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Just bought a 1996? Bonnie. I live down in South America and labor charges are pretty cheap here. Going to cost me about $50.00 to do a professional paint job.

How many coats would one recommend? And a clear coat on top?

What is the best way to attack this? Thanks for any advice.

I was thinking to use same quality paint and process they use on cars down here....I think the clearcoat is a type of varnish? Any thoughts?
 

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Bontragers originally came with a "powder coat" finish. You may look to see if you can find someone to do a similar finish. It's generally less expensive, and more durable, than using a wet paint.
 

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A base coat, clear coat paint job such as Du Pont calls for relatively expensive components but if a shop does it for you cheaply that's great. The color coat would be a synthetic lacquer which is pretty soft by itself and not a finish, the clear coat is a poly urethane and is the durable component. The color coat is easily manipulated and repaired and dries so fast you can touch it up within minutes - allowing for stencilling, etc. in 'real time'. The clear coat is usually 2 coats, first a dry coat followed in a few minutes by the second slightly wetter coat. With so many tube junctions it gets tricky. The color coat uses as much as needed to get the look you're after. Since it's a 'lacquer type' that could be several light coats or more.
Bike people like powder coat because it's a no brainer and stands up to abuse, there are a lot of choices with powder as well.
 
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