Old 04-04-06, 11:00 AM
Ken Cox
King of the Hipsters
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Bend, Oregon
Posts: 2,128

Bikes: Realm Cycles Custom

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About a year ago I visited the United Bicycle Institute (UBI) in Ashland, Oregon.
I had questions about their lugged frame fabrication classes.
One of the UBI instructors had made a beautiful lugged fixed gear bike, and had the frame plated in nickel.

Yes, nickel.

Find a nickel, the coin we call a nickel.
Look at the color and the soft luster.

Anyway, most chrome plating goes on over a layer of nickel.
Because of the high price of nickel, many plating companies first plate the steel with a layer of copper, which costs considerably less than nickel; then they plate the copper with nickel; and then they plate the nickel with chrome.
Plating companies call this triple-plating and imply they do it to make it better; but they really do it to make it cheaper.

Hard industrial chrome has ten times the thickness of decorative chrome, such as the decorative chrome one sees on a Bianchi Pista, and therefore costs considerably more.
The chrome finish on a Bianchi probably costs less and weighs less than paint.
A hard chrome finish would still weigh less than paint, but it would double the cost of the Bianchi frame.

So this UBI instructor had his or her frame plated in nickel, and it looks, to me, much nicer than chrome.
It has a softer appearance, almost like uncorroded steel, except not as bright.
I like it.

Nickel-plating does not have the hardness of chrome, and wears off with use.
For example, nickel-plated handguns lose their plating to holster-wear and general handling.

Another process, called Electroless Nickel has a hardness and wear-resistance superior to the underlying steel.
Electroless Nickel has no self-leveling qualities, and so it exactly duplicates the texture of the underlying material.
One could have his or bike frame frosted by glass beading, and, after the application of electroless nickel, the bike would appear to have a grey-silver soft-frosted appearance.

Electroless Nickel may have one other advantage over electrolytically-applied metals, in that, I believe, one can Electroless Nickel the inside of the frame; thus making the inside of the frame forever corrosion-free.

My wife has a Nishiki frame with a frosted hard-chrome finish that I assume came from the factory.
It appears soft silver-grey.
I don't know how Nishiki could afford to do this, but maybe scale of operation allowed this at one time.
I doubt if they do it today.
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