Cycling 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:
p>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!:
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.
Its been a few weeks, but I finally moved on to the last of the painting over the weekend. In the previous post we painted the frame in its entirety with a primer and the cream colored base coat. We did a test with the red paint for the lugs and details on the fork, and it looked excellent, so we continued using the same process on the rest of the frame. Cary spent a week’s worth of evening taping off the frame, afterwards I realized that selecting cream instead of “blue-painters tape” for the base coat was a good idea. We hung the frame up in the paint room and went to work on it with the small Iwata airbrush. Maneuvering around the fork was a bit easier than the whole frame, but overall things went smoothly.
I’m not fantastic with the airbrush yet, so Rick had to clean-up for me from time to time:
Some of the details work was delicate, but with Cary’s knock up job taping everything off, I could pretty much apply my usual brand of recklessness without being too worried I’d screw it up. Here’s how it looked all taped up with paint attached:
Cary is currently referring to it as the Superman bike until the tape comes off (Rick took the tape off a day ago and as I understand it, it looks incredible, I’ll get a picture posted soon).
Next post is decals and clear coating, which should wrap up the decorative portion of the redux. After that will be the bike reassembly, recabling, etc.
With all the painting done its time to move on to puttin’ fancy stickers on the bike. It occurs to me that I didn’t post a picture of the bike with the paint all finished, so here is a shot:
Looking pretty slick. I ordered two sets of decals for the bike from eBay. If you do a search for whatever bike brand and decals you’ll come up with hundreds. In retrospect I should have looked for Roll-Royce decals, hindsight is often hilarious. I kept it real though, and ordered a set of Schwinn feathers and a set of Schwinn Black Phantoms. The Prelude (what the bike formerly was) came with some pretty 80’s decals, replete with scan lines and big bold beautiful Helvetica, so even if I could find some of replicas of them, I would have gone another direction. I ended up not liking the Phantoms. They were a little big and not as elegant as the the feathers. But, the Phantoms did come with a nice red and gold Schwinn badge, which I ended up using.
Putting decals on is pretty easy. Cut them up into sizes that are manageable, soak in lukewarm water for about 30 seconds or so, then set them into the area you want them on the surface. Oh yeah, clean the surface first. Once you get them where you want them, peel back the backing layer while holding the clear decal layer, making sure that the decal stays where you want it. This being detail work (which I’m miserable at) I just let Rick take care of the three decals
It looks a bit, or exactly, like this with all the decals on:
Next, slap a clear coat or two for protection (and of course to cover up some blemishes), then put it all back together and get it on the street.
It’s been a while but I finally found some extra time to slap a clear coat on my Schwinn redux. I saw “I”, but really my father-in-law took care of this one. Its delicate work, and I’m just not in to that. Maybe next time.
Clearcoating is really to hide and protect. It masks any blemishes that might be left on the bike, and protects the coats of paint you slapped on previously from rust, nicks, and other marring. It serves a third purpose of course; it makes everything “pop”. The red on against cream look was already a nice contrast, but with the clearcoat applied the red really went from bright to ostentatious…in a good way.
I don’t have any pictures of it to describe it, but the chemicals involved in this process are a bit more noxious than anything else we’ve used in this project. Respirators were a must, and the manual was consulted to get the exact chemical composition nailed down. Rick was extra-extra careful on this one:
The clearcoating itself went on in 3 stages, all applied with the same airbrushes we’ve been using thus far. First a “dust coat” was applied, to fill any gaps and lay down a rough surface for the rest of the coats to stick to. Next a thick layer of clear was laid on. Finally, we wrapped it all up with some touch-ups and gap filling to complete the job
The results are excellent. I don’t think I expected the bike to transition from nice to sexy quite as much as it did. You heard me. Sexy. See the photos.
Next up, we’ll re-cable and rebuild the components on the bike. It’s going to be ready to ride very soon…
The Schwinn is all back together now with the new paint job, decals, handlebar tape, and cabling: Here’s a before pic for reference: The red and white striped bar tape was a nice final touch: So what’s next? I might replace the seat with an old Selle Itialia Flite saddle if I can find one, but other than that, we’re pretty much done here. Anyone have a $20 steel bike they want to sell me so I can do this again?