The Colorforms Years

A pal of mine with initials, Craig Ryan, once asked me -

Richard, if we were to take the “vehicle” part of the equation out of this discussion, would you feel differently about making frames, art, sides of the curve and all?

I came into cycling and framebuilding through the sports/racing window but one element (of many) that was a catalyst involved that bicycles had beauty, were made by hand, but whose major role was as equipment for the event and user. Through this lens, I never viewed bicycles as art, or craft, or as a fetish-worthy item that would double as a status symbol or collectible. so while I cling to the vehicles angle with regularity, I can’t imagine how I could ever separate the intended use of one (custom-made OR from a production), and view it as an object made solely as an art exercise. Through the years, I have seen folks with other backgrounds and motivations make some really well appointed examples of metalwork – and some with beyond mad skills, too – but I can’t recall any of them resonating with me as worthy of use in a race, or training for a race, or even for use during exercise on an open road. Whether it’s overdone work (excessive and obsessive details on the lugs, overuse of paint motifs that transform the frame into an artist’s canvass, questionable appropriation of design elements from – say, six different bicycle types thrown together into a stew to produce a hybrid seventh type…), or just a lack of sense used to create the geometry for said unit – no matter what, a bicycle has to work. We can talk about lines, and curves, and rococo influences, or paint colors borrowed from a box of Colorforms found at a tag sale, or naming your model after some film that was in vogue during the French New Wave period – no matter what, a bicycle remains a vehicle first, last, and foremost. To bring that back on track, my observation is that most newbs just want to create, or live an artiste’s life, or find new uses for stainless, without having a basic understanding about bicycle history, construction, frame design, or anatomy, not to mention the market that the bicycle maker has to find and exist in.