The Power of Paint
Cervélo’s lead graphic designer, Tom Briggs, has created many designs for sponsored pro athletes and teams, as well as for new and revamped production models. Of these, the three custom projects explored here — Team Dimension Data’s Qhubeka S5, and the P5s ridden by Ironman World Champion Frederik Van Lierde and ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Champion Caroline Steffen — best illustrate his creative process.
“I don’t think I’ve ever done two bikes in exactly the same way before,” Briggs says. “But I always follow a similar routine in my approach. First I delve into the background of the athletes or team. The Qhubeka bike, for example, is deeply rooted in the values and goals of the Qhubeka foundation, as well as African design and visual languages ranging from pattern-making and tapestries to national flags and the natural landscape.
“Freddy’s P5 was my first bike-design project for Cervélo, so I spent a lot of time studying the bike’s form and exploring how the graphics could play off of it when viewed from all angles. I also communicated with Freddy extensively about his motivations and inspirations, and how we could push that into the visuals.
“With Caroline, I started by trying to understand who she is as an athlete, what motivates her, and how those concepts can be visualized to create something personal while also retaining Cervélo’s DNA. I sent her a series of questions that focused on her psyche as an athlete and how she maintains focus, but also touched on her personal life and childhood. I’m always looking for ways the graphics and messaging can inspire an athlete to push beyond their limits. In this case there was a huge sense of nationalism, as Caroline takes great pride in being a Swiss athlete.
The second phase of my research routine consists of sitting down with our engineering team to examine how graphics could accentuate the bike’s physical properties. For the DD bikes, we also had to make sure we were working within UCI parameters, which mostly had to do with confirming that yellow — you know, like the jersey — was OK to use on the bike.
“Caroline was the first athlete to send me a sketch of an idea — on a napkin, no less! It had a basic structure to it, and I combined this with her feedback to produce something that could inspire one of the best triathletes in the world. The patterned Swiss crosses on the fork and rear dropout area were heavily influenced by the sketch, but the rest of it was inspired by other factors. Caroline’s nickname, “Xena,” is that of a Warrior Princess, and I knew this needed to be incorporated. So I began to look at the edges of the bike as knife edges or blades. That’s where the white-to-grey gradient finishes come from.
“Frederik is motivated by both his family and the technology he uses daily to train and compete at the Ironman distance. His family’s names appear all over the the bike, while the technology theme is rendered as a series of pixels that cascade across the bike, making it appear to be in motion even while standing still. Freddy’s world championship victory in 2013 was a landmark moment for him, so on the top of the toptube I wanted to commemorate his winning time. Now, when he looks down while riding, he could be inspired to go faster and beat it.
“The DD bikes’ chrome finish was inspired by the Qhubeka foundation. Remember the first time you rode a bike? We can all relate to Qhubeka’s goal of improving lives by using bikes to expand the distances people can travel, so I wanted the bike to literally reflect its riders. The yellow gradient lines running up the fork and seat stays represent the sun rising over South Africa, but also the rising of the team to a new competitive level. The team’s African pride also needed to be acknowledged, but not in a heavy-handed way. So the flag’s colours were subtly added to the bottom of the S5 downtube.”
“In the end, Freddy’s bike told the story of how he has risen to such great heights. I’m proud of how it marries Cervélo’s technological edge with one of the best triathletes in the world. It set a benchmark for me in terms of the types of things we can do with graphics; I’ve tried to make each subsequent bike better than this one.
“The Qhubeka bike took my process to a new level. When we reached the final stages I joined Cervélo’s quality assurance paint specialist, Karl Gardner, on a three-week visit to the painting facility in Taichung, Taiwan. I can’t say enough about their dedication to this extremely difficult paint process.
“Caroline was our second triathlete, and the only woman, riding a fully custom-painted P5 at the 2014 Ironman World Championship in Kona, so her bike got a lot of attention. It was a perfect example of how these projects are rewarding even after the graphics work is done. Photos of Freddy’s bike went viral on social media, and the S5 special editions we sold to support Qhubeka were snapped up. These designs really resonated with the cycling community and showed off what we are able to do with paint and graphics.”