Without a doubt, for every professional road cyclist, the year begins with a moment, a moment that contains equal measures of excitement, nervousness, anxiety and fear. This moment is not the first weigh-in after the exuberant and, dare I say it, decadent offseason, nor the discovery of your last-minute teammates, managers or sponsors. It is much more important.
This is when the team battens down the hatches, a time when all phones are off limits, and a verbal agreement kicks in: never talk about what’s going on in this room until the embargo is lifted. .
This is when the team’s kit is unveiled each season.
You could hear a fly dropping, the tension in the air was palpable…and then it revealed itself.
Sometimes there are squeals, cheers and whoops from your American teammates. Other times there are sighs of relief or ambivalence. But sometimes there is an exhalation of deep disappointment, aversion and disdain.
This year, I was adamant that that anxiety would be a thing of the past, and as I was working with Castelli and Colnago on the design, I knew I was in good hands. However, they are also heritage brands, so to speak. So I had to ask myself, what does heritage mean in cycling? And does this heritage prevent you from doing something truly innovative?
Well, here’s the story of my recent kit and bike for Unbound in 2022 and I’ll let you answer those questions when I’m done.
“So we were inspired by the Kansas flag.” It was Colnago’s words that perhaps made me both nervous and excited. “Because there really isn’t much else that Kansas seems to be known for besides corn,” I added.
What could it be? What the brilliant designers at Colnago and Castelli would have dreamed up for me for my Unbound bike and kit. We wondered which era of cycling we loved the most, and we all agreed that, aesthetically, it was the crazy early 1990s. So we started there.
Then we realized that not only was it our favorite era, but there was also a drawing from the annals of Colnago’s past that we all thought of right away. The Olympian Art Deco Master! The chrome fork and seatstays, the fluorescent colors, the iconic Ace of Spades jersey rider hand-painted on the top tube. I mean. Go on. What’s not to like? So there we had it. The bike. An injection of life into ancient history, to combine modern performance and nostalgia while paying homage to the state of Kansas. We even found the state motto: ad astra by aspera, which translates to “to the stars through hardship,” which we also found to be quite appropriate for a 200-mile run. We felt history was written for this bike, a history that can only really come from its own heritage.
Castelli’s kit was no different. Initially, we thought the Masters Olympic Jersey clubs ace jersey racer painted on the top tube was a no-brainer. So we started there. But we wanted to go further. We looked back at the retro jerseys of the era and thought, keep going. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing and that’s exactly what we did.
We were also inspired by the colors of the Kansas state flag, which we thought worked perfectly with the fluorescent yellows and oranges, which elicited a feeling of “Oooooh, the 90s are coming back, and we’re loving it.” . But more than color, we wanted to dig a little deeper. I said Kansas was best known for corn (and flat open spaces), and we remembered Dorothy, the Wizard of Oz and thought, well, why not make it the “Wizard of Aus”? So there we had it. With personal touches like our gold embossed NH89 logo and Wizard of Aus theme, I think we’ve created something really shocking, really cool and really 90s.
It all looks super easy though, and in the end, of course, it all comes together effortlessly thanks to the master painters and kit production. But what I’ve found new respect for is the process itself.
Sitting down and discussing artistic inspiration is something new to me. I’ve always been the cyclist who takes his kit, wears it and rides his bike. But this process is the culmination of a big learning curve. When many people attend a call, to talk about their ideas, their feelings, their memories, at the end of the call, designers have to make sense of it all. And when we give them fuzzy concepts, or atmospheres, or themes, their job is to digest everything and create a first version. I hadn’t realized that the first version is often actually 3 or 4 versions, or even more.
And then you break down the elements of each design that we love and they turn into something new. Another series of 3 or 4 models. And the process continues. Then finally the idea is shown to a painter, or for the kit, to the designer who understands what is and isn’t possible with print and cut, so there we go back to the design board again to make something that can actually be made.
It sounds simple, it sounds simple, but to get to a final product there are countless steps, conversations, compromises, and again, more changes. I had no idea. Design was a language I had to learn, but in the end, following this collaboration with Castelli and Colnago, I have never been so proud to ride a kit or any bike before.
So where does this leave us on the question of heritage? I think in this case, the heritage is what gave us the framework to create something new. Bringing iconic design to a new age bike. To relive memories and a penchant for a truly unique era of cycling. Does this mean that it is really innovative? Maybe not, I don’t think that’s the point or the goal all the time. Sometimes it’s just about doing something beautiful to do something beautiful. Or bring an old icon back to life. Or simply to honor an era of color and design. I won’t try to change your idea of what heritage means in cycling, I’ll let you decide. But for me it means the freedom to build on the old to create something new.