THE POWER OF PAINT - AGAIN
Cervélo’s lead graphic designer, Tom Briggs, has created many designs for sponsored pro athletes and teams, as well as for our new and revamped production models. Two of these projects will be explored here to illustrate Cervélo’s drive to push the boundaries of bike design in various ways, including paint technology.
In the past four years Cervélo has taken an entirely new direction with how paint and graphics are approached. Gone are the days of formulaic cosmetics where everything looks the same for the sake of simplicity but offers nothing compelling. Paint was often an afterthought, a demand by the market but not inherent to what we produced and who we were as a company. We take an aggressive approach with our engineering on things like geometry, weight, stiffness and aerodynamics to name just a few, so why didn’t we do that with paint? It was time to change.
Two paramount examples of us throwing the rule book out in favor of progression are bikes developed for Great Britain at the 2016 Olympic Games and Mark Cavendish’s S5’s for the 2017 and 2018 Tour de France. Visibility is clearly paramount at these high profile events but how can we achieve that with the lowest possible weights? Generally more colour equals more weight but to simply shave a gram or two off of a production frame wasn’t good enough, we needed to shatter the limits of what was possible with cosmetics.
We knew this wasn’t a task we could undertake alone and we needed to choose a partner on the cutting edge of coating technologies. We began looking beyond paint and into new materials and application technologies, and in some cases not using paint at all. Our effort was singularly focused on improving the performance of the bikes while giving up nothing in terms of visuals.
At the onset of this material exploration we partnered with Silverstone Paint Technology (SPT) for the Great Britain Olympic bike, the T5GB. Their team’s experience in Formula 1 was the perfect fit. Co-founder Mark Turner was previously with Jordan F1 for many years prior to branching out to work on paint for automotive racing with his brothers Rob and Matt.
Talking to bicycle painters can often be compared to talking to artisans, while SPT use a vocabulary more akin to chemists. Their craft is meticulous and rooted in science, which allowed us to explore materials that were previously unavailable in the cycling industry. Paint has an inherent weight but through complex chemistry, SPT was able to formulate the lightest paint used in F1. This is the paint we chose for the T5GB. The advanced technology, combined with their highly refined application process, significantly reduced the amount of paint which needed to be used. Paint that would usually weigh in around 150 grams in normal production, was brought down to just 24.6 grams for the final version of the T5GB ridden at the Rio Olympics.
While reducing the overall weight of our bikes is paramount, it’s important to understand that in situations like the Olympics and the Tour de France, all brands are competing for visual real estate. Visuals must be compelling to stand out from the crowd but when working with international teams many layers of approval have to be obtained.
Have you ever tried to pick out a new colour for your renovated bathroom with your partner only to realize one person wants beige and the other wants hot pink? Now magnify that decision to something that is supposed represent an entire nation, and you can begin to imagine the type of scrutiny placed upon this project by the British Cycling Federation for Rio.
We wanted to maximize our efforts, so we engaged in a study that looked at the placement of cameras within the Rio velodrome to ensure maximum visibility while also adhering to the IOC regulations regarding logos and logo placements.
Colour was then scrutinized to ensure that, on camera, it displayed correctly. This involved using colours that in person looked one way but appeared very differently on an HD television. With a maximum capacity in the Rio velodrome of 30,000 over the 6 days of competition but with a possible 1.9 billion watching on TV, (that’s 64,000 television viewers for every 1 in person viewer), it was much more important that the on screen version relay the colour correctly.
With the help of that ultra light paint, Team Great Britain went on to capture 6 gold medals, 4 silver and 1 bronze, along with setting 2 world records.
A year later, we took these lessons learned and employed them with Mark Cavendish’s S5 for the Tour de France. In this instance, we moved away from using paint or primer as a base material and moved to molecular technology. This allowed us to apply a metallic finish to the bike with such a small amount of material that the carbon fiber strands are visible through the mirrored finish. This material only added a single gram to the weight of the bare frame.
It was important to ensure that Cav looked integrated into his team but we wanted his bike to be the centerpiece for Dimension Data. It was important that we increased the visibility of the colour, so our partners at SPT assisted with this to ensure we achieved the maximum brightness out of all the finishes.
Working with someone like Mark Cavendish can be an extraordinary challenge. How do you make something special for someone who receives unique and prototype products all the time? It became clear early in the process that we’d need to find ways to make his bike lighter and faster if we wanted his full buy in, a fancy shade of green wasn’t going to cut it. The day the concept and technology were revealed to him he grabbed his daughter and held her up to the computer screen to show her what his bike would look like. You could sense his excitement regarding the fact that he would be using a proprietary technology that had never been seen outside of Formula 1 racing. The day of the S5’s public release Mark commented, “Rarely I get absolutely blown away by a paint job but I’m in awe of my new Cervélo S5” on his instagram account. Unfortunately Mark’s race didn’t go quite as planned with a now famous crash in the final sprint on stage 4 of the 2017 Tour de France. However, both Mark and Cervélo believed in the technology so much that we rolled out a slightly different version the following year which still took advantage of these incredible materials.
The pro peloton and the Olympics are examples of the proving grounds we use to push the envelope of design so we can learn and deliver even better performance to our customers. Paint is critical to our business and with partners like Silverstone Paint Technology we have ways to no longer just follow, but to lead in this area of bicycle engineering.