by Robb Sutton: bike198.com
Paint protection film has been a product that has been used in the automotive industry for a long time. These die cut sheets are applied to body panels to keep the paint looking brand new by having a invisible polyurethane film covering portions of the car…or the entire body.
With mountain bikes getting so expensive and the paint jobs on them getting to be higher quality and more unique, it only makes sense that riders would want to protect their investment and keep them looking new. Not only does it keep your bike looking like the day you bought it…but it also keeps up resale value as the new owner will be buying a bike that looks like new.
Over the past couple of months, we have been testing a kit from Invisiframe on a Trek Rail to see how it installed, performed and whether or not we would recommend it for you guys. Let’s take a look at the film, kit and how it performed.
If you are not familiar with frame protection kits or paint protection on automotive vehicles, you might just think you are throwing clear stickers on your bike. That isn’t the case. Invisiframe uses XPEL paint protection film and die cuts it to your specific model and size bike. What is XPEL paint protection film?
XPEL film is used throughout the automotive industry to protect high end automotive paint jobs from the outside elements and road debris. Invisiframe takes this self healing, high end film and die cuts it to pieces that fit your specific frame for a perfect fit that, when applied correctly, is not visible which keeps your frame in brand new condition at all times.
Invisiframe also provides the “stealth” version of the film (tested in this review) that creates a matte/satin look if you need to match to that type of finish on your bike or you want to change the look of your bike from gloss to satin.
The list of bikes that have custom kits made for them is EXTENSIVE. Check out their website here to see if yours is available.
I reached out to Invisiframe for my Trek Rail to get a kit for several different reasons.
Before we get into the installation process, I do want to clarify two things that are very important.
First, most local bike shops can do this job for you if you are not comfortable with it. You have ZERO chance of damaging anything on your bike but if you don’t want to deal with the frustration of trying to get it perfect…have someone else do it for you.
Second, I installed my kit after my bike had seen a lot of trail time. This is not ideal. There were already pits, scratches and other imperfections on the frame that could not be fixed that effect the installation. In an ideal world…you would install this from day one before your bike ever sees dirt. I did take a lot of extra cleaning steps to try to make the installation as smooth as possible but there are some imperfections that are not the fault of the film or the quality of the kit…it is a by product of the surface it was being applied to being damaged. Just keep that in mind of if you are looking to install this on well used frames. That said…it will prevent any further damage to the frame once you apply it…so it is still worth it in the long run.
One of the most important parts of installing Invisiframe is prepping your frame. Not only will you trap any contaminants under the film that aren’t removed, but they can also mess with the adhesion or create air pockets.
I washed the entire frame with dish soap and then did a full wipe down with rubbing alcohol to get any remaining dirt off the frame. While I was rubbing it down, I inspected for any embedded dirt and contaminants to insure the frame was as clean as I could get it. Obviously with as many miles as I already had on it…I was not able to get it absolutely perfect but it was good enough.
Installing Invisiframe is pretty straight forward. You use a soapy mixture in a water bottle (xx tablespoons to xx water). You then spray your hands and the film with the water. Place the film on the frame using the mixture to slide it into place. After that…squeegee out the water mixture from the center out removing all air bubbles.
Invisiframe provides a printout that explains exactly where each of the die cut pieces go. If they need to go in a sequence in one section, that is laid out on the paper as well. I typically recommend starting with the big, flatter pieces first. This gives you some practice working with the film until you move onto the smaller, more annoying pieces that go around areas like the bottom bracket and linkage.
If I had one big piece of advice during the install? Keep your patience and start this process when you have several days before your next ride. There are several reasons for this but the most important is that you can take your time. I also like the film to sit on the bike for a couple of days before I am going to abuse it. At the end of each day…I inspect the frame and push down any edges or problem areas until everything is laid down perfectly.
Pro Tip: If you have access to new stickers for your frame, get them. When you lay the film over stickers, you will never be able to get all of the air out due to the change in height. On my Trek Rail, I did not have a choice. It is a raw carbon frame with a film overlay for the Purple Phase. It turned out really good but you can see the edge all the way around the color. I also removed the top Rail logo without checking to see if I could get a replacement. I can’t so double check and make sure you can get replacements before removing anything.
Invisiframe does a lot of things really well so let’s go into each of my favorite parts and how I think they will bring value to you.
It Protects Your Investment…and REALLY Well
First, the obvious. Bikes are expensive and you should want to take the best care of your frame as you can. Invisiframe is an inexpensive option that can realistically keep your frame looking like new for thousands of miles (assuming you don’t crash in a rock garden and even then it will help). The kit for my $9,500+ Trek Rail is $98.24. That is a small price to pay that offers excellent protection.
The self healing aspect of the film also keeps your frame looking new. If you just let your frame sit out in the sun for a minute, the minor scratches and scuffs basically disappear.
Invisiframe does a great job at designing kits to fit your specific need. Do you want a kit that disappears so that people will not even notice it is installed? You can achieve that with most of the frames on the market today.
In my case, I wanted a different look so I went with the matte film. For those of you that have not used matte XPEL before (I have with cars so I already knew what it was going to do)…it does not look like matte vinyl. It really is more of a satin look that keeps the depth of the paint it covers. It looks better than any matte vinyl will ever look which is why I went this route. I can still see the detail, flake and color depth of the Purple Phase but now with a look that Trek does not offer that really matches the raw carbon.
Invisiframe really goes out of their way to provide 99% coverage of your frame with a kit that is cut perfectly. You can tell when you start installing the pieces how much care was put into each kit. They even provide some random rectangle pieces on the sheet in case you want to wrap a couple of other parts like a seat tube that might see high use.
Side note: Invisiframe is also reversible. If I go to sell my bike in the future and the new buyer doesn’t want the satin look…peal off the protection and everything is back to normal. It will not leave a residue or damage any paint, carbon, etc.
There really isn’t much bad to say about the Invisiframe kit. These are really more small things but are still worth pointing out so you know what you are getting into.
Part of the reason I like the bike to sit for a couple of days and get some time in the sun is because of the edges of the film. I like to insure that the edges are down completely and there is no remaining soap residue before my bike sees dirt. If you rush the process on the edges, you will start to get dirt trapped under them and it creates bad look. I do not have this issue on my frame because I did not rush that process but I have seen frames that do and I would consider that an install issue.
In the case of my frame, the stickers that are part of the frame design create air gaps that are visible. Luckily, they are uniform around the entire edge to it appears it is supposed to be that way but I notice it.
Be sure to get additional stickers for your frame if you logos are not painted on. Invisiframe and other companies even offer them in different colors if you want to further customize your bike and this would be a great time to do that anyway!
Lastly, if you are not comfortable installing the film yourself, you will have the added expense of having someone install if for you. I can’t imagine it would be terribly expensive but it will be a hour or two at least of shop time.
If you do not like installing your own parts, be sure to budget for that install process to be done at a shop. I would still plan ahead and not have the bike on dirt right away. Watch the edges and get some sun time in before introducing a ton of dust.
Bottom line…I will be installing a kit on all future bikes. For under 100 dollars, it just makes sense. I do not see the price of mountain bikes coming down any time soon and this is an easy way of keeping my frame looking new during the entire period of ownership.
I will make sure to install the film at the earliest point I can unlike I did this time. That said…even my frame that had seen some miles really took the install well and any areas that didn’t turn out perfect were user install error or because the frame had pits/embedded particles or other contaminants that would not have been there if I would have installed it on a new frame.
All word and image credits to Robb Sutton and bike198.com