How to Paint Motorcycle Parts for Restoration

Male motorcycle mechanic wiping motorcycle in workshop
Caiaimage/Rafal Rodzoch / Getty Images

During a motorcycle restoration, the owner will be faced with many challenges. One of these challenges will concern the surface finish of an item, or to be more precise: whether or not to have an item painted, plated or powder coated. The decision will generally come down to the cost or the likely reliability of the component. For example, an owner may well decide to have a frame powder coated in preference to painting. However, if cost is a major consideration, owners may decide to paint the frame themselves.

On some of the older bikes, the owner will find many different mounting brackets. Brackets to mount batteries, horns, seats, etc. are typical and, during a restoration, the total costs can be kept down by the owner painting small items him or herself.

All of the major auto stores carry a large range of spray paints available in pressurized cans. The type of paints available at these types of outlets is somewhat limited, but acceptable for small parts such as brackets.

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It has been said many times by professional painters that preparation is the key to a good finish, but it is worth repeating here, as the amount of work necessary to apply the final paint finish is negligible compared to the preparation required. As with most work on classic bikes, cleaning is the first part of the job (once an item has been removed from the bike). However, the less experienced mechanic is well advised to photograph any disassembly required—especially if a shop manual is not available.

At all times during the preparation phase of spraying a component, the mechanic should wear latex gloves. Besides protecting the mechanic’s hands, latex gloves also protect the part from natural greases and oils found human skin which will cause problems when applying the paints.

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Cleaning of the component should firstly be done in a degreasing tank (if available) followed by drying with an air line before spraying (or wiping using a paper towel) with a chemical such as brake cleaner, which will not leave a greasy residue.

Components that have old paint or rust on them should be grit blasted at this point if a suitable machine is available; alternatively, the mechanic must wire brush the items and/or, sand them with wet/dry paper. If the component has bearings or other items that must be protected from the grit, it will be essential to completely seal the area with aluminum foil tape. Certain components should be blasted with baking soda, which is less aggressive and can be washed off with water. After blasting, the component should again be cleaned and degreased.

At this point, the mechanic may find an item needs to have a small indentation filled with Bondo™, but before applying the filler material the area should be sprayed with a primer such as an etching primer. However, some restorers prefer to have the components powder coated at this stage to completely seal them before applying any filler material. Items such as steel fenders fall into this category.

After adding fillers and sanding the area flat, the mechanic must repaint the area with etching primer. Before the top coat of paint can be applied, the component may need to be sanded with a very fine wet/dry paper such as a 1200 grade grit paper. (Note: The mechanic must exercise great caution when sanding at this point so as not to expose any bare metal.)

The final phase of painting a component is to apply the top coat. However, it is very important to follow some basic rules of spray painting and if the mechanic is not experienced with spray painting (even from an aerosol can) he should practice on some scrap material of a similar composition as the component he intends to paint.

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Basic Spray Painting Rules

1. Wear Safety Equipment

Many of the paints used on motorcycles have toxic elements that can be dangerous to the respiratory system. Therefore, masks designed for spray painting must be used. Also, as mentioned in the text, latex gloves should be worn at all times during the painting procedure.

2. Overspray

Spray paint will stick to the component as directed by the painter; however, a certain amount will miss it and land on nearby objects. The nearer these objects are to the spray as it leaves the spray nozzle will also be painted, items further away will gain a dust-like appearance which can be very hard to clean off—typically requiring solvents to accomplish.

3. Prime Bare Metal

All components must be sprayed with a primer first before any finishing coat. Etching primers are best for any metallic components.

4. Temperature and Humidity

The environmental conditions in which a component is sprayed will have a significant effect on the final finish. Ideally, the area should be dust free, heated to the paint maker’s recommendations and the humidity should be relatively low.

5. Allow for Drying Time

Although a recently sprayed item may be touch-dry, the mechanic must resist the temptation to handle it until it is completely dry—even the pressure required to lift an item can penetrate new paint and leave a fingerprint.