how to clean blotchy chrome on an old bicycle?
May 2, 2009 8:41 PM   Subscribe

i bought a vintage bike. it's beautiful, but some parts of the chrome are blotchy.

i've tried cleaning the chrome with bon ami, baking soda, vinegar, and toothpaste, but no luck. the bike shop guys did buff the chrome a bit, but what i'm seeing is blotchiness that seems more permanent (more than just buffing is needed). some areas also seem a little "bumpy" (i can't tell if these are scratches or something that can be removed--see 3rd picture for bumpiness).

pictures of the bike:
thank you, hive mind!
posted by sucre to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
Best answer: I think that chrome is screwed. You can only clean chrome if the base coating isn't damaged and that looks well past that, to me. I think, at this stage, that your only recourse is re-chroming. This shouldn't, though, be all that hard or expensive to do. I'd try and find a local chroming shop and talk to them about prep and the like and, often as not, a few good chats and stripping the components yourself and handing them over with a small amount of folded cash may well get your bike thrown in with a larger batch.

It's worked for me on a number of occasions.
posted by Brockles at 8:58 PM on May 2, 2009

Best answer: sucre - Photo 1 looks like the only remaining chrome is the raised patches, everything else looks as though the chrome plating has been abraded away from the base metal. If that's the case there's almost no chrome to polish, just the original steel underneath which looks like it's been scratched by coarse steel wool or something else abrasive. Hopefully I'm mistaken but it doesn't look like there's much chrome to polish.
posted by X4ster at 9:01 PM on May 2, 2009

Best answer: It's a bit hard to tell from the pics, but 1 & 2 look kinda like somebody tried to "polish" the original chrome with 200 grit sandpaper, then when that didn't work they either put a coat of lacquer on it or got it re-chromed cheaply (which is now coming off). Pic 3 looks like the crazing of a typical cheap chrome job, or one that wasn't properly prepped.

As it's vintage, and presumably you want to keep its value as a vintage item, you've got two options: maintain it as-is, without making things worse, or get it re-chromed by someone who will not only prep the surface properly but re-chrome it appropriately e.g. a proper old-style "dull" chrome finish, not a modern shiny or flash-chrome job. Which you choose is up to you and depends on the value / rarity of the item, and your own particular sensibilities.
posted by Pinback at 9:10 PM on May 2, 2009

Best answer: Yup, the chrome is shot in those pics. Looks like most of that is just bare metal.

Not sure what type of bike you've got (though in pic 2 it looks like that chain stay bridge is electro forged, so not fancy) but you may want to think about having it re-chromed, powder coated, or painted. Call around to some car shops - sometimes you can this type of work done on a bike surprisingly cheap.
posted by wfrgms at 1:48 AM on May 3, 2009

Response by poster: wow, thank you all so much for your responses! i think you all are correct: this chrome is pretty darn crappy. i bought this bike because 1) it was in my price range and 2) i was in need of a bike to get around more efficiently (and i wanted to buy one sooner rather than later, so i just went ahead and bought it). i actually have no idea if the price i paid equals the bike's value (i paid $200 plus about $40 for a new tire and tube), but that question is for another day. i also have no idea of the make/year. it's a mystery!

i will be riding this bike around the city on short trips, so it will likely look even more 'used' after awhile, but the rechroming ideas are much appreciated. i will have to check around for pricing.

here are pictures of the whole bike, if anyone's curious:
thanks again, everyone!
posted by sucre at 8:42 AM on May 3, 2009

Can you take a picture of the chain guard? It looks a lot like an old Sears Spaceliner and if you paid 200 for it, you got totally ripped off since it's missing a lot of the parts. Honestly, that bike is not worth more than 50 dollars.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 3:48 PM on May 3, 2009

Here is a picture of the bicycle I suspect it is. It's a 1964 Sears Spaceliner. The frame shape is the same, the front forks are the same, and the crank wheel is the same. Your bicycle is obviously missing a lot of the parts and it doesn't have the original fenders, handle grips, or seat. If it's possible, I would return the bicycle since you grossly overpaid. Rule of thumb, most vintage bikes aren't worth over 100, unless they have all the original parts and are in decent condition.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 4:40 PM on May 3, 2009

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