“I’m racing a bike with ice cream on it,” says Emily Kachorek, 37. “You don’t have to like it, but I do. And at least it makes you turn your head!”

Kachorek, an elite cyclocross racer, former biologist, and the co-founder of Squid Bikes, discovered her creative side early. “As a kid I was always building bows and arrows and slingshots,” she says. Now she gets paid to spray paint bikes in eye-popping patterns and create cycling kits that stand out even when they’re covered in mud.

Squid started in part because of a screwup. In 2013, Kachorek worked with a bike company to design a frame to match her then-neon kit, but the paint job came back the wrong shade of yellow. She asked the owner of the brand if she could fix it herself. “I decaled the s**t out of the frame,” she says, laughing. “It was neon vomit. It looked different than everything else out there. I wondered if I’d be embarrassed on the start line.”

Instead, Kachorek discovered that people were digging her bold and playful style. She and her Squid Bikes co-founders sourced American-made aluminium frames and started spraying. “I’m a child of the ‘80s; I love neon obnoxious things,” Kachorek explains. “I realised that bikes don’t look like this. They’re black and red and white and blue. I like to think we’ve helped that culture evolve a little.” She founded Squid to not just share her own vision, but also let other riders express theirs: The company sells only one frame, a cyclocross model called the Rattlecan that customers finish themselves.

Kachorek’s favorite bike is the one she’s racing now; its Creamsicle-and-cloud design came to her in a dream. She painted the frame in front of an audience at a gravel road race to show how easy the process can be. “It’s our way of having fun and not taking everything so seriously,” she says. “It’s not going to be perfect, but it’s going to be yours.”

SIX ESSENTIAL PAINTING TIPS

1 Experiment on an old metal tube or a cheap frame you don’t mind messing up before spraying your bike.

2 Clean your frame with rubbing alcohol and a lint-free towel, and if it’s not raw aluminium, steel, or carbon, give it a light sanding so the paint sticks. Use 1,000 - 1,500 grade sandpaper and rub just enough to texture the surface - don’t take any material off.

3 Choose a high-quality paint from an art store. Look for a low-pressure can; the more slowly the paint comes out, the easier it is to work with. Squid sells their own brand via their website, while Liquitex is an option in Australia. But don’t mix brands or lines - the paints can react poorly together.

4 Break out the tape. Put painter’s tape over parts of the frame that will have components attached: bottom bracket, seat tube, head tube, and dropouts. Kachorek says 3M Scotch Blue Exterior works well on Squid’s aluminium frames.

5 Secure your frame so you can paint it without touching it. You can wedge the head tube onto a dowel and clamp the dowel into a stand, or just thread string or twine through the top tube and hang it from a rafter.

6 Play around. The beauty of DIY is that there are no wrong answers.