In recent years, the bicycle industry has seen all manner of strife as the arguments for and against new tech have been hashed out. Think electronic shifting, mountain bike wheel sizes, and disc brakes for the road. Every manufacturer has its own take, and despite a plethora of wonderfully helpful standards, there’s been a fair degree of chaos.
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But if there’s one thing it seems bike makers can agree on though, it’s that black bikes are really goddamn cool.
Every time a manufacturer launches a new halo model it’s menacingly ‘murdered out’. Cannondale has the Black Inc., Scott the Foil Premium and Addict SL, Focus the Izalco Max Zero, and so on and so on.
Boutique weight weenie specials are always black on black on black, and it’s not just top of the range carbon stuff either, many companies are painting their entry-level alloy bikes in equally unimaginative hues.
The Germans are particular offenders on this front. Just as every Audi on the road seems to be either Appliance White or Resale Silver, the vast majority of Teutonic bike output is in shades of wilfully inoffensive grey, black or white.
I did once ask someone who works for a leading German manufacturer why this was the case, and he said that it’s simply what the German domestic market demands. I can’t help wondering if this is a Pleasantville scenario, where people simply don’t realise that there’s an alternative.
There is of course one perfectly reasonable explanation for all this: black is the native colour of carbon fibre, so if you’re trying to make a lightweight bicycle then it makes sense not to adorn it with too much paint or too many decals.
It’s a weak argument though — non-carbon bikes are equally afflicted with the Black Death, and there are just enough brightly coloured lightweight bikes around to prove that such a thing is possible.
More to the point, I honestly don’t care if my bike is a few grams heavier if it means it doesn’t have to look like every single other bike in existence.
The enjoyment we get from our bikes isn’t simply a product of hard performance data, it’s also about how your bike makes you feel. You don’t directly perceive the three watts you’re saving at 20mph or the 50g an engineer shaved off by using full-carbon dropouts, but you do notice the way the paint sparkles when the light hits it just so.
When you lean your bike against the garage door to futz with your keys before going inside, there’s that moment where you pause and admire its sleek lines, the way it looks potent and aggressive just standing still. That fizzy feeling in the pit of your stomach is the reason you’re willing to spend three months’ income on a carbon toy, plus the fact that, you know, bikes are awesome.
The prevalence of black bikes is an irritation to those of us who see ourselves more as post-Oz Dorothy rather than the monochromatic Kansas edition. We need to get away from the idea that moody tones equate to quality, when what they really reflect is a lack of imagination.
It’s Eurobike this week, and I can guarantee that acres of exhibition space will be given over to me-too matt-black machines. They’ll be lighter, stiffer and better in most ways than last year’s bikes, but they’ll still be boring as hell to look at.