop outs and we set to work. There is a small detail inside the lugs on the fork which Cary couldn’t get any tape into, but in a moment of last minute genius, Rick crammed a wad of clay into the detail to block paint from entering. Very nice. We mixed up a very brilliant vermillion paint mixture and hoped for the best.

After a couple hours when the paint had dried, we peeled back the tape…Behold!:


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It looked great! The little filled in spot on the lugs near the top is the clay Rick used in that divot. The system works. Cary is currently taping off the lugs on the main frame of the bike, which will take her much longer. Thanks wife.

In the next part we’ll wrap up the main paint job, hopefully apply the new decals, and slap a clear coat over the top for a nice professional shine. After that we’ll get to the fun bike stuff, recabling, recalibrating, etc.

Schwinn Prelude Bicycle Restore: Prep Work

schwinnprelude-5Cycling might be the perfect sport for an engineer. The mechanics of a bicycle are beautifully simple, and the gear porn aspect of owning and operating a performance machine may be paramount to the health benefits of actually riding. Data is key as a cyclist as well. Altitudes, cadences, heart rates and watts determine my performance on a ride. I can criticize or praise myself in a quantifiable way, and I have my bicycle to thank for much of it. As much as I like the act of cycling, I still think my main interest in the sport is the device itself rather than the ride.

For years I have been looking for a bicycle to work with. Not a modern carbon/aluminum cycle like the one I ride in races, I’ll let someone else make sure it functions (thanks Cam), but an old steel relic from 70’s or 80’s. About 6 months ago my father-in-law Rick found the perfect bicycle for me, a steel Schwinn Prelude circa 1980-something a co-worker was selling for $20 dollars. You heard me, $20 dollars. He left me a courtesy phone message and bought it anyway, which is fine, I would have paid twice that and still felt like I stole it.

An old Prelude is by no means an amazing bike, but it was exactly what I was looking for. For starters, it was my size, which is rare since I ride something between a 59 and a 61 (tall people don’t ride bikes apparently). It was old, steel, and had exactly the geometry I was looking for. Since I bought it in the Summer, Rick recommended riding it for a while before actually making any changes to the bike. I spent the summer riding it back and forth to the pool, gym, and library, and the occasional training ride. Steel gives differently than aluminum and carbon do, so a ride on the often rough roads of Marietta seemed smoother than usual, and the fit of the bike was perfect. By the end of the fall the Prelude had become my favorite bike.

Once winter arrived it was time to start work on restoring the bike.

If this were an old Colnago or 3Rensho, ultimate care would have been given to restoring it to look exactly how it was meant to look from the factory 30 years ago. But since this wasn’t an amazing bike, it gave us the liberty to do whatever we pleased to the bike in terms of paint and aesthetic. We decided on a preliminary paint job, Rick did several tests and pulled the entire bike apart, and we got to work on the frame.

This would be a good time to mention that most of my in-laws are cyclists, whether it be bicycles or motorcycles. In addition to being an accomplished cyclist, Rick, my father-in-law is an incredible mechanic and has restored (among other things) a Norton Commando and a Triumph, not to mention a Corvette and a Karmen Ghia, to factory floor condition. Some creative painting to a bicycle frame was going to be a walk in the park. However, this is a trade I wanted to learn, so I’m doing the work under the watchful eye of someone with the experience to say “no, that’s just not right”. So far this has been a lot of fun, and I’m already looking for more bikes to restore or otherwise impose my will upon.

Before doing anything we assessed the frame. Whoever owned the bike before me must have had acid sweat from hell, the amount of pitting and rust on the top tube right around the seat post was incredible. Here are some details of the rust we needed to remove:



In order to get these spots out and get the frame in a condition to be painted, it would have to be sandblasted. Sandblasting is easily the least glamorous part of this process. For something this large you pretty much have to sandblast in the open, whereas for smaller pieces you can use a hood. This is what it looks like when I sandblast a bike:


Every hole in your skull is full of sand by the time you’re through. Not to mention your clothes, hats, or whatever is in a 10 ft radius. Its painful too, in a very hard to describe kind of way. Kind of like loading a leaf blower full of sewing needles and blasting them at your face. Awesome. It didn’t take very long, and after little while I was done. Rick inspected my work and it seems that everything went just fine:


The lugs are clear of rust, to the point that you can see the brazing used to join the metal:


The steel was pitted heavily in a few spots due to the rust. For that we used some of this:


Bondo, the same stuff you use on cars. When you apply it, looks like this:


After a significant amount of sanding and reapplying Bondo, the frame was ready for priming and painting, which will be the next post in this series.