Artist Shepard Fairey and his creative agency Studio Number One have just collaborated with Lance Armstrong to design the new look of his cycling crew, Team Radio Shack, for the upcoming Tour of California, kicking off this Sunday, May 15th. The result is a sick new design on the Trek Madone 6.9 SSL for the team riders. Shepard was kind enough to check in with Complex for this exclusive interview to discuss the project, the bikes and his collaboration with Lance.
Interview By Jamie O’Shea
Tell us about the genesis of this project.
My creative agency Studio Number One and I have a longstanding personal relationship with Lance Armstrong and now that he’s officially retired from professional cycling he’s focused on running his own bike racing team, Team Radio Shack.
Lance is a big art collector who is really engaged with the art scene I’m a part of, so when he decided to make some noise with Team Radio Shack’s run at this year’s Tour of California, he asked us to come onboard as creative partners and interpret the energy of the team in a way that would be unlike anything else on the road, from the actual bikes to the team tour bus.
What was your inspiration for creating the team’s look?
Working together with a lead Art Director at Studio Number One, Casey Ryder, we focused on reinterpreting the classic red/black/white colorway of primary team sponsor Radio Shack in a way that would be totally modern and convey the electricity of that brand in a cycling-specific aesthetic. It’s really lucky for us that Radio Shack flies our favorite color scheme (laughs).
For the bike, we referenced a more classic two-toned look overall and created a new signature team crest as an alternate to the primary branding that was worked into a detailed pattern that's visible in all the red surfaces when viewed up close. The other graphic elements like the lightning bolts connect back to the Radio Shack brand while conveying the energy of the team and its riders.
As a subtle homage to California, we created our version of the bear from the state flag that incorporates the state star and dropped that in just below the saddle at the top of the seatpost. It’s not something you’ll catch on TV, but up close, it adds to the narrative aspect of the bikes.
Why is the Tour of California important to Lance?
Like soccer, professional cycling is a sport that’s huge worldwide, but not as big in the US. Since the Tour of California is arguably the most important and high-profile domestic race, and California has always been a hotbed of creative culture and is our home, it made perfect sense to make this race the platform to break away from cycling convention and collaborate.
What are some of the challenges in working with a bicycle as an art object?
Strangely enough, while a bike is a relatively “big” object, it’s actually got very little physical surface area to work with, and the spaces you do have are totally sculptural with complex curves and joints that have to be carefully navigated. It’s very challenging.
Also, like NASCAR, when you get into designing race bikes, there are a lot of official team sponsor logos that need to dominate that real estate and read well for the cameras, so the trick is finding the right degree of color treatment and detail that stands out at a distance and offers an engaging and complex surface at close inspection. Ideally, you want these to look like race bikes and art objects at the same time, which isn’t always easy.
How difficult was the painting process?
It’s really complex, but luckily, that’s something the Trek paint design team executes. They’ve got an incredible in-house crew led by Shane Siedschlag and Eric Heth who can figure out how to translate the ornate details we designed onto these surfaces without compromising any of the art elements. Their shop at Trek HQ in Wisconsin is beyond state-of-the-art, so they can execute almost anything we come up with. The entire bike is done in a matte finish as well, which adds to the badass factor when you see these in person.
What’s the history of artistic collaborations in professional cycling?
Cycling has a longstanding graphic tradition that is evolving as bike technology and shapes progress, but it’s rare to see artists collaborating with brands to design competition race bikes. That’s something that Lance really pioneered starting with his collaboration with Futura before retiring in 2005. It was taken to a pinnacle level in 2009 when he came back to professional racing and rode a series of artist bikes as part of his “Stages” campaign to bring the art community together with cycling to raise awareness for cancer and LiveSTRONG. I was lucky to be asked to be a part of that alongside artists like KAWS and Damien Hirst, and created a bike that he rode in that year’s Giro d’Italia.
What happens to these bikes after the Tour of California?
All of the individual bikes will be signed by me, Casey, and the respective rider and then auctioned off with all proceeds going to benefit LiveSTRONG. Cancer has affected the lives of a lot of us at Studio Number One, so it’s important to see this effort ultimately helping to fund research and outreach for that cause.
For more info check out studionumberone.com.