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Frequently Asked Questions


Powdercoating is a finishing process wherein a powder is sprayed on the parts and liquified through baking then hardens when cool to a tough paint-like coating.   It has advantages and limitations. For carbon frames and bonded frames that are glued together, powdercoat baking could damage the frame outright, or render it unsafe.

There is some talk about use of infrared baking to cure powder coat from the outside, reducing heat into the underlying material . Such systems are prone to shadows and hot spots on complex shapes like bike frames.  We are skeptical that any such system could be trusted with your safety.

For welded aluminum frames the answer is more complex.  Many welded aluminum frame are powdercoated at the factory, they should not be powdercoated AGAIN for refinishing.

Aluminum frames are  use heat treatment after welding to achieve the optimum strength, rigidity and crack resistance.   The process varies with alloy and it's intended application.  While most heat treating of aluminum occurs near 1000 degrees F, the final process is "artificial aging" in the 200 to 350F degree range for a specified length of time. Powder coating requires baking in this same temperature range. During original manufacture this is taken in to account, so powder coat baking can be final heat treatment. Heating again during powdercoat refinishing extends the process beyond the intended specification making the frame brittle or lessening it's strength.     

High quality bicycle frames are made of 6000 and 7000 series alloys.  Of the many aluminum alloys, these are most affected by extended artificial aging.  It's possible that very overbuilt frames of lower quality alloys are less affected but we recommend against entering that grey area!

So, CyclArt recommends that aluminum,bonded and carbon frames only be be refinished with paint that bakes are less than 200 degrees like our Category 1, 2 or 3 finishes.

Technical data on this subject can be found at: http://www.mlevel3.com/BCIT/heat%20treat.htm

 

Should this bicycle be repainted?  A daily question here.  It's one I try not to preach about, I respect a range of opinion on this subject and try to offer feedback to assist in coming to a satisfying decision.  I found my notes for the Velo Rendezvous presentation.  I think they cover this subject about the best I have done to date, so here they are:

Should this bicycle be repainted?  It’s a complex question, with many answers and few absolutes.

It is instructive to look to the larger, more mature and more moneyed field of antique furniture for insight:  Take this quote from “Art and Antique magazine”:

“Over the last few years, the media (and TV in particular) have provided a near constant barrage of antique and appraisal programming that has heightened our antique awareness.   They also have created an induced neurosis, which could be characterized as “Don’t touch it!”    The experts on such programs frequently claim that a given piece would have been a very valuable item if only the owner had not repaired, or stripped, or refinished the piece.   While this may be true for many legitimate antiques, such as an original Louis XVI chair, for example, it is not necessarily true for all “old furniture.”  This  “don’t touch it “ attitude has created mass confusion and doubt about older furniture, in general.”  

It seems to me that the refinishing work on the devalued pieces featured on TV is often poorly done.  Had it been done well it might not have had such a negative effect or might have not been detected at all. 

In the antiques furniture field, there are long established schools and licensing for appraisers.  Thousands of individual pieces trade at auction for 10’s and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars.  With our vintage lightweights, we have few resources by comparison, a good percentage of them are in this room.  Likewise, the market for the objects of our desire is tiny and their prices are modest.  I propose, that given the relatively low valuation most of our bikes hold, we should use even the best of them occasionally.  Putting them where they will be seen and appreciated is better than storing them ‘til we die.  If that means that more of these bikes will need refinishing than if they were treated like a Louis XIV chair. So be it.

Looking to another, large and mature field, a recent survey of classic car shows suggests that 95% of the cars in attendance had been refinished. There is no great fear of loss of original finishes and scraping rust off chrome and waxing over the pits is not considered proper stewardship of a classic. 

When I am asked for advice on whether to repaint a bicycle, I consider three key elements, the bicycle, it’s condition and the intentions of it’s owner.  I then try to help by providing options and information on the possibilities and ramifications. 

I’ve worked this out on paper as a self quiz:

First, with your bike in mind, consider its category:

Bicycle categories:
1. Rare, with provenance and very high value
2. Rare & interesting with high value
3. Popular classic with good value
4. Common with moderate value
5. Unpopular or low value

Then consider its condition:

Condition categories are:
1.    Near perfect original
2.    Slightly blemished
3.    Poor condition
4.    Unsatisfactory refinish
5.    Significant rust or damage

Now consider your intention for this bike.

Owner’s intention:
1.    Preservation
2.    Resale
3.    Vintage show bike or museum display
4.    Use with display or resale a possibility
5.    Extend useful life of frame, authenticity not a concern
6.    Upgrade or customize

Take the numbers of each choice and add them up.  Scores will fall from 3 to 16.  Find your number in the options below for a recommended option and cost range:

1. Preservation services 3 to 5          $50 to $150
2. Touch-up    5 to 8                 $75 to $350
3. Refinish 7 to 16                $160 to $950
4. Custom. 11 to 16                 $120 & up

Sometimes “preservation” is only the way to go.   For example:  A fine and rare bike that has been maintained in close to original, as-made condition; and has a documented, even interesting history, and; there is intent to sell it for its collector value, would score just 4; certainly a case where ‘don’t touch’ is the rule.  Greg LeMond’s 1989 Tour de France winning time trial bike would fall into this category, as would other important race winners, pioneer tourist Velocio’s bikes, the Schwinn family triple and others.  Very old bikes with heavy patina also usually fall into this category. 

For these bikes, we recommend very careful, even limited cleaning and proper storage and display.  Sometimes, on older bikes, we see finishes that are severely oxidized and so have lost their gloss and much of their color.  Decals and pinstripes are reduced to a very fragile oxidized layer easily damaged by cleaning or polishing.  In these cases, we preserve them by cleaning with extreme caution and applying a thin coat of clear to protect and bring out the original colors. This is still preservation.

The most frequently overlooked option is that of “touch-up.”  While this can be performed with a scraping tool, carefully matched colors and a paintbrush, the results are usually conspicuous.  Using airbrushes, blending techniques and partial decal and stripe replacement as required, it is possible to touch up localized damage, rust, dents or frame repair, invisibly, while preserving an otherwise original finish. We have performed both brush and invisible touch-ups including dent repair, cracks and braze-on replacement leaving the repair undetectable.   It helps that CyclArt has built and maintained a complete color mixing system and decal production capability in house. 

Sometimes, touch-ups, which start at $75 are far more cost effective than a complete refinish, but many factors affect their difficulty.  Color matching, multi-layer colors like candies and pearls, airbrush effects, number of  areas affected, pinstripes, decals, chrome and damage can all be overcome, but can push the price to exceed that of a refinish.  I have been very proud of our ability to make an invisible repair to complex finishes.  I recall a lace-painted Tommasini and a stained and crazed Claud Butler that we were able to touch-up invisibly and can still be called and original finish.  

If the situation calls for a refinish, care in documentation and execution is paramount ~ even for Paramounts!  CyclArt takes "before" and “after” photos as part of restoration projects. We have the ability to replicate virtually any color, pinstripe, airbrush, chrome, any technique originally used.  Given the economies of production, one often invests several times as much labor restoring a bike as was put into building it in the first place. But this certainly parallels other industries, such as antique furniture or vintage cars. 

At CyclArt, we have always discouraged restoration as investment.  On the other hand, there is great satisfaction in returning a sad, battered and rusting old campaigner to "better than new" former glory.   This year's super-bike is next year's old news and carries a guarantee of immediate depreciation.  On the other hand, vintage bikes are appreciating in value, and become increasingly interesting with age.  Then, of course, there's that special satisfaction in dropping the guy on the high tech bike.

Once a decision to restore is made there are still questions for those who are very concerned about authenticity;  Do I compromise accuracy when I use a toner that won't fade??  What if I fill a dent caused by the builder?  How about correcting alignment?  Some old finishes exhibit obvious flaws, should they be recreated?  What if it looks too good?  Smoother, richer, more even color, crisper masking, straighter stripes, clearcoated decals, better chrome polish, brazing gaps and file marks filled... Are these things objectionable?  Is it wrong to recreate the frame as beautifully as possible?  Would the builder have done so if he had the means? 

Unless requested otherwise, we repair damage and rust pits, perhaps improve lug edge shape slightly and fill pinholes and gaps.  We normally exceed original finish standards, partly out of improved material and process, mostly out of pride.    It is extremely rare, but if the client is concerned with “over restoration" and we'll take special care to match the "character" of the original with all it’s flaws. 

The fact that we can do very accurate refinishes brings up another question, that of weather or not to apply our decal to identify the bike as a refinish.  I've always been uncomfortable with not applying the small CyclArt decal on accurate restorations.  Although the client's intent may not be to deceive, it seems probable that at some time in the future the bike will likely be misrepresented as "original".   
 
One of the greatest challenges, and one the more interesting aspects of all this, is that mystical substance “patina”.  One man’s dirt and damage is another’s character and mark of authenticity.  There are no rules or formulas here. It is “patina” when it makes the bike look old.  It’s not, when the bike looks damaged, abused or neglected.  I consider repairing damage and touching up a heavily patina-ed finish undetectably may be our greatest accomplishment.  We have even performed complete refinishes were the paintwork was matched to the level of patina on the components.   

The final option I’ll bring up, may be the most controversial among this crowd. But here goes:  If you intend to keep a bike indefinitely; if it is not exceptionally rare or valuable and if visions of a custom bike keep fogging your Oakleys... consider that an ordinary bike can become an exotic.  Bicycle "hot rods", can be just as exciting as their gas-guzzling brethren.  As with the auto hot rods, there is a certain charm to a tasteful mix of old style, new performance and perhaps some custom paint.  Favorite old frames, with upgraded paint and adapted to contemporary components can be the best of both worlds for some.  Many clients come to me with old favorites that they want to upgrade.  Typically they seek longer cranks, smaller chain rings, or wider gear range.  After all, riders age too and sometimes they need a little help to keep up with their riding partners. We repaint many brand new bikes too. As much as I love the pure classics, I'll admit, that some of my best moments at CyclArt have been in helping a rider define and realize his dream bike.  Sometimes, the client has worked out the design and we execute it carefully to the letter, other times, we brainstorm with the client to extract his sleeping dream bike.  When they're "right", such bikes can be very seductive!

The choice it yours, we're here to serve.

Hard chromium plating is just chrome plating, but it is applied as a fairly heavy coating (usually measured in thousandths of an inch) for wear resistance, lubricity, oil retention, and other 'wear' purposes. Some examples would be hydraulic cylinder rods, rollers, piston rings, mold surfaces, thread guides, etc. There are variations even within hard chrome plating, with some of the coatings optimized to be especially porous for oil retention, etc.  It is called hard chromium because it is thick enough that when a hardness measurement is performed the chrome hardness can actually be measured. It is not really shiny or decorative.

The plating we do is “decorative” chrome plating and always involves plating nickel before plating the chrome. The chrome plating in decorative chrome plating is exceptionally thin, measured in millionths of an inch rather than in thousandths. It is still a very hard surface, but simple 'anvil' type hardness measurements don't detect the hardness because the anvil just punches through such a thin coating.

When you look at a decorative chromium plated surface, most of what you are seeing is actually the nickel. The chrome adds a bluish cast (filtering the somewhat yellowish cast of the nickel), and it protects against tarnish, and minimizes scratching. But the point is, without the brilliant leveled nickel undercoating, you would not have a reflective, decorative surface.
Chrome plating is hardly a matter of dipping an article into a tank, it is a long involved process that often starts with tedious polishing and buffing, then cleaning and acid dipping, zincating, and copper plating. This may be followed by buffing of the copper, cleaning and acid dipping again, and plating in two or three different types of nickel plating solution, all before the chrome plating is done.

When an items needs "re-chroming", understand what is really involved: stripping the chrome, stripping the nickel (and copper if applicable), then polishing out all of the pits and blemishes, then starting the whole process described above.

We frequently get requests for “triple plating” i.e.; copper, then nickel then chrome.  For many years this was the hot technique, especially for hot rodders and bikers.  The downside is that the copper adds unnecessary weight and thickness, in fact, unless care is taken, threaded and press fit surfaces will be compromised. New nickel formulations don’t require copper to adhere to steel and give excellent results.  Copper as a base coat does still have a use however; it can be applied with considerable thickness and it penetrates well in to recesses.  This provides a thick, soft, base layer which can help fill pitting.  Still unless there is a need, we do not use copper.

Many reasons:  Polishing for chrome plating is dirty, tedious and dangerous work .  Efficient polishing requires horsepower.  Most platers use wheels with 12 for 25 horse power motors, running at 1260 RPM.  A mistake that causes the buffing wheel to catch between the stays and seat tube can result in severe injury. 

Then there are the hazards of exposure to strong acids, heavy metals, dusts and high voltage.  Platers earn hazardous duty pay!   Meanwhile, most quality plating shops have a clientele of motorheads who throw thousands of dollars at the chrome on their projects, which rarely present the hazards of our bike frames! Lastly due to the hazardous nature of plating it is very expensive and difficult to get the permits to build and operate one.

A great plater can do a terrible job on a bike frame unless he has taken the time and made the investments necessary to address the unique challenges race frames present.  Unfortunately we’have seen many real disasters when platers not specialized in racing frames are involved.  Such as:

“Stripped apart”:
Stripping old chrome involved use of strong acids and salts, which can excessively remove brazing material.  We have seen frames virtually disassembled or by over stripping! 

The “hole” story:
Fork blades, seat stays and top tubes which often have small vent or worse no obvious holes but invisible gaps in brazing, that can allow the charge solutions to be “drawn” inside and trapped.  We have seen frames with this problem rust out within months. It is critical that all areas in which solutions can enter have two holes of about 3/32”. Most fork blades and seat stays have a single hole to allow exit of hot air during brazing.  Filling such holes is unreliable, because charged plating solutions will penetrate gaps only microns in size.  If a seal is achieved, it can be opened during polishing.  If a leak is detected after plating, two holes must then be drilled through the new plating.  For this reason we often drill a second set of holes in fork blades and seat stays prior to plating. Certainly beats rust holes!

“Chrome shadows”:
Chrome plating does not cover all immersed parts equally.  The electric field is weak in enclosed areas (like the seat stay and chain stay joints) and strong at sharp edges (outer lug edges). Thus plating can be too thin in the weak field areas and poorly prepared sharp edges can have chrome buildup. This can all require a lot of polishing, manipulation of electrodes and finesse for a good job.  Many older frames, for example, show surface rust at the thinly plated chainstay and seatstay areas.  Placement of additional anodes and other techniques are required to “throw” plating in difficult areas, something few shops will attempt. 

A real “drag”:
Platers must be concerned about “dragging” solutions, that is, carrying them from one tank into the next.  A few parts per million of such contamination can both render a 500 gallon tank to useless toxic waste and in the case of a rinse tank, cause toxins to discharge to the sewer system and cost potentially mean a large fine or closure by regulators. 

“Polished off”:
Re-plated frames are usually rust pitted and require careful and thorough polishing.  Lugs and braze-ons are mild steel, tubing is much harder, many platers lack the tools and experience to polish thoroughly without eroding the edges of these parts.   Improper polishing can even thin the tubing walls or distort the frame alignment, compromising frame integrity.

“Less is more”:
If one is plating a frame which will be painted except for head lugs and dropouts for example, there is no advantage to plating the entire frame.  It is easy to immerse the whole frame, but we minimize the plating on the frame by suspending it only partially immersed.  This reduces unnecessary weight and increases paint adhesion.  We have seen platers attempt to accomplish this by masking which creates a terrible ridge at the edge the mask that must be ground down prior to painting.  What were they thinking??

“Does not count if is does not stick”:
For optimum adhesion of the chrome to steel, tanks chemistry and electrical contacts must be precisely maintained.  I may be that adhesion acceptable for many applications is not sufficient for bicycles, where chrome sees severe abuse by quick releases.  Quite often, when working with other’s chrome, chrome will peel during the pre-paint blast or worse, when we remove the masking after paint!

It is not possible to re-chrome a portion of a frame such as lugs, leaving surrounding paint undisturbed.  Partial, or probably complete repainting will be necessary.

“Plating” as used on bicycles is the process of applying a layer of metal to the surface of another metal by means of electrochemical attraction in an immersion bath.  Chrome plating is only practical on steel bicycle parts. 

There are many steps to the process.  First, the part must be cleaned of all paint, grease or other coatings.  If the part has been plated before, the old plating must be removed.  This is done by immersing the part in a tank of acid and “de-plating” by reversing the current so that metal ions are drawn from the surface of the part to the cathode in the tank. This process leaves a dull etched surface.  Next, the part must be polished to a high sheen.  This is a tedious and labor-intensive process using powerful lathes and other tools specially adapted for frames.   Few people realize that the part must fully polished before the chrome is applied.  The part must then again be meticulously cleaned and then can be immersed in the first of several baths for plating.  Most of the actual plating is done with nickel. Chrome is then applied as a final coat.  We then bake parts to remove any “hydrogen embrittlement” which may have occurred in plating.  Next, masking tape is applied and precisely cut the areas to remain exposed.  We then protect the masking tape and abrasive blast the area to be painted, “frosting” the surface of the chrome to increase paint adhesion.  After painting, the making is removed and the edges trimmed precisely with a knife. 
The plating we do is called “decorative” chrome plating and always involves plating nickel before plating the chrome. The chrome plating in decorative chrome plating is exceptionally thin, measured in millionths of an inch rather than in thousandths. It is still a very hard surface, but simple 'anvil' type hardness measurements don't detect the hardness because the anvil just punches through such a thin coating.

When you look at a decorative chromium plated surface, most of what you are seeing is actually the nickel. The chrome adds a bluish cast (filtering the somewhat yellowish cast of the nickel), and it protects against tarnish, and minimizes scratching. But the point is, without the brilliant leveled nickel undercoating, you would not have a reflective, decorative surface.
Chrome plating is hardly a matter of dipping an article into a tank, it is a long involved process that often starts with tedious polishing and buffing, then cleaning and acid dipping, zincating, and copper plating. This may be followed by buffing of the copper, cleaning and acid dipping again, and plating in two or three different types of nickel plating solution, all before the chrome plating is done.
When an items needs "rechroming", understand what is really involved: stripping the chrome, stripping the nickel (and copper if applicable), then polishing out all of the pits and blemishes, then starting the whole process described above.

Old bike often have more Character and "soul" and are more likely handmade. 

Old bikes have the advantage of being proven in service under the rider the rider already know he will love the ride over the long term. 

Disappearing building techniques are often more durable. 

Steel frame are more repairable and adaptable than other materials and so can accept updated hub widths and braze-on configuration others cannot. 

An old bike gains resale value with age, new one loose value dramatically. 

Since custom finishing and modifications are available at CyclArt which are not available from most manufacturers, we can improve a bike. 

We stress relieve and perform more accurate alignments than most frames are built with.

Our finish quality is unsurpassed.  (Excuse my boasting!)

CyclArt has offered complete bicycle frame plating services since 1979.  Here are detailed answers to the most frequently asked questions about chroming:

CyclArt stocks thousands of hard to find parts, frames and vintage bicycles.  Although we have some balloon tire classics, our focus is on high quality lightweight bikes produced before 1984.  Check our "CyclMarket" parts inventory .  If you don't find your needs there register them with CyclSearch .

Select the most appropriate from each of the following three groups then add the number of each option together to get a recommendation. 

Is your bike:
1. Rare, with provenance and very high value
2. Rare & interesting with high value
3. Popular classic with good value 
4. Common with moderate value
5. Unpopular or low value

Consider it’s condition:
1. Near perfect original
2. Slightly blemished
3. Poor condition
4. Unsatisfactory refinish
5. Significant rust or damage

What is your intention?
1. Preservation 
2. Resale
3. Vintage show bike or museum display
4. Use with display or resale a possibility
5. Extend useful life of frame, authenticity not a concern
6. Upgrade or customize

Add your choices up.  Scores will fall from 3 to 16.  Find your number in the options below for a recommended option and cost range:

Score   Recommendation             Approximate cost

3 to 5    Preservation  services         $ 50 to $150
5 to 8    Touch-up                               $ 75 to $350
7 to12  Accurate Refinish                $200 to $1200
11 to16  Custom, Simple to Wild   $130 & up

A complete rebuild and restoration which is then artfully weathered and "patina-ed" to appear to be a very well cared-for original.  The extra labor in performing the "aging" of the newly refinished parts is often rewarded in the cost and time saved in procuring replacements for parts which could otherwise be cleaned and reused.  For example, original tires for a bike from the 1920's will look out of place if the rest of the bike is made to took new.  Replacement of those tires with new replicas of dubious accuracy would cost in excess of $300.  Replacement of authentic tires in like new condition may be impossible, or impossibly expensive.  Few of the other parts would be "impossible" to restore or replace to "new" condition.  We can rebuild the seat with correct stitching, leather and logos, we can re-nickel all the bright parts weld or machine damaged components and necessary and paint in a very high quality authentic style.

Typically, costs on such projects, either "better than new" pristine restoration or "CyclTique" old looking restoration, are about $1,500 for $2,500. Story Links

If you bike is of an age and type which are collectible or historically significant,  careful consideration should be given before doing anything to it.  Choices include; Preserving the bike as is, even if not functional, simply protecting it from further degradation. Refurbishing and proper parts replacement to retain or regain functionality. Restoring to like new condition. Lastly, if the bike will be ridden upgrading to more contemporary parts may be viable.  For a more detailed discussion of these options, see   Jim's Velo Rendezvous Presentation , or  "The 3 "Rs 'a story Jim Cunningham wrote on the subject. 

Refinish only when necessary, when rust takes hold, or in cases of frame damage and then, only when all decals can be accurately replaced.  On the other hand, if the bike is for casual riding and cost is a primary concern, a simpler refinish and mix of new and old components may suffice.  If the intent is to ride the bike hard, or to race, then extensive upgrades to contemporary components may be in order.  One consideration here is that compatibility with current stuff will help in allowing the occasional necessary interchangability with teammates or just in keeping a contemporary mechanic sane.

We don't generally restore bikes for resale ourselves, rather, we restore-to-order.  The market for vintage lightweights is too thin to restore on speculation. With balloon tire classics, there may be some cases where refinish for resale works out well because the market is larger prices are more established and there were less fewer size and color options.

Buyers are suspicious of refinishes and the damage or modifications it can hide.  Also, many collectors or nostalgia buyers are very specific in their desires; quite frustrating when the refinish is not the color the buyer had in mind!

If you are selling, better to keep old bikes in their original state.  Some buyers are only interested in original finishes no matter how bad they are.  If the buyer is not happy with the finish let him that complete accurate refinishing services are available from CyclArt. 

If the bike fits your body and purpose, if something about it stirs your soul, repainting and rebuilding can be very rewarding.

If balancing this project against a new bike consider:

A new bike looses one half it's purchase price between the dealer's door and the street.  Old bike values hold steady or increase with time.

What's "hot" this year is old news next year, which can be disappointing.  Interest in old bikes is growing.

Old frames have nostalgia and rarity going for them and in many cases a level of craftsmanship which is disappearing.

Until recently, most bicycles could last a lifetime given reasonable care and maintenance.  Contemporary bikes often have complex components for which replacement parts will not be available, are made of super light materials with limited life-span and no possibility of repair.

We see people every day refinishing their old frames after purchasing a new one because they prefer old frames ride. Most new frames are aluminum.  Any flexing causes fatigue in aluminum, and aluminum's failure mode is dangerous, so manufacturers have overbuilt to eliminate flex.  Modern rims and tires also contribute to a harsher ride. Oversized tubes have proven to be a popular selling feature, even when they have not been shown to improve the bikes "feel". You already know that you like the ride of your existing bike.  There is no guarantee that you will like the handling characteristics of a new one.

Typically we can do a "better than new" refinish on most top quality frames for less than half the new purchase price of a replacement.

If your frame is steel, you should know that steel is the most fatigue resistant, repairable and adaptable of frame materials.  Braze-on changes, hub space changes, even tube replacements after severe crashes are feasible.  It is not impossible for a good frame to last a lifetime.