Undeniably a newly resprayed or powder coated steel bike frame can look great, just last week I was practically salivating over a vintage Carlton Professional that had been freshly repainted in Milano silver. However once the original surface has gone, it's gone forever. Here are five reasons for the paint to stay original.
1, Patina. This latin word has become a bit more of a buzzword recently, particularly since the enjoyable show Salvage Hunters hit the airwaves. When it comes to bikes, over the years even the toughest paint will change in appearance through oxidisation and exposure to the elements. Various scratches and scrapes will gradually remove areas of paint and leave the bare metal exposed. The unprotected areas will quite quickly start to corrode. Sometimes rust can form within and on the paint itself. But as long as the rust is only on the surface and hasn't eaten into the tubing, it will offer significant visual appeal to more people than you might realise.
2, Identification. Even back in the 1940's and 50's some frame colours would be changed annually to mark the introduction of a new years model. The manufacturers today still find it helpful for cataloging and bike dating. Many enthusiasts can tell exactly how old a bike is just by a quick glance at the colour scheme. Aside from examining the components, the other way to date a frame is usually through the frame number. This can be stamped under the bottom bracket shell, or on the seat tube or on a drop out. The frame numbers are often hard to read, after a shot blast and respray it will be a lot harder.
3, Anti theft. I know a few commuting riders that maintain their bikes meticulously, but deliberately won't remove rust from their steel frames to make their bikes look less appealing. Your common or garden thief is after something they can sell on quickly, and they will almost always gravitate towards the most expensive or newest looking bike.
4, Provenance. A frame with original paint is likely to have battle scars, and it's those signs of age that tell it's story. The story isn't just in the paint, the original decals will usually tell you exactly what model a bike is. Even if the decals are damaged and have bits missing the outline often leaves a permanent mark on the paint which can be invaluable when identifying a bike. Shining a bright torch on the frame makes it easier to spot the outlines. Vintage steel frames sometimes have a dealer sticker somewhere which helps to prove the provenance of a bike. It also tells you exactly where in the country that particular bicycle started it's journey. A lot of bike shops kept records of the frame numbers they sold. Sadly a fair few of the shops that were around in the 70's and 80's no longer exist, but an original finish with stickers is more likely to add to the appeal and keep the vintage look.
5, Resale value. A frame with original paint will generally fetch a higher price than a resprayed one. If it's in very bad condition then a fresh coating may make it look more attractive to potential buyer, but unless it's a very rare or high end frame it's unlikely to recoup anything like the cost of the respray. In the pictures below, a quick non scientific study shows the auction on the right was for a Freddie Grubb frame that had been recoated, that one sold for considerably less than the one on left that still had it's original paint.
Hopefully that will be enough to convince you to put that spray can down. In the near future we will look in detail at how to properly clean a vintage frame, and give it a light restoration without ruining the vintage look.
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