I love this award because it’s the one where we are most easily surprised. It’s the one that allows for the broadest creativity, but it’s also the award where my sanity is most frequently called into question. It is the category where other people are least hesitant to offer their verdict and therefore, most willing to challenge our award. And to be perfectly transparent, I can’t say that I’ve never had second thoughts. Jeremy SyCip’s X-Wing mountain bike at the 2017 show in Sacramento nags at me.
This year, I can say that bikes that didn’t make the first cut were beautiful. Fantastic, even. But the level of achievement was so high that bikes that would cause people riding behind that bike to drool weren’t outstanding enough to make it into later cuts. It’s bewildering to be a witness to what’s submitted and to be amazed by a bike and know that’s it’s just not good enough. If ever I’ve encountered a situation where the term “embarrassment of riches” was apt, this show in general and this award in particular is a fitting case.
We struggled to cut the herd down to five bikes. Struggled. We sent away bikes we adored. I shook my head in amazement. Even when we got the group down to five bikes, I turned to Tom and Merlyn and had to ask them if we thought we could cut two and get it down to just three finalists. We talked, and 15 minutes passed. Then we talked more. We did eventually cut two bikes and I think we were all a bit chagrined to do so.
Then we had to look at three bikes that were all-time in their finish. I remember saying, “What do we do now?!”
The boys working out of an old warehouse in Worcester, Mass., submitted a bike built by Concinnity with a stunning matte finish with a variety of geometric patters and—maybe the most unusual thing I’ve ever seen painted on a bike—a moth. It looks like a Death’s Head Hawkmoth with the skull replaced with a stylized “C.” That they were able to wrap the figure in such a way that it continued onto the Silca pump in a visually convincing way was truly impressive.
The submission from Mosaic was a bike I’d been alerted to absentee judge Nick Legan. He’d been at a gathering where the bike had been shown off and he took a shot and texted it to me to tell me to watch out for it, which is like telling someone on their way to Yosemite to be sure not to miss Half Dome. Roger that.
There’s something in me that still loves the splatter paint jobs of the late ’80s and early ’90s. I mean, I had a bike with a splatter paint job, so you’d think it would be out of my system. What made the Mosaic so special was the way that the Shimano PRO logo had been reverse masked to that it was done in the splatter. And the color palette used wasn’t something I saw back then, but it would have made waves in 1989. Whoo.
One of the big characteristics of Mosaic’s paint jobs is their tendency to create a pattern that can be carried throughout the bike’s finish. These aren’t paint jobs, they are designs that reinforce Mosaic’s branding. Other’s could and should learn from their example.
Our winner was the Enigma that had been a finalist for best road bike. Some years back, this wouldn’t have been possible. The rules used to be that you could only enter a bike in a single category. Something about preventing a bike from winning too much. Can you imagine if Michael Phelps had been allowed to swim only one event in one stroke? So I cut the stupid rule.
I need to acknowledge a liberty I take as a judge. I exercise a discretionary veto, with the help of the other judges. Enigma actually submitted a black bike with the logo done in a rich gold—an homage to the Williams Team John Player Special. Killer bike. But not the most impressive bike they brought. So I had one of our minions return it and request to bring the red bike back.
Why? Well, I want every builder to have the best possible shot at winning an award and if I disagree with a builder about what their best work is, I’m not afraid to tell them that they face a better shot at success with a different bike. I’ve had people argue with me. Why, I’m not sure. If I’m telling someone they’ll do better with a different bike, why challenge that? I want everyone to do as well as they possibly can, even if that means I’m about to tear out my hair from the difficulty of the choice I face.
Enigma’s red road bike did something I’ve seen before: paint a translucent finish on carbon fiber components. But they did it to a degree that I haven’t seen before. They took the honeycomb pattern found in the frame and carried that through many of the components. Also, when I’ve seen Campy components painted previously, they have usually gotten an opaque coat of paint that effectively silences the Campy branding. I get that only a novice would miss the fact that these were Campagnolo components, but I like that they used a translucent finish to leave the branding intact. Classy.
However, painting components isn’t enough. Another piece of what put this bike over the top were the polished reinforcing rings on the head tube. It was a blingy touch that fit with the bike. And honestly, if there’s an occasion to completely bling out a bike, it’s a Campagnolo-decorated road bike. It calls out for it. The reinforcing rings helped echo the polished head tube badge and your eye was drawn to the rings and the badge because they’d matched the red perfectly with the anodized red on the King headset. I’ve never seen paint better match an anodized King headset than on this bike. I expect the red paint used was backward matched to the headset. Doesn’t matter. They got it right. It’s the sort of subtle but meaningful effort that would have caused my old buddy Radio Freddy to nod and say, “PRO.”
There comes a point when a bike is so well done, so droolingly gorgeous, so unbelievably Grace Kelly, that I experience pangs of anxiety about it being ridden in the real world. I am, as yet, unfamiliar with the pain of having the prettiest bike I’ve ever owned destroyed, but I had a bike I dearly loved damaged badly. It’s a peculiar pain. And while I’m not a caution-thrown-to-wind sort of person (people who have seen me descend may disagree), I do agree that YOLO. Everyone ought to have a bike that gives them as much joy with a light shined on it in the garage as they get riding out on the road.