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Blank canvas: what are the rules on custom paintjobs?

Frank Strack
5 Dec 2018

When you can have any colour and pattern you like, how do you choose the right paintjob? The Vemominati’s Frank Strack has some answers

This article first appeared in Issue 76 of Cyclist magazine

Dear Frank

I recently bought a road bike that’s everything I want in terms of fit and function, but I just don’t like how it looks. So I have decided to get it re-painted professionally. Trouble is, I can’t decide on a colour or design. Are there any Rules I need to follow about custom paintjobs?

Christine, Brighton


Dear Christine

I’ve spent my life not loving the way my bikes looked. My first road bike was a Raleigh with 27-inch wheels and long-reach centre-pull brakes. Bleurgh. To make matters worse, my dad put my baby seat on the top tube and destroyed the finish of the lovely bronze-glitter paintwork.

My next bike, the one I saved my pocket money for all summer long, was black with white splatter paint and hot-pink branding.

That scheme should make you stop and think for a moment – it was intentional. Ugly as it was, it was a great bike that served me well until I bought my beloved Bianchi XL EV2 in order to mimic Pantani’s style, except I’m more of a spinnaker with a gland problem than I am a lithe 50-something kilogram climber.

Then I established Velominati and began designing kit in black and white with highlights of orange in it, and none of my bikes matched my own kit whatsoever. Red and orange? Celeste and orange? In a word, ‘disaster’.

Custom paint designs were the only option and, as I write this, I gaze lovingly out at my stable of bikes (which I obviously keep in my office) and appreciate that each and every
one of my bikes has a different unique paint scheme in the Velominati colour palette of whites, blacks, greys and oranges.

There are no official Rules for custom paintjobs, but there are some guiding principles that can be gleaned from the aesthetic code laid out in them. A few spring to mind.

Rule #8: Saddles, bars and tyres shall be carefully matched. The thesis here centres around matching these elements in a dignified way.

Black is just like your favourite suit because it’s always classy and you can dress it up or you can dress it down. If you start to get crazy with bar tape or tyre colour, make sure you’re keeping the concept together and don’t involve too many colours.

Match the bars to the branding on the bike, or match the saddle to the main colour of the frame or the bar tape. That sort of stuff.

Rule #17 : Team kit is for members of the team. This one is a little less obviously related but the gist of it is that while you should never ride in a team kit you didn’t earn the right to ride in, if you must ride in such kit, it should at least match.

(I have to admit that I thought there were more Rules with respect to colour-coordination, but two points of data is enough.)

In essence, you want to have the bike and kit match one another, which can mean different things to different people. But there should be a deliberate design concept involved.

If the kits you wear are monochrome, you can add some excitement in the paintwork. If the kits are more flamboyant, keep the paint scheme simple.

Having done a number of frames at this point, I might also caution you that an elaborate paint design can cost as much as the frame itself, so try to keep it simple if you can.

From there, I would consider the paint scheme to be a bit like getting a tattoo: something that is meaningful to you, and that you will feel a connection to for as long as you expect to own the bike. (In the case of the tattoo, that would be your whole life.)

In other words, resist the temptation to celebrate Chris Froome's five Tour de France wins in paint on your top tube until you see the team roster for next year

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