Snapdragon: is this art?

This is about a project I undertook this year to repaint my bike. Don’t want the whole low down? Check out my photo album of this project!

It all started with my dislike for grey. Green-grey, silver-grey, insipid grey…


My trusty old Batavus

Oh, why did someone have to steal my beautiful purple and green Batavus?

My “new” bike is 6 years old. Actually older, considering I bought it second-hand back then.

When my first bike got stolen, I went to the nearest bike shop and bought on impulse an expensive second-hand Batavus. This is the stately grey bike that I still own.

Well okay, I upgraded from no gears and back pedal for braking, to an 8 gear, front and rear brakes model.

2018 – 2019

Upgrade or not, color has always mattered to me – be it toothbrush or bike or car or couch…

I have been harboring dreams of a bright colored bike… started out as a harmless “Oh, i wish…”, and over time, by sheer persistence, the thought took hold of me until I couldn’t really ignore it.

And so, what does a software engineer do when they want a brightly colored bike? A deep dive into options and comparison matrices.

My research + soul searching (okay, I admit soul searching is not the most known hobby of the typical software engineer) led to the following conclusions:

  • Only kids’ bikes come in bright colors
  • I don’t quite warm up to the ice-blues and other “colored” bikes out there
  • If the bike is red, it has only 3 gears (my current bike has 8, don’t want to downgrade to 3!)
  • Nowadays there is more excitement and variety in electric bikes than “normal” city bikes
  • Although Sparta, Giant, Gazelle, Trek are all great brands, I really, really want a Batavus.
  • A regular bike servicing shop looks at you like you are crazy if you ask them to paint your bike. They are willing to disassemble it though for a price, and will hand you your bike in a bag.
  • Found a car body-works shop online, which claims to also paint bikes. Upon emailing them, they came back with a quote of roughly € 800 to paint my bike to the specs I wanted. Hmm, rather steep…
  • It is possible to buy nice bright colored spray paint for metal.
  • Having watched some youtube videos on how to spray paint, tips and tricks for outdoor painting etc. I figured, “Sure, I can do that!”

Sep 2019

Ah well. It was not an easy decision – definitely far out of my comfort-zone to disassemble or put together a bike. But with B promising to do all the heavy lifting of disassembly and re-assembly, and promising to be there every step of the way, I decided to paint my bike the colors I wanted.

Time to decision: 1.5 years.

I decided also that if I was going to paint it myself, it’s not ambitious enough to paint one single color. I wanted 2 colors, one fading into another. B, slightly horrified, tried to steer me to a clean cut between the colors to avoid making a mud-colored mess. I acknowledged the potential problem, but was not willing to give up before trying out what I had in mind.

First exciting thing to do was to pick colors. B knew a good specialist paint store where they are very knowledgeable about paint, techniques, materials, etc. We went there first to just browse colors. I found that I couldn’t just pick just two colors! So I brought home some 12 swatches of colors, from which I hoped to choose one pair.

Flexa 100% Framboos (A8), and puur sorbet (H7)

In the end, the choice came quite easily: I showed the color combinations to Ad, and she decisively pointed to a deep magenta-pink + yellow. That was it. When it was pointed out, it fully fell in place for me as the right colors.

We made a few round trips to the paint shop for this project. First step accomplished, I proudly brought home 2 cans of magenta and 2 cans of yellow, and a white primer (base paint).

I could barely hold in my excitement of seeing the colors sprayed on! But B warned me that before the colors came there were many steps. Okay, okay… I’ll try to be patient.

7th Sep, 2019

One sunny weekend in the beginning of September, we started disassembling the bike. I say “we” in the sense of B doing the work, and I hovering and making many photos – both when it was needed to keep track of how some parts fitted together, and just for fun.

There were some hiccups during the disassembly: a special tool was needed to pull the cranks (pedals) out of the central axle. Though it felt quite uncertain whether we could do this at home, that Saturday we did some quick research online, found a bike shop in the city which had a tool that could potentially do the job. We went and bought the tool, and while at it, also some replacement parts: brake wires and gear lines.

I learnt more about how a bike is put together than I ever wanted to know!

At the end of the day, the bike was fully taken apart and B stood victorious, holding aloft the frame!

Next day, we had to find a solution to mount the frame somehow where it was free hanging, yet not swinging around or moving too much. B came up with an ingenious solution for this: a copper pole whose diameter perfectly fitted into the handlebar slot of the frame. Stick the copper pole into the edge of the garden quite deep, about a meter into the ground, so that it doesn’t tip over with the weight of the frame. Attach metal clamps at a convenient height to stop the frame from slipping all the way down. The frame is all set!

It was time to sand it down to the bare metal. Well at least all the old decals, and scuffs and dents to be rubbed out with sanding paper. B has a sanding machine that operated electrically. It looks like a mini-iron-box, where you attach sandpaper to the base, and run it over any surface to be sanded. It works best on flat surfaces. The bike frame is definitely not – but we made it work, because the alternate of fully manual sanding was too tedious.

Over that day the sanding was done.

14th Sep, 2019

Finally we were ready for the first base coat! I was beside myself with the excitement! But not yet, said B :-/ grr… there were more preps. Preps, preps. Never-ending preps!

Typical sequence was like this:

Prep seq 1: Clean with soap, rinse with water, dry;


Repeat prep seq 1 after sanding;


Repeat the above steps for each layer of paint, with varying coarseness of sandpaper.

The spray cans came with instructions about warming them up by immersing in hot water, then after, shaking the cans for 3 mins. B takes these kinds of instructions very seriously. The sound of a plastic ball rattling in a spray paint can as you shake it, is one of those zen things I discovered: it causes me to take deep breaths and go into forced patience-mode.

We had bought some one-use, one-size-fits-all “overalls”. I am pleased to say, I out-smarted the overalls by using them multiple times for this project! One of the few cost optimizations we managed to do 😀 I didn’t have protective glasses, but compensated with gangster sunglasses. Suited up in the ridiculous overalls, wearing a mask over our mouths, we were finally ready.

Masking of parts where paint must not go: serious business, and art in its own right. We had to do this multiple times during this project, because it is not okay to leave masking tape on for several weeks – it makes the sticky residue difficult to take off later on. So after each round we had to remove and redo the masking tape over and over. There was also creative use of ear-buds in parts where there were screw threads and paint must not fill the threads.

I made a rough drawing of the frame, and pierced the screws on the right points in the paper – to remember where what goes when assembling it back!

Base coat first, 12 hrs of drying. Weather co-operated, no rain overnight, we left the frame hanging outside.

Sunday 15th Sep: The actual day of painting the colors! The day I had been waiting for!!

After enduring another round of prep steps, I was finally allowed to touch the color cans. I tried the two colors fading/merging effect on a bar of wood: it looked good, we were both happy with the effect.

Our strategy was for each of us to start with each of the two colors: I picked the magenta, B the yellow. I painted from the back of the frame, he painted from the mid-section, from approximately where the colors needed to blend. There was a bit of wind blowing the spray around, but it didn’t do serious harm. The plants nearby were collateral damage: they turned bright yellow and magenta by the end of the project! I finished in the mid-section, carefully making the fade effect, to my utmost satisfaction.

Now, we figured, all we had to do was wait for it to dry, and we’re almost done! How wrong we were… that sunny afternoon, we didn’t think too much of the rain that was forecast for the night. B worried about it, but I was too naive/ignorant to worry much.

Sure enough, it drizzled that night. Anxiously checking the frame in the morning, I didn’t see any sign of damage, and I left for work. But it rained lightly throughout the day – the new paint couldn’t withstand the incessant pressure of raindrops. It started wrinkling and creasing :-/

Consequences of the wrinkles:
1) the frame had to be sanded and repainted – rework to what degree, was not initially clear
2) more paint had to be bought
3) had to have a way of moving the painted frame indoors: it was already end September, and the weather was not getting any better anytime soon.

We arrived at a solution involving a garden umbrella foot – a heavy disc with a slot for putting a pole through. Beginning of autumn, it was lucky that we actually found a garden umbrella foot in the store! The same copper pole solution worked for the umbrella foot as well. And the frame could be hung on it without toppling the foot over! yes! We had a workable solution now to repaint without being at the mercy of the weather!

Meanwhile life happened: we lost a few weeks in some busy travelling weekends, and other stuff.

5th Oct 2019

The above disruption set us back with a cascading effect… but with the umbrella foot, we were back on track by mid Oct. The rework was not too bad except for having to buy double the amount of paint. We still painted outdoors, hanging the frame on the pole stuck in the umbrella foot. After painting, we took the pole off along with the frame, brought the umbrella foot indoors (Ak and I carried it in while B stood holding the pole and frame aloft like Atlas!), then remounted the pole + frame onto the foot. Now it could dry in peace! Phew!

Oct, Nov 2019

Next it was time to design some custom stickers – first design on paper, cut out and placed on the frame to check for size. Ordered the Batavus decals + custom stickers online.

B had read up about a special clear coat spray that was made out of 2 components, which were in the can separated from each other. You had to push a pin at the bottom of the can, to let the 2 components mix. Once they mixed, the paint would start hardening, and the can had to be used within 48 hrs. This meant it was important to plan the clear-coat of all the bike parts within a 48 hr time-frame, to avoid wasting opened spray cans of clear coat.

Another problem of this wonder clear coat, was that it could damage or make the paint under it peel off! The clear coat was some toxic chemical based, and when it was applied on top of a solvent-based paint, there were no guarantees about how they might interact with each other. It was recommended that we wait for 6 weeks for the solvent-based paint to dry completely, to minimize the risk of damage. We decided to use this high-maintenance clear-coat in spite of these uncertainties, because it would harden and protect the paint, making it more durable.

We had for the moment ignored the parts of the bike other than the frame. It was time to deal with those. It was best to replace the old mudguards as they were anyway a mismatched set (one plastic original, and the other a metal one, replaced some years ago.)

Meanwhile, we prepped and painted all the other plastic and metal bits of the chain guard and mud guards. Another ingenious invention was a metal frame with shelf hooks, screwed onto two plywood bases to be able to hang all the plastic parts to dry! A proud handyman moment.

By now it is December; can’t do the clear coat painting outside – it’s too cold and rainy. Operation bike painting moves to the garage. Indoor painting of a hazardous spray paint comes with its own challenges: enter haz-masks which make us look like those cartoons in Monsters Inc hazmat suits.

After a couple more minor setbacks which only delayed us by another week, we finally reached the stage of sticking on the decals right before the final clear-coat.

B was unhappy with my seemingly haphazard way of spraying. Some call it haphazard, others call it creative 😀 Anyway, after driving each other up the wall, we arrived at a pretty good working strategy: he was allowed to watch like a hawk and point out the parts I had missed, and I would quietly do it.

Boy does the clear-coat stink up the whole house! When it sticks to the soles of your shoes, it hardens there, making the soles smooth and friction-less that you could use them for ice-skating after that!

The good thing of this last coat is that it drys real quick: within 6 hrs. So we could start putting the bike back together soon.

The bike came back to life in the following steps:

1) the innermost part of chain guard plastic cover that fits against the axle on the right

2) the lock can go on next

3) the carrier goes on next

4) rear wheel

5) rear mudguard

6) kick-stand

7) fore- mudguard (caused a lot of anxiety before we took the plunge and forced its support prongs in place…)

My poor invalid bike… resting on its elbows before it got its fore-wheel

8) fore-wheel

9) handlebar

10) saddle

now it’s beginning to look more like a real bike.. without ability to pedal… maybe more a Flintstones bike 😀

11) the cranks (pedals) go on… this was thought to be tricky but in the end was quite straight forward

It’s mostly in place!

Now let’s turn it belly up to get other critical functional bits in…

12) front brake wire

13) rear brake wire

14) gear line

15) chain gets cut to size and fitted on

16) rest of chain guard bits go on; here I discover that one transparent plastic part is broken. Luckily it’s a clean break and can still be fitted in place.

Dec 21st, 2019

… and it’s road-worthy again! My shiny new magenta-and-yellow Batavus!

Its colors inspired by nature, I hereby name it Snapdragon. (ref: flowers in the antirrhinum family)

Link to photo journal:

The kids: they are horrified by the brightness of it. 


Ak especially – he said after looking at the end product, “you do realize after this, that i can never be seen biking with you, right?
Ad – even though she picked the colors, she was shocked when the frame was first painted. Also because grey is the new cool among kids her age nowadays. Goth rats! 

Elapsed time of execution: 4 months.

Person-hours spent: ~100 hrs.

Cost: Let’s just say the body-works quote was not way off!

Fun factor: 7 on a scale of 1 – 10

Satisfaction of doing-it-yourself (DIY): 100%

Now, was it art?

This project was about 70% prep-work, technical and mechanical details. But the remaining 30% was indeed art – creation, innovation, and aesthetic art.

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