The Rolling Stones must not have had the faintest idea as to the influence that they would hold in the world of cycling, albeit decades later, when they penned their popular anthem, Paint It Black. Love it or hate it, you’ve no doubt noticed the trend in matte black paint jobs that the majority of bicycles have been wearing over the past few years. There have been seasons when it seemed that nearly every bike on our sales floor was finished in some sort of black. The most interesting fashion of all seems to be the move towards shooting matte black paint jobs onto road bikes.
There was a time, decades ago, when a stolen bicycle could easily be identified by its hastily done, flat black paint job, sans decals. “Wheredja get the bike, bud? Nice over spray on the rims and cranks.” You knew it was hot. They knew it was hot. But now? Be prepared to pay thousands of dollars for the same look. It’s a wonderful case of art imitating life.
In the 1960’s and ’70s there was a tendency towards conservative, mainly solid colors on road bikes, whether they be used for leisure, touring or competitive road racing. Decals were kept simple. It was common to have a sensible head badge, the brand name on the downtube, and a few color bands on the seat tube. Life was simple then. If you liked blue, you bought the metallic blue one. If not, you bought the candy apple red one.
There’s no doubt about it that the 1980’s was a wonderful time. Big hair, crazy fashion, great music. Neon bikes. Referring to the bikes of the ’80s as “dayglo” would have been an understatement. Loud paint and numerous decals meant that the bikes of the 1980’s had more in common with NASCAR then any decade previous. And get a load of that cycling outfit! It’s enough to make a peacock blush. (incidentally, I still own a pair of those EXACT Sidi shoes)
After that came the kid-in-a-candy-store years of anodized colored parts. Shiny, oftentimes densely logo’d frames were the rage. If your bike had a plainer tone to it, you spent considerable money on stickers to make it more factory pro. Cyclists everywhere were “upgrading” perfectly good silver components by buying CNC machined, brightly anodized aluminum parts in red, gold, green, blue and purple, among others. Truth be known, many of these “high zoot” upgrades were of a considerably lower quality than the boring stock components. Ah well, at least you looked good.
The bikes of the 1980’s and ’90s were akin to attending a never ending all-niter. After the eventual hangover subsides, you want nothing more than calm. The 2001 S-works M4 Stumpjumper above is still a full factory race bike, but it most certainly seems to be more subdued than that in-your-face Yeti above it. From this point on, paint choices on bicycles returned to their simpler, less busy roots. Gone was the anodizing. Components were offered in black or silver. Many cyclists, BMXers in particular, went completely minimalist, removing decals from their bikes in order to present a cleaner, less noticeable ride.
If it’s minimalist you want, then it’s minimalist you shall get. Most companies made the shift in recent years to matte paints and ghosted graphics on both road and mountain bikes. After the glossy paints and excess graphics of previous decades, seeing a flat black road bike was quite startling. Where was the flashy NASCAR and F1, “factory pilot” look? This stealth fighter attitude was a complete 180 in the other direction. It’s about as lo-vis as you can get. One thing is certain. You’re either for it or against it. There seems to be no middle ground.
From predictable, plain paint colors and tasteful decals, to full volume neons and splashy graphics, to hide in the shadows mattes with barely there logos. We’ve made the trip from quiet to loud and back to quiet again. Our industry has most certainly offered us visual variety over the years. That much can be said. However, you know what they say about history repeating itself.
Have you seen the latest crop of bikes?