OPINION

Pipe Wet Dreams

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VecchioJo looks at lipsticks for a pig

We are standing knee deep in a rainbow sewer of glittery imagery that’s flooding spangled in front of our eyes. Perpetually bathed in the flattering underlight glow of an all pervading flat visual world we spend our entire lives looking at screens; at work, at play, at social. Desk, train, café, pub, when friends are talking, when that thing they like is on television, street, sofa, bed, toilet. Constantly looking, looking down. Looking for something.

To cope with this interminable kaleidoscopic tsunami of optical information our attention spans have crumbled to milliseconds, it’s impossible to afford the same import to everything, so it’s only the initial impression that lasts, we don’t have time to delve into the awkward details, don’t confuse us, we just want to be tingled by the veneer of shiny.

Scanning and moving on, swiping, next page, swiping, click on link, close, cmd + T, scroll, scroll, click to enlarge, cmd + w. We want our attention to be grabbed and we don’t know what by, but we’ll know it when we see it. Keep flicking. Next thing, and the next, a flutter of constantly updating tabs of next things.

If something does manage to pierce the cynical cataracts of our eyes and stick to the back of our heads, pauses a page, hovers the finger, surprise an excited skip from a blasé heart, then it is something rare and special. Or just prettier than the rest.

It’s how to sell a bike these days. Create a look that can stop the internet traffic. An erotic lick of paint, a splattering of attention to details, top end groupset, some deep section rims. Make some porn, it’s what the web is best at.

Certain bicycle frame-builders work this and have carved out a definite visual identity for themselves with a graphic style, a way with colour and a certain crisp panache that makes them stand out and recognizable from 50 paces, at 5,000 pixels, half a world away. Slap on the makeup, pout, shoulders back, chest out, paint the stem to match.

The once important things about a bike frame have become secondary. What’s the frame made from? Doesn’t really matter. What are the frame dimensions and angles? Mostly irrelevant. What’s the craftsmanship like? It’s underneath a deep pool of rich colour you want to dive into, why do you have to ask? Although there is this really cool little detail here, look.

The dexterity, expertise, effort and skills of the builder are a long way down the list of requirements, I don’t want the spec sheet, just show me the gallery.

But what the internet takes away with superficial pleasures, it gives back with infinite reach. Where once the choosing of a framebuilder was confined to the one that lived in your valley, or the valley a bike or train ride away, now you can pick and chose your next new pride and joy from any number of dusty arc strobed sheds anywhere on the globe. Because you’ve seen a picture of a gorgeous thing from a frame shop in the colonies and read a glowing and florid description involving the words passion and unique and quality, you’re completely sold. The considered black and white pictures of workshop tools and swarf were the cherry on the cake. It’s the mail order bride of the cycling world.

The feel and the fit have given way to the appeal of the aesthetic. When you’re buying from halfway across the world there’s not much real chance of a test ride anyway, maybe an opinion of a bike will have appeared in words and pictures, but essentially your choice depends upon some kind of amorphous affinity with whatever your chosen framebuilder is doing, and trusting that they know what they’re doing when it comes to what a bike should do and they just don’t know their way round a Pantone chart and are handy with the masking tape. You also have to trust that they now how to transfer what you want from a bike into a desirable collection of pipes. It could ride like a pig, but it will be a pig in pretty lipstick.

Still, you’re riding’s not about performance, you ride to put a smile on your face, your trophy bike helps with that, you’re smiling even before you’re riding. You’re happy looking at it in the shed, you polish the details with a care your partner remembers. All your friends on their cookie-cutter carbon-fibre bikes look on it in sick-eyed envy outside the coffee-shop. Your hand-cooked to their microwave meals. Pop a picture on instagram, count the likes.

(VecchioJo never has less than half a dozen custom steel bikes in the shed at any one time)

Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.

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