Friday Group Ride #187


I imagine it drives engineers nuts. They spend all their hours trying to understand how the interaction of material and shape can produce an objectively better ride, doing hard stuff like math and testing, and then a designer comes along and slaps an eye-popper of a paint scheme on a competitor’s bike and suddenly they’re getting outsold 2-to-1. For all our talk about what makes one bike better than another, we all want to look good.

In the ’80s that meant splatter schemes and sparkle, neons and contrast. These days everything is either matte black or some permutation of the classic black/white/red. Bicycle aesthetics work in these small spirals, everyone seeming to riff on one color-way or one basic pattern, until some brave bastard dares to do something both different and repeatable.

I like geometrical shapes. I don’t care for splatter. Diagonals bother me. The Pegoretti above floats my boat. I don’t necessarily want to grab your attention with my bike, but if you do happen to look, I want my bike to be both sharp and unusual. I don’t want it to look like yours, but I don’t want it to look like a Ferrari Testarossa either.

Coming up with the next big thing is tough. I’ve been involved in projects like picking a season’s new colors. What you discover quickly is that, to do it right, you can borrow from no one. You have push out into the new and hope your idea of new somehow resonates with the masses.

It is possible that features and benefits are important, that engineering is, for some people, the thing that inspires their want, but I have been told for years that people buy things emotionally rather than rationally. And, my experience suggests that nothing inspires that emotional buy-in quite like a slick paint job or an elegantly crafted line. It is hard to feel compelling emotions about a bike’s stiffness, not impossible, but hard. Of course, in the best examples, engineering and design converge, but these are rare and precious, and usually very expensive.

This week’s Group Ride asks, how important are looks to you? Have you ever convinced yourself you wanted a bike based on a rational analysis of your needs, only to be swayed by a pretty paint job on another ride? What do you think looks good? How much will you pay for it? And have you ever bought a great ugly bike, only to watch it sit in the garage, because you just  didn’t feel inspired to ride it?

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  1. Steve P

    It has to ride right, but I wouldn’t tolerate an ugly bike. Seems there are plenty of engineers and artists cooperating on bikes these days, and those are the ones worth paying up for.

  2. Steve P

    Aren’t Dario’s paint jobs are polarizing? The pic is sharp, handsome, unique. Saw a rust/poo colored Peg frame in a shop recently… yikes terrible.

  3. Derek

    As a mechanic I did not like when the bright white started to trend again but then I found it much easier to inspect frames and forks for cracks and other types of damage. Now if I have a choice I go with the white and the ride.

  4. August Cole

    Like with a lot of very intense experiences, anticipation is everything. Looks factor into that for sure, particularly on the days you can’t ride. But once you’re out the door and warming up, looks matter less. A bike that captures that sense of potential speed, or escape, with a bowed top tube or a flamboyant paint scheme plays to that time between idea and action. My own road bike is a staid brushed Ti. But that color speaks to the bike’s ability to go just about anywhere in the time I have at hand. The shoe-worn blemishes on the crankarms and the hasty brushwork of mud underneath the downtube remind me where I’ve been, and where I need to get going to.

  5. scaredskinnydog

    My alltime favorite bike is my old custom cro-moly Moots. Choosing the paint turned out to be a very difficult decision and even after the frame was ready I still hadn’t made a choice. Then at a Santana concert as I stood there mesmerized by the music and the lighting effects it came to me, I went with a blue/purple/black fade. When I told the artists how I wanted it done he smiled cause he had been at the same show and we called it the Santana fade. It still looks beautiful!

  6. Ransom

    Looks are more important than I want to admit to myself, though apparently I’ll admit it on a cycling blog…

    I had a grave disappointment when my beloved two-tone-blue-metallic-fade Klein Attitude Comp broke at the dropout. I was delighted that they agreed to replace it under warranty, but the new model had two aesthetic letdowns: the dropouts were no longer the lovely, spidery things they had been. This much I obviously *had* to accept as a positive. But instead of that glorious blue arrangement, the replacement was a sort of metallic grape-tootsie-pop-close-to-the-brown-center, with a gold-ish metallic dusting. Murky and uninspiring.

  7. Dave

    I currently ride a brush finished Lynskey ti frame. Looks are of minimal importance to me. When I chose the Lynskey it wasn’t for the appearance.

    I commute to work on an old Specialized Stumjumber M2 circa ~ 1993. It’s got this hideous purple-fade-to-green metalflake pain scheme that never won awards from me for beauty, but the apprance hasn’t stopped me from riding it to death for the last 20 years.

  8. Tom in albany

    Funny, Robot. Your timing can by uncanny. Watch the following TEDex video.

    I like a bike that looks nice. I like cars that look nice. But, what I really hate is shopping. I’d rather ride. So, I tend to do some basic research and then buy. Back in the day, when I bought my titanium Serotta my logic was:

    Local brand. high quality. excellent bike shop and fitting experience.

    When asked what color I wanted, I decided not to decide. No paint.

  9. sterling

    the shop that I work at is a Giant dealer,for years all we saw was black on white and white on black. much to my surprise, Giant is offering a TCR frame in a light blue with orange! (like the 70’s gulf racing cars.)so yeah, color to me is important.

  10. Gene Rosa

    The most beautiful bike I have ever seen was an old restored Colnago. No braze ons all clamps including the cable guides. the second most beautiful bike I have ever seen is my steel DeRosa chrome fork and all. Modern carbon fiber frames leave me cold. The trend to flat black is dismal. Thousand of dollars for a frame and no bling? The best looking cf bike I have ever seen is my Ridley SL. May 2% over the top but at least it looks fast. I have not owned or will own an ugly bike. At my age it is better to look good then to ride good

  11. Jan

    When I was looking for a bike several years ago now (and I’m the sort of rider who has a fairly strict budget, and so doesn’t buy more than one), I must have test ridden 17 different rides. I finally decided on the size and make, and the shop had to order it.

    And it only came in black with pink (effing) highlights. I HATE the pink. I’m just not a pink person, but because I’m female, and that geometry was comfortable for me, that was the choice. PINK. F that. I love the bike, but the pink highlights are about the only thing I don’t like. (It’s a WAY better bike than I am a biker, and it fits great, but holy cow, I’d really love a no paint titanium bike for looks! I can’t imagine buying a new bike unless I get in a horrid crash and total this one, to be honest.)

    So when you’re thinking about crappy color choices, women’s bikes have to be the epitome, all too often, of pink crap.

  12. brucew

    My bikes have to speak to me on the road, not on the wall.

    My first choice is brushed Ti. My ancient Litespeed still looks new after a bath. Although it seldom gets one because I think it looks even better with a light patina of road. And that light patina of road on a Ti bike speaks for me when I show up at a group ride.

    Second choice is solid colors. When my two solid color commuters wear out, (one burnt orange and the other cobalt blue) they’ll be replaced with brushed Ti.

  13. Patrick O'Brien

    A nice paint job is the last part of a quality build. If the paint job is nice, and in a color I really like, then so much the better. My Soma Saga in British Racing Green just tickles me every time I ride it.

  14. Mark

    Great post/comments. For me, I am a Cervelo guy, I fell in love with the dashing looks of the 2009 S2 with its Red aero downtube, black with white trim, loved it. Then replaced it this year (bad fit for me) and bought my dream bike, Cervelo R5VWD 2012. The bike is so amazing, it really is but the colours are just so drab. Dark grey, black with a tiny white trim. My riding buddies looked at it, “nice bike” but that was it, they have no idea of the amazing engineering, R&D that went into it that is most of the reason I bought it but flashy it is not. Cervelo needs to hire a new “paint team” to make the bikes look as good as they are, some of their paint designs are horrible.

    But, none of that matters once Im riding, thats when I love the bike most, not looking at it hanging on the wall. I guess it was made to be ridden after all.

  15. Bikelink

    Cripes. I want to win. If it goes faster and/or lets me train harder I want it. Bought the Giro Air Attack and love that others won’t because they think it’s ugly. The Cervelo s5 is ‘ugly’ but at some point it was clearly the best aero bike and I wanted it (now it’s still on the list but there are other contenders and the high head tube wouldn’t fit me well).

  16. ScottyCycles

    Your bike has to look good after all it is an extension of your body when riding or is it the other way around?. This is not vanity in it’s pure sense but more to say to the World “I’m fit and I look good for my age”

  17. Les.B.

    Re: Jan’s comments re pink. I once up on PV saw a guy on a bike with pink trim, and I was tempted to stop and razz him about heisting his wife’s bike, but then thought the better of it.
    When I was deciding on the build of my current bike, the salesman said esthetics should be important too. I agreed, and he helped me build a bike which must have been an “out-did himself” for him. Just about every long ride I get complimented on the bike, once even a cyclist referred to my bike as “gorgeous”. I should have a girlfriend as such!

    ’08 DeRosa Idol, white with red & black trim; DT Swiss “Mon Chasseral” wheelset with same color scheme, black spokes.

    Nice looker, but optimally, I need something less laid-back, more sporty. Bike, that is, not girlfriend.

  18. Aar

    Dave Kirk’s terra plane seat stays strike me as a beautiful juncture of function and form. In a slightly more mainstream application of the same engineering principle, the seat stays on the SL2 and SL3 Specialized’s Roubaix bikes are as functional as they are beautiful. So much so that I test rode one and wound up buying it.

    To a lesser degree, I like the engineering as art of the Kamm virtual tail concept as exemplified in the Giant Propel and the Scott aero road bike (what is that, the Foil?).

  19. Wil

    Brushed Ti understated elegance. Before carbon became deregar, it put terror in the hearts of those waiting with me at the start line. Especiallly when they noticed the beautiful campy groupo to max out form and function.

  20. Ron

    A pal has a Pegoretti in sky blue with white lettering. Very, very nice. That said, I appreciate the detail of most of the paint jobs, but don’t love that many.

    I completely agree about the head-turner principle. I prefer a bike that looks clean and simple, but a true enthusiast can spot it out in a pack, even if it isn’t Hi Viz yellow. I have a nice silver Casati that is very understated, but a real bicycle lover can tell it’s a beautiful frameset.

  21. Wisco

    I subscribe to the subtle and composed look where you’d expect someone to say “nice bike”, but not really be able to say why. Everything must fit together from components to paint to handlebar tape, but too matchy-matchy like a fashion design house design.

    My biggest recommendation to all is to not use black bar tape with black hooded brifters! Even on a cross bike. Crap people, pick a secondary color in your paint scheme and match that or simply consult a color wheel for complementary colors! Your bike will thank you

  22. Q

    I love a great looking bike, but I tend to end up buying the best used bike I can get, so I don’t really end up getting a lot of choice in how my bike looks. On the other hand, I’ve been known to spend some money customizing the aesthetics of a bike after I buy it. It turns out a gray and white paint job looks great with red bottle cages, handlebar wrap, and cables.

    When it comes to components, not many stand out in their good or bad looks, but as far as I’m concerned, nobody has ever made a better looking crankset than the 1980s Campagnolo C-Record.

  23. Scott

    I agree that looks are important, not THE most important but up there. Remember the paint on steel Colnagos and Tommasini bikes? And whoever started painting the inside of the fork legs a different color (Boardman?) gets a kudos from me.

  24. Ransom

    This subject has also reminded me of a Ciocc I was smitten with along about high school… It was, IIRC, metallic or pearl white, with areas which were fuschia and blue, the colored regions faded in at the edges, and looked as though they’d been masked with honeycomb mesh before the color was sprayed… I still search CL and Ebay occasionally for Ciocc, just in case.

  25. slappy

    splatter paint for me. . and yes, i bought a RetroTec from Curtis Inglis solely because of the sweet swooping top tube 3/4 shot in Bike mag back in ’02. .

  26. syj

    Currently digging the ‘Mullet’ paint job on my Foil – it’s a replica of the Orica team issue (without the sponsor sticker). (gloss) Black & all business in the front, fluo yellow to green fade party in the back.

  27. Toad the 12 sprocket

    Brushed Ti is indeed elegant. Especially if you’ve had it long enough so the hue has yellowed and warmed. But then you probably need new decals.

    And I am surprised not to see a mention of the new Richard Sachs team CX bikes, in burnt orange with cream highlights. Superclassy.

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