For small, independent framebuilders, each bike that rolls out of the shop takes months to create. From getting to know the customer and purchasing and prepping the frame tubes, to welding and laboring over all the details.
Then, at the end of that process, the frames are usually boxed up and shipped out to one of a handful of painters nationwide that are capable of delivering a reliable and high-quality paint job.
Unfortunately that last step is often one of stress and frustration for both the builder and the customer — who has likely been waiting months or even years for their frame. Frames sometimes don’t get painted within agreed upon timeframes and often, even when they do, the quality of the paint does not live up to the standards of the builder.
“I know that finding a reliable paint situation is the Holy Grail.”
— Sacha White, framebuilder
Sacha White of southeast Portland-based Vanilla Bicycles knows this situation all too well.
As someone who builds arguably the most respected and sought-after frames in the world, he says the paint situation has long been “a source of great tension.”
With so much demand for his frames (his current lead time is five years and he’s stopped taking orders for now) and a brand built on exceptional quality and a positive customer experience, White decided he could no longer rely on someone else to manage such an important part of the process; so he decided to take the situation into his own hands.
Back in June he quietly launched Coat, a custom paint shop located in a non-descript industrial building off Powell Boulevard in southeast Portland.
White hired master painter Jason Varney to build the shop from the ground up. Varney brought eight years of experience with Spectrum Powderworks (based in Colorado Springs, Colorado), but more importantly he brought a reputation for quality and reliability.
During a visit to the shop last week, Varney told me he was “ready for a change” and moved to Portland in April specifically for this opportunity.
Varney, and assistant painter Kevin Sparrow (a former messenger who also publishes Cog Magazine), have painted about 50 frames since June. Since opening, Coat has only dealt with the existing backlog of Vanilla frames but White says he plans to take on work from other builders soon.
White says the plan is to perfect and refine the process before accepting business from other builders,
“We plan to take on new clients one-by-one. I want to take care of each of them, and be cautious to not take on more than we can handle. Coming from a builder’s perspective, I know that finding a reliable paint situation is the Holy Grail.”
White and Varney also plan to offer high-quality, custom powdercoating. White is a proponent of powdercoating because he says it will allow them to, “do the same, high-quality custom work people are used to seeing in Vanillas, but it will be more durable and sustainable.” White adds that powdercoating creates less waste and uses less solvents than the liquid paint process used by many framebuilders.
With White’s dedication to quality in every aspect of his work and a local and national boom in demand for custom frames, Coat seems poised to become a major success.
For an up-close look at more Vanillas and other handmade bikes, don’t miss the North American Handmade Bicycle Show coming to Portland this February.
For more photos of my visit to the Coat paint shop, check out the gallery.