Giro d'Italia

Wheeled masterpieces

The most recent in a series of customized Trek bikes for Lance Armstrong will debut this weekend at the Giro d’Italia. Part of an “artist bike” series, production of which was coordinated by Jamie O’Shea of Supertouch (an art and culture blog), the latest bikes are especially eye-catching.

By Zack Vestal

The Shepard Fairey-designed graphic intends to pay homage to both Italian architecture and the Livestrong movement.

The Shepard Fairey-designed graphic intends to pay homage to both Italian architecture and the Livestrong movement.

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The most recent in a series of customized Trek bikes for Lance Armstrong will debut this weekend at the Giro d’Italia. Part of an “artist bike” series, production of which was coordinated by Jamie O’Shea of Supertouch (an art and culture blog), the latest bikes are especially eye-catching.

The road race bike, a standard Trek Madone, was designed by artist Shepard Fairey as a tribute to both Armstrong’s cancer-fighting foundation and to Italian architecture. The intricate patterning on the yellow Shepard Fairey Madone is actually composed of decal sheets that were carefully applied in-house by Trek graphic artist Shane Siedschlag. Using a steady hand and an Xacto knife to trim excess, Siedschlag installed the graphics over the top of a Livestrong yellow paint job. The application process is shown on a YouTube video on the Supertouchart.com website.

Kenny Scharf's TTX is airbrushed paint in a "light speed" outer space theme.

Kenny Scharf’s TTX is airbrushed paint in a “light speed” outer space theme.

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By contrast, the TTX time trial bike was painted by artist Kenny Scharf with a “light speed” outer space theme. Photographed with a Bontrager-branded disc and a Bontrager Aeolus 9.0 front wheel, this bike (and the Madone) will be raced more or less as shown, except for the wheels, which are selected based on the conditions present on a given day.

Where do all these bikes go?
The number of custom painted bikes under Armstrong has been notable this season. From January’s Tour Down Under to the Giro this weekend, he’s been gifted with a new bike for each event. According to Tom Kuefler at Trek, the 1274 Livestrong bikes that Trek painted are for Armstrong to do with as he chooses. Potential destinations include display at Mellow Johnny’s, benefit auctions for the LAF, and of course Armstrong’s own collection.

Following the Giro, the Kenny Scharf TTX and the Shepard Fairey Madone have a certain future. They are part of an art installation called “Stages” to be opened in Paris July 16th, and later this fall on October 2nd, they will be auctioned off in New York City to benefit the LAF.

Where did all these bikes come from?
The Livestrong bikes were all created in-house at Trek, using masking and paint. Trek’s Project One paint program was also employed in the new bikes’ décor, but in different ways.

According to Trek’s Kuefler, “each artist was provided a “raw” frame to help them visualize the artistic possibilities, but working with the complex 3D shapes and the relatively small “canvas” of a bike frame is completely foreign to most if not all of the artists, who are used to working on more traditional (and flatter) surfaces.

Finished in time to debut at the Giro, the Madone graphics are intricate, hand applied decals.

Finished in time to debut at the Giro, the Madone graphics are intricate, hand applied decals.

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“Trek’s expertise however is precisely in working with the intricate shapes and unique lines of bike frames,” he added.

Trek graphic designers then work with the artists as to the available color palette and application methods (paint vs decals).

Trek estimates that each bike requires over 50 hours of work to complete, factoring in consultation, design, and actual paint time.

How do these bikes get to the race on time?
According to team liason Ben Coates, timing is the most difficult aspect of these custom bikes. “Getting a bike to a rider the week before, or even the day before a race, leaves no room for error,” he said. “That’s stressful—on me, and the team mechanic.”

Just last week at the Tour of the Gila, Armstrong raced a white 1274 TTX time trial bike.

“The team mechanic and I built that bike Thursday night,” said Coates. “Of course we have Lance’s measurements for all the hard-points, but every mechanic knows that each bike comes together in its own unique way and has its own unique feel.”

The number of new bikes for an athlete as famously detail-oriented as Armstrong adds a level of complexity and pressure uncommon even in the high-stakes world of professional road racing. “

The pressure to get it right, right out of the box, was huge,” said Coates. “There was little or no time to dial it in. Of course, that’s not to mention the fact that these bikes are one-off works of art from some of the biggest names on the art scene right now.”

As if competing for the first time in the 100th anniversary edition of the Giro d’Italia, the first grand tour in three years, were not enough, Armstrong’s attention-grabbing bikes and the work to deliver them dials up the stress another notch. But at the end of the day, it’s why Armstrong is back on the scene—to attract attention to the sport, his sponsors, and his anti-cancer efforts.

And if Armstrong is feeling any pressure himself, he’s not afraid to bring his sponsors into that world.

“The dollar value of these bikes is probably at least six figures. That adds a bit of pressure,” said Coates.

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