If you are interested in vinyl wrapping your bicycle, there may be a few concerns you have. The main concern, however, would be whether you can actually vinyl wrap a bicycle.
Can your vinyl wrap a bicycle? Yes, a bike can be vinyl wrapped, but if you are going to do it yourself, you need a lot of time, a lot of patience and the proper materials (and possibly a YouTube video to walk you through it).
Vinyl wrapping a bicycle is an interesting concept. At first, I was confused by the idea of vinyl wrapping a bike. I know that automobiles, with their bigger overall area and flatter spaces, get vinyl-wrapped all the time by marketing companies and businesses promoting their goods.
But why wrap a bicycle with an intricate frame and small curves?
Why Would You Vinyl Wrap a Bicycle?
There are actually several reasons you would choose to vinyl wrap your bike:
The price of bicycles, especially quality-made custom bikes, keeps getting higher, and riders are concerned about protecting their investment. Vinyl wraps for frame protection offer a way to put somewhat of an invisible armor on your bicycle.
These clear protective wraps are designed to provide protection from stone chips, scrapes, chain slap, cable and boot rub.
Many companies that manufacture protective vinyl wraps offer custom-shaped pieces that are bike-specific, or you can purchase larger sheets for a general DIY project.
Vinyl wrapping you bicycle offers you the chance to personalize your bike, turn it into a piece of art and let it stand out in the crowd. There are reasons why you would want to customize your bike:
- You race bikes and want to change your frame to match your team’s color.
- The factory paint on your bike is old, drab or boring, so you want to update it.
- You want to make a statement with patterns and bold designs.
Bicycle safety is at the top of the list of concerns for most riders. Vinyl wraps are offered that will make your bike highly reflective from any angle. Because biking can be dangerous, especially at night or in city traffic, reflective wraps can help you feel much safer.
Retroreflective materials in vinyl wraps contain tiny glass beads suspended on their surface that reflect light back to the source. It will appear as a solid color but will shine bright white when something like a car headlight shines on it.
How Do You Vinyl Wrap a Bicycle?
When you decide to take on the project of vinyl wrapping your bicycle, keep in mind that you will need to allow for time and patience to be on your side. Vinyl wrapping isn’t for the faint of heart or those with quick tempers.
Done right, it can almost be a cathartic process, and once it is complete, you will not only have a new, custom bike frame, but also an immense feeling of accomplishment.
Below is a limited, step-by-step guide to vinyl wrapping your bike. Every frame is unique, and you may find that something along the way will work entirely differently for you. Many resources/videos on the internet can also help walk you through the process.
You will need to make sure you have on hand:
- Sponges and soapy water
- Rubbing alcohol or disinfectant wipes
- Lint-free paper towels/other towels
- General bike tools to disassemble a bicycle
- Cloth measuring tape
- Exacto/utility knife
- Straight Edge
- Squeegee tool
- A heat gun or hair dryer
- Vinyl wrap of choice
It’s much easier to work with your bike if it is mostly disassembled – wheels off and any additional attachments removed – making sure to save any screws you remove. If the bike is dirty, and most likely it will be, the grime will keep the vinyl from sticking.
Remove any stickers or decals first with rubbing alcohol or alcohol wipes. Then scrub your bike with soapy water (a mild, degreasing dish soap) and a sponge. It would be best if you also washed your bicycle chain while you’re at it.
It’s not necessary for the project, but a bike chain can quickly spread oil and grease over everything. Plus, cleaning your bike chain is just good bicycle maintenance, so why not do it.
When estimating how much overall material you will need, make sure to allow for excess. You will need enough vinyl to exceed the edges, so you have something to hold on to as you work the material down to the surface you are applying.
As a rule of thumb, add at least three inches in all directions. By having excess vinyl, you will ensure that there is enough for coverage and any extra for possible mistakes.
When figuring out how much you may need overall, you can take some basic measurements to help. Simply measure the height and length of the surface to be covered, allowing for three inches for excess. Once you have a rough estimate, multiply the two numbers together to determine square feet. On average, a bicycle will need 40 square feet.
Taking your time and measuring accurately is very important when putting on vinyl wraps. It is useful to have a cloth measuring tape for flexibility in measuring.
Vinyl may not wrap well across and around larger curves, so if you have a bicycle with a lot of serious bends, plan on using more, smaller sections instead of one large piece. It is better to have two or three well-applied sections with seams as opposed to one continuous piece with ripples and wrinkles.
Once you have the measurements for your particular bike, you will need to plan out how you’re going to cut each piece. By careful planning, you can try to waste as little vinyl as possible. If you ever did any sewing, it’s like laying out patterns on fabric, or fitting puzzle pieces together.
Working with the size of vinyl you have, do all your work with the “right” or patterned side facing down. You can make any marks you want on the backing without ruining the outside, and it will be easier to cut.
Another tip would be to number and clearly label each piece that you cut, as you may end up with a number of them that are similar. This works to avoid any confusion.
When measuring and cutting, try to follow these guidelines:
- Measure at least twice. In fact, you can measure as many times as you want, but you will only cut once – so make sure it’s right.
- Measure one section or piece at a time and then cut. Then move on to another section, and measure and cut. Doing all the measurements first and then all the cutting next can leave you with inaccurate pieces.
- Make sure to press firmly with your straight-edge, holding the vinyl in place. Keep your knife steady while cutting.
This is where the magic happens (and the frustration)! With all your pieces cut and ready to go, you can start applying the vinyl to your bike frame. It really doesn’t matter what order you go in or where you start, but it might be best to start with the bigger, straighter areas to get the hang of it.
Do a final wipe-down of each area with a clean, dry cloth before beginning. Go slow and take your time. Apply each piece from one end to the other, pressing firmly. When you run into bubbles, creases or wrinkles, pull away from the vinyl and try reapplying even slower. Using a small squeegee tool can help during this part, as well.
A heat gun or hair dryer will also help to smooth out the wrinkles and sort of “shrinkwrap” the vinyl to your bike. A key to remember is not to pull too much on, or stretch out, the vinyl as you wrap it because it will cause more distortions in the pattern and more potential for wrinkles in the vinyl. Also, when applying the vinyl, make sure not to touch the adhesive as it may contaminate it and not adhere properly.
Going around curves will be tough, and it may require that you make small “incisions” with a utility knife to get the vinyl to fold and lay properly. Remember, as well, that many backs have numerous screw holes and other features that will make it impossible for the vinyl to lay flat.
You can either wrap right over them, doing your best to flatten out the vinyl, or you can make tiny cuts, and adhere the vinyl around the area.
Most engineer-grade vinyl, like 3M brand, is rated for 7 years, but that doesn’t include use as a bicycle covering. So, there is no real estimate as to how long your wrap will last.
The only thing left to do is take your new, beautifully vinyl-wrapped bike out with some friends – making them jealous, of course. And, if you have any vinyl leftover, try wrapping your helmet, your shoes, a bag, or anything else to match you uniquely wrapped bicycle.
Final Notes on Vinyl Wrapping a Bike
- Cleaning – Unlike paint, vinyl has great scratch resistance and continues to show luster and depth without the need for waxing. A damp cloth will easily get most dirt and dust off your bike. Grease can be removed with a natural de-greaser.
- Warranty – As there is nothing abrasive or seriously altering being done to your frame, a vinyl wrap should not alter or void your manufacturer’s warranty. The vinyl, in fact, will provide impact protection from stones and other road debris.
- Scratched Vinyl – If you dropped your bike and scratched or ripped the vinyl, don’t worry. Simply cut out the offending piece with a sharp blade, clean the surface with rubbing alcohol and let dry. Cut a replacement piece to a size bigger than the damaged area. Apply vinyl, heat with a heat gun or hairdryer and press around edges to adhere.
- Removing Vinyl – If you want to take off your vinyl wrap to sell it or change designs, it’s easy to remove – sort of. Just as when putting it on, you will need a lot of time, patience, elbow grease, and a heat gun. Find an edge and work by heating the vinyl (the hotter the better), pulling off as you go. Once you have removed the wrap, use rubbing alcohol to remove any adhesive. Wipe down your bicycle and it will be back to its original manufacture-grade paint job.