Motorcycles are fun vehicles to have not only because they’re fun to ride, but they’re somewhat simple to work on and customize. I have restored 12 plus motorcycles and have had my fair share of customizing experience.
If you’re planning on restoring, customizing, or simply touching up your motorcycle, you may find yourself wondering about your frame and how to make it look better. A question I often hear is if powder coating the frame is better or is painting better.
Because I’ve restored so many motorcycles, I’ve been able to get a good idea about how powder coating vs. painting a frame works. I’m not going to tell you what you should do on your motorcycle frame, but I will tell you the pros and cons of each and you can decide from there what is the best choice for you.
Powder Coating Pros
First, I’ll start off with talking about the benefits and pros of powder coating a motorcycle frame. When a frame is powder coated, there is a powder like substance that is sprayed all over the frame (hence the name). The process almost looks like a hairdryer blowing out powder.
When a motorcycle frame is powder coated, it needs to be completely stripped down to the frame. This means the engine, seat, tank, wiring harness, and even every nut and bolt needs to be removed from the frame. This has to be done since the frame will be going in to a large oven that would otherwise ruin other parts.
The nice thing about this is the job is usually done extremely thoroughly. You’ll never have to worry about coming across a spot that was missed because a part was in the way. You’ll know 100% of the frame is covered and covered well with powder coating.
Another great thing about powder coating a motorcycle frame is the fact that it lasts much longer than any other method of painting. The sun as well as all the other elements can have a huge affect on paint jobs, even a paint job on a motorcycle frame. The sun and it’s UV rays can lighten up the paint, essentially sun bleaching it, which can leave you with light spots and a discolored frame.
Powder coating prevents that from happening. Powder coating generally stays one color it’s whole life no matter how long you have it in the sun, rain, or snow. As long as you take good care of the bike, 10 years later the powder coat will look as if you just picked it up from the shop.
Powder coating is also much more durable than any other paint job you would have done. The chemical reaction the powder has as it cures in the oven after application ensures a thick and durable covering to the frame. Powder coating is often used for machinery that moves around a lot but it still maintains itself.
This also means that powder coating is much less susceptible to chips if the job is done right. A regular paint job can easily get a chip from a rock flicked from the road or a tip of the motorcycle. Powder coating does a much better job at protecting against stuff like this.
Powder Coating Cons
Despite the awesome outcomes you’ll have with powder coating your motorcycle, there are a few down sides to it as well. The first con I’ll mention is that powder coating is not a “do it yourself” project you can simply do in your garage on a Saturday afternoon.
While it is possible to get a powder coating kit and equipment to do the job yourself, the results will often yield much less thorough and crisp than it would taking it in to a professional and having it done. Plus you’ll need a big enough oven to put the frame in to cure the powder which is something most people don’t have laying around. You’ll need to take it in to a professional and have it done.
Powder coating the frame is also more expensive than painting. Prices will vary depending on where you live and what needs to be done to the frame, but to powder coat a motorcycle frame usually starts at around $150. this usually doesn’t include any prep work done to it and does not include disassembly of your motorcycle.
If you want prep work done, your price will be more around $200 – $250. If you want the shop to disassemble the motorcycle and reassemble for you (if they’ll even do that), that’ll be at least another $200 – $300. Painting the motorcycle frame yourself will cost no more than about $50 or $60 for everything.
It also takes a lot more time to powder coat a motorcycle frame compared to painting it yourself. When you’re powder coating a motorcycle frame, that most likely means you’re taking it in to a shop to have it done. You have to abide by their schedule and make an appointment. It also takes several hours for them to get the job done and let it cure in the oven.
When I talk about painting a motorcycle frame, I mean painting it yourself and not taking it in to get it professionally done. There are a lot of benefits to painting a motorcycle frame yourself, one of which includes how simple of a project it can be.
Some people prefer to still take everything off their motorcycle and strip it down to the frame to paint it. While that is perfectly fine, it is still possible to paint a frame without removing some of the large stuff, such as the engine (click here to see our article about how to paint a motorcycle frame without removing then engine). This can still yield great results and is much less work on your part. This is also something you can do in the comfort of your own garage on a Saturday afternoon.
Whether you decide to powder coat your motorcycle frame or paint it yourself, both ways require some prep work. Prep work is important because that is what determines the life of the paint or powder coat on the frame. If prep work is done right, your paint job on the frame can look just as good as powder coat minus the time and the cost.
Speaking of cost, the amount of money it takes to paint a motorcycle frame yourself is less expensive than powder coating. I have painted a lot of motorcycle frames in the last few years and the cost to do so was never more than $50-$60.
That includes sand paper, de-greaser, and the paint. Some may find it worth saving the money if they know they can do a good job that has the same results as powder coating.
As I mentioned before, each method of coating a motorcycle frame requires prep work. When a frame is powder coated, people will often pay the shop to prep the metal since they have the right equipment to do it. When you paint a frame yourself, you’ll have to do the prep work yourself and you have to be thorough about it. This is something you should not skimp on or else your paint job will look sloppy.
I’ve made the mistake of doing prep work too quickly only to find that the paint started chipping soon after I painted the motorcycle frame. Bad prep leaves dirt and grease on the frame which paint does not adhere to.
Compared to powder coat, paint tends to scratch off a lot easier. If a tool slips or you accidentally tip your motorcycle, you’ll most likely end up with some scratches or chips that you’ll have to spot treat with new paint.
Paint isn’t as durable as powder coat, so the harsh outside elements may affect the paint job which can also lead to chips and paint flaking off.
Painting a motorcycle frame yourself also risks the chance of getting over spray on other parts that were not intended to get painted. Doing things yourself is a great way to go, but because you may not have as much experience in doing something like this, you may not always know every spot you need to tape off to prevent over spray.
I have accidentally gotten over spray on the engine before. Most motorcycle engines are made of cast iron and aluminum; if paint gets on materials like this, it’s almost impossible to get the paint off of it.
Whether or not you’re planning on restoring or rebuilding other parts of your motorcycle, you may be interested in an entire video series I’ve created about restoring a motorcycle from start to finish. Included in this video series are restoration tips and tricks you won’t find anywhere else as well as tutorials on hard to tackle components such as carb rebuilds, body work, and electrical. Click here if you’re interested in restoring or building your dream motorcycle!
What are some motorcycle restoration tips? Some tips I always abide by when restoring a motorcycle is taking a lot of pictures, labeling wires and parts, put small parts in labeled plastic bags, budget time and money, having the right tools handy, and joining forums. Click here to see my article for more info.
Can you powder coat motorcycle wheels? You can powder coat motorcycle wheels unless they are made out of aluminum. Powder coating aluminum wheels changes the chemistry of the aluminum when it’s placed in the oven. This chemistry change can cause catastrophic problems when going higher speeds. For more information, click here to see my article that discusses this further.