It's been another big week at Flit. Our latest prototypes have been finished and shipped. We're expecting them to arrive in Cambridge any day now. While we wait for the prototypes to arrive we thought we'd give you an update on something that we've spent quite a bit of time thinking about over the past couple of months: frame colours and paint finishes.
A World of Colours
Picking a colour palette for any project is pretty intimidating. The choices are mind boggling, so it helps to have a clear idea of what you want so that you can narrow down the list.
After 3 years of developing this folding ebike know exactly how we want it to look and feel. We've designed it to help people get around their cities and communities quickly and easily, so it was important to us that the finish be simple and clean. As a team who primarily cycle everywhere in Cambridge, knowing that it's the fastest and friendliest way to get around our winding medieval city streets, we also wanted to pick colours that would give people a sense of pride in their ebike and let them express a bit of personality.
The Final Choices
After pouring over colour samples from the paint factory that we have partnered with, and many, many renders of the finished ebike to see how they would look, we settled on 4 colours: Marengo Grey for a classic urban look, Maya Blue for a playful choice, Smoky White for those who want to keep things really clean and minimal, and a Blaze Orange for a lively alternative [edit: we changed from Coral Orange as that is a bit more pastel than we intended]. Here they are:
We really like this as a colour palette with something for everyone, but are conscious that having too much variety when manufacturing in small batches can be unrealistic. So, when we launch, we plan to offer three of these colours, with the fourth colour unlocked if we hit volumes high enough to make the additional complexity work. We'll be checking with our early backers on which colours they think should make the top three, so please let us know next time you see us around!
Colour Testing on Prototypes
With the colours settled, there was no better way to test them than on the real thing. As we were making our latest prototypes, we took the opportunity to do just that.
After preparing the frame to make sure that it has a clean surface for the finish to adhere onto, there are usually three processes to choose from: powder coating, liquid painting, or anodising. The characteristics of these finishes varies, with each having its own advantages.
Powder coating involves spraying a layer of very fine, electrostatically charged powder on to the frame and then baking it in an oven so that the powder melts and forms a smooth layer of paint. It is considered a very durable finish, particularly for impact resistance, but can peel off from the base metal in large flakes if it does become damaged. It can also be unsuitable for frames that have parts that need a close fit, particularly if those parts cannot be easily masked off during painting. It also normally has a modest range of colours and finishes compared to other processes.
A powder coated bike rack about to be baked
Liquid painting involves spraying aerosol paint directly onto the frame in fine layers. These layers are then baked onto the frame, often with a tough transparent outer coat to protect the finish from damage. It gives the widest choice of colours and effects, but is not generally considered to be as durable as powder coating or anodising, although this depends on the quality of the finish.
An adventurous liquid paint job
Anodising involves submerging the frame in a chemical bath through which an electrical current is passed. This grows a honeycomb-like oxide layer which soaks up a dye that is added at the next step. Finally, this dye is set by heating. It's quite a cheap process and the resulting finish is very hard and thin, making it perfect for sliding parts like seatposts. However, of the normal bike frame materials (steel, aluminium, carbon fibre, and titanium) anodising is only suitable for aluminium and, using a more difficult and expensive process, titanium. Another disadvantage is that the finish is translucent, meaning that you can see the base metal underneath. This not only limits colour choices, but also means that they all look quite metallic.
Anodised dust caps; you can have any colour you want, as long as it's metallic
We picked liquid paint because it gives the greatest choice of colours and is durable if applied correctly, which is important for an ebike that many people will use for commuting.
With the colours and process chosen, we sent the prototype frame parts off to a specialist paint factory. You can see the results below after spraying but before baking. We've also added a Flit decal to the front of the frame so that people remember who made it! These painted frames will be arriving in the UK any day now. We can't wait to show you the results!