Tucked away on an industrial estate on the edge of Bristol, among the car mechanics and 80s gyms, is Colourburn Studio, the new premises of bike painter Rob Nicholas aka Doktor Bobby.
When I visit Rob in the summer he’s four months along from quitting his secure job as a model maker at Dyson: “It got bigger and bigger, more and more people asking me to do stuff. I’d do an 8-hour day at Dyson and then I’d be working until 11pm trying to paint a bike for someone. At the end of last year so many people were asking me to do stuff, I was turning so much work down, I thought I’d give it a go.”
Back in 2008 Rob began painting his own bikes to cover up the “nasty” paint jobs his track bikes came with. When he couldn’t find anyone to paint his bike how he wanted it, he just painted it himself.
Back then no one was doing the high-end, highly detailed paint work that’s Robs style, “It was all retro paint schemes on reconditioned old school frames”. Since then, people like Cole Coatings and Fatcreations have come along, but people come to Colourburn for Robs design-work, for him to put his own touch on it. Give him a few rough ideas and he’ll come up with a scheme that’s creative and unique.
His skill lies in taking something completely unrelated to bikes, like an old Fila basketball shoe from the 80s that one client sent him as inspiration, and translating elements of it into a paint scheme for a bike. He loves repeat patterns - taking them off a flat surface and putting them onto a 3D object is his idea of fun. There’s a frame hanging up that was inspired by Jeff Koons’ BMW Art Car Series. The possibilities are endless.
Robs background is in model making and set design. After being thrown out of school for failing all his GCSEs, he took an art course at college which led to a degree in model making and special effects. “I thought I’d work in the film industry blowing stuff up, but that was back in 2004/5 and there was no film industry in this country, which they didn’t tell you when you started the course.” So he got a job at Foster and Partners architecture studio and spent four years making models of the multibillion dollar Apple HQ in Curpetino. Painting models of buildings and set design taught him how to create paint effects like stone or rock face. “Painting bikes is the same skills but a different way of looking at it” he says.
The new studio looks spotless. One speck of dust on the frame can cause havoc – sometimes you can sand it out, other times you have to start all over again. Like the time someone opened the door and the negative pressure from the extractor sucked a paper towel off the floor and onto a wet frame.
Rob designs everything in a CAD software and then prints it out on the vinyl cutter or cuts it by hand. “You build it up, mask off the colours you want, paint the next colour, keep going, de-mask everything and then it’s a matter of lacquering it.” The amount of time spent spraying a bike is about 15% of the total time it takes to paint a bike, hours and hours are spent at the table with a scalpel and roll of tape masking off. Depending on how detailed the paintwork, each bike takes between 20 and 30 hours to paint, which is why it doesn’t come cheap. Some frames have taken twice as long to paint as it took to build the frame.
A Colourburn Studio paintjob starts at £300 for one colour with one contrasting colour on a steel or aluminium frame, £400 for carbon. Rob painted a frame recently with a pattern which took three weeks and cost £1100, but he points out that a pattern over a small section of the frame will still look cool but won’t take as much work so will be considerably cheaper. “I normally spend quite a lot of time emailing people and chatting with them beforehand. If they want something that’s quite set out from the start I can set a price, but sometimes a client can have such a rough idea of what it is they want, and they want me to put my touch on it… Another way to work it is for the customer to set a budget then I know how long I can spend on it.”
The frames that come to the Colourburn studio are mostly road, gravel and track, but Rob recently painted Adeline O’Moreau of Mercredi Bikes’ Grinduro MTB which won the Public’s Choice award.
He doesn’t just want to be known for painting bikes though. “I’m nervous it’s a bubble that’s going to pop. I don’t want to get stuck into just painting bikes, I want to do all sorts, furniture, other crazy things.” We look forward to it.
Rob Nicholas aka Doktor Bobby
Fork Artistry (photo - Colourburn)
August Bicycles - Framebuilder, Paint by Colourburn Studio (photo - Tristan Conor-Holden)
Rob's award winning bike (Sneaky Little Bastard), painted by himself made by Talbot Frameworks Photo Ben Broomfield
Mercredi Bikes Award Winning Grinuro Frame
Matt Matt McDonough (Talbot Frameworks) Rob (Colourburn) Colby (Enve) Bespoked 2016 - Photo Ben Broomfield