When and when not to paint a bicycle will always be a subjective thing.  Put another way, it will always be the present owner of the bicycle who will be faced with and forced to make the decision.  Sometimes, the decision will all but make itself.  Other times the decision will proved to be a difficult one to make, and that, often times, leads to making the wrong decision.

Generally, if most of the paint is still present and the art is still viewable, the cosmetics should remain pretty much as is.  The 1973 Raleigh International pictured is a perfect example of paint/art that should remain untouched, save for a bit of paint touch up only.  Put another way, if there are few or no blemishes marring the cosmetics, leave them alone!  Even if you don't like them, leave them alone, ensuring only that exposed metal is protected against oxidation.

If a vintage road bicycle has already been repainted, all consideration of the situation becomes moot.  Paint the bicycle again, and again, and again.  There is no reason not to paint.  An absolutely collectible bicycle, a 1971 Masi Gran Criterium, found its way into The Old Shed one day, but there was no way of determining the bicycle's pedigree, simply because it had been painted.  Though a valuable bicycle, there way no way to prove it to be what it actually was, simply by looking at it.  Bicycles, such as the Masi all but demand a new coat of clothes.

From time to time, environmental damage will be severe, necessitating cosmetic repairs of some sort.  This made in France Rochet was severely oxidized.  All the touching up and TLC in the world will never bring the cosmetics back.  Only a complete repaint, with new art, will achieve any kind of acceptable results.  With that in mind, the decision to paint becomes an easy one to make.

On the other hand, this late sixties or early seventies Legnano could go either way.  The paint is badly faded, but mostly present.  The art is all there, sporting only minor blemishes.  Full paint is, most likely, out of the question since the art is still in more than presentable condition.  As mentioned, to paint or not to paint is always a matter of personal decision of the owner.  That said, one's fist impulse would be to paint the bike.

A similar situation prevails with a late sixties Legnano Gran Premio.  For the most part, the paint and art were both in reasonably good condition.  But the top tube paint was pooched, to say the least.  What had caused the paint to completely disappear is a bit of a mystery, but one can guess that rider's sweat was the culprit.  Salt laden sweat, left unchecked to dry, will accelerate paint deterioration, followed by rapid oxidation.  This situation must be repaired, otherwise it will worsen.  However, it is only one small part of the bicycle's cosmetic make-up that demands a repaint, not the entire bicycle.  But that badly damaged area must be addressed, to prevent further damage from the wrath of Mother Nature.

Rust is always an issue with steel frame and fork sets.  Simply put, you must get rid of the rust or be ready for the rust to rust away the bicycle, more and more, with the passing of time.  Rust, running rampant, necessitates a complete paint job as was the case with this late seventies Cambio Rino 2000.  However, and in all honesty, the decision to paint the Cambio Rino was a mistake.  Only the fork set had suffered enough damage to warrant a repaint.  It would have been much wiser to just color match and repaint the fork set, rather than the entire bicycle.  Sadly, with the wrong decision made, an original and rare road bicycle, became a non-original and rare road bicycle.  Value was lost and cash was spent to help loose that value.

Similarly, an early seventies Bottecchia Professional (or Giro d'Italia) also found shelter in The Old Shed, however, had it not been for the headbadge and careful study, the origins of that bicycle would also remain a mystery forever.  Virtually all art work had been lost, in the passing of time, leaving only some of the original color to wonder about.  To paint or not to paint that bicycle did present a time for consideration.  Considerable time, since once painted, the act could never be undone.

As mentioned, all of the Bottecchia's Giro d'Italia's defining art was gone.  The only way to replace the art would be to replace it.  Decals, be they original or store bought reproductions, are expensive and often times impossible to find, at the time of this writing.  With that in mind, even more consideration needs to be applied to the should or should not paint dilemma.

Care must be taken, when purchasing art for a vintage bicycle.  Just because the decal says Legnano, does not mean the decal is even remotely close, to what the original decal would have looked like.  Consider the examples of decals offered by one decal reproduction supplier.  Compare the reproductions, to the original art, and it becomes immediately apparent that selecting, or making, art can be a real problem.  And, that problem must be taken into consideration - every time, if accurate restoration is the target.  Or even if inaccurate, but close enough to it, is the goal.  It still costs the same.

In addition to the condition of the paint and art dressing up the frame set, other important issues come into play also.  If present, is the frame set's chrome plating in good condition?  Or, is it showing signs of surface rust, or worse yet, rust pitting?  Surface rust might well clean up nicely, however, pitting is impossible to remove or disguise.  So, the question becomes, will fresh paint/art look out of place next to rust pitted chrome?  Answer - yes it will!

There are two choices with pitted plating - cover it up with paint or replace the chrome plating.  Replace chrome plating is very expensive!  Suddenly, the thought of saving a couple of hundred bucks repainting a bicycle frame one's self becomes an exercise in stupidity, since the chrome plating will run into the hundreds.

Of course, if you paint and replace art, and even if the chrome plating is in good shape, what about the rest of the components?  Are they suitable for a nice shiny paint job?  Or is that saddle so environmentally and time challenged that it too will look miserably out of place.  The point is, the costs does not start and end with the paint.