My favorite local bike emporium, Spokes Etc., just put up on Facebook a shot of a brand new Trek Madone, one of the top-of-the-line Trek cycles. The bike frame has no markings, and the other components only minimal ones, most notably the wheels, with their “Bontrager” lettering. Pretty much everything on the bike—bar tape, cranks, saddle, rear derailleur—is the same color: black.
This is a trend I have noted in high-end bikes for 2014 (it’s the beginning of the new model year). Black is the color that prevails. The August Velo News reviews “Bikes of the Tour de France.” We won’t debate here whether “Podium Girls of the Tour de France” would have raised circulation (the magazine’s, not the reader’s). Bike freaks read Velo News, and they know what we like. There’s a range of brands from Cervélo to Felt, and every one of these babies, ranging up to $17,655 as tested, is black. The same magazine’s full-page adverts for top level bikes show more of the “dark side.” Even the Bianchi Sempre pro is black! That’s heresy, given the traditional Bianchi Celeste (turquoise) color that is the elite Italian brand’s most famous trademark. About the only colorful bike in the issue is a silver job that Bernard Hinault is shown riding while wearing the yellow jersey in the mid-‘80s.
Spokes Etc.’s Trek Madone on Facebook has the “U5” frame paint job, meaning that it’s “U(nder) 5” grams. The average paint job apparently weighs 100 grams. There are 28.3 grams to an ounce, so this paint job weighs 1/6 of an ounce, while most bikes haul around the crushing load of about 3 ½ ounces of finish paint. That’s 3 1/3 ounces more. I can look downward toward my beltline and figure out where I could easily drop more than that much weight without resorting to a U5 paint job.
My theory is that the black hue in bikes is inspired by military aircraft. In fact, the Madone’s paint is matte black, touted as “Stealth Mode.” Why do we find that desirable? Partly, I think, because it suggests the “tough guy” attitude. That trend began with Lance Armstrong’s socks about 2004, and various Livestrong gear shortly thereafter. Soon some pro teams had a significant amount of black on their kit, though black is not a good color for hot weather riding. These days Radio Shack and Sky seem to be the darkest by that criterion.
But why everyday riders? We all like to think we’re tougher than we are, don’t we? And what’s faster and more dangerous than a billion-dollar matte black bomber? Instead of merely pretending that we’re some swift pro rider on the bike, we can pretend we’re bomber pilots. And the potential is endless. Why not elite Castelli jerseys and bibs in camo patterns? Or Bell matte camo “IED” helmets? And of course we could get Camelbaks in “Army Knapsack” configuration, to harmonize with our Pearl Izumi “Marching Boot” road shoes. We’d be dressed fit to kill.
And that’s why I am so happy with my 5-year-old Trek, which features white and blue, but not just “blue,” rather blues that subtly and smoothly modulate from midnight blue to turquoise, much like the sky itself. It’s elegant, it’s cool, it’s happy. And it’s not matte. And it’s not black.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.