When it comes to bike paint aesthetics, I have a fair amount of duck in me. My sojourn into the world of bike began in the mid-eighties, when frames were (mostly) steel and they were gloriously festooned with chrome, candy-colored paint fades and painted panels of all colors of the rainbow. You could see a Colnago coming from a block away. Its gradated plumage shocked the senses while the simple, stately-serifed text “Colnago” boldly contrasted against the colored chaos going on behind it. A Colnago asserted itself, they may have been tacky at times, but they were never forgotten. Even now, I consider these painted peacocks to be the acme of the bicycle paint aesthetic, they’ve left an indelible impression upon me.
The term for this lasting aesthetic effect is called filial imprinting. It’s an old canard (get it?) that when hatching, baby ducks and geese will confer motherhood upon whoever or whatever they see first when emerging from their eggs—but in this case the canard actually quacks true. Within thirteen to sixteen hours after hatching, there is a critical period when ducklings and goslings imprint on the first suitable moving stimulus, usually this is their mother, but ducks and geese have imprinted on humans, wading boots (careful what you wear in the critical period) and in one very cruel experiment, a box that was placed on model train. How train-mounted box did as a parent, we don’t know, but rumor has it that it was a better nurturer than wading boots. I emerged from my bike egg in the mid-eighties, and the first bikes I saw were the candy-colored concoctions of that era, and they became my train-mounted-box paint-mamas.
But these days, I am a lost duck. The trend of the era is the “murdered out” look of black decals upon black or raw carbon frames. I cannot express how revolting this combination is to an Eighties Paint Duck. These bikes have no feathers! How will they fly? These poor fowl joylessly plod the earth with their drab feathers, never soaring amongst the puffy colds and rainbows of pigment-tinted joy. And what happened to manufacturers proudly pronouncing their names on the tubes they crafted? A black decal on a black frame can only be seen when the bike is precisely tilted towards the eye. They hide their names as if they are ashamed of their creations, and want no one to know the misery that they have brought forth.
Has this been done in the name of weight savings? Have we sold our souls for 200 grams of lacquer? This weight saving seems pittance when compared to the joy of a gloriously painted frame. The human ear weights about 150 grams (if you ever want to have a dark Google search, try typing “how much a human ear weigh?” into a search box) and is not necessary for survival, but would you consider forgoing an ear to be faster? Of course you wouldn’t. You’d be considered a fool to mutilate yourself in such a manner. Hmmm, perhaps Van Gogh was looking for an edge in the world of cutthroat Post-Impressionist match sprinting? That guy was dedicated.
I believe strongly that this dark era will soon be considered the “acid wash” of our times. A passing fad that, when looked back upon, will prompt us to all wonder, “What were we thinking?” Hopefully, this day will come. In the meantime, the carbon darkness of our era has come to a point where the obsidian shadows have become inescapable. Even I—the Eighties Paint Duck—have succumbed to the muted tones. My current frame, a Felt F1 seems to have the somber dressing of a lady in mourning, but what are you going to do? I got a great deal on it.