A Cycling Renaissance

by Bryce Gracey December 05, 2013 1 Comment

While in architecture school back in 2005, I took a philosophy elective entitled 20th Century Theories of the End of Art. That same year, Armstrong won his fifth Tour de France. The thread that connected these seemingly disparate events in my mind was one of the assigned course readings, Art & Fear, by French Cultural Theorist, Paul Virilio. Virilio's essays in this work focus on the idea that the 'go for it' embracement of technology in Western culture and its correlations to speed and power leads to a cultural hubris and drains the collective humanity out of us. Art & Fear illustrates this with examples of vulgar hybridizations of man and technology from the macabre chemicalization of corpses in the Body Worlds exhibits of Gunther von Hagens to Austria's Sterlac, who uses mechanical prosthetics in his aim to fuse man and machine. Chemicals and machines—that brings us back to Armstrong.

Lance was definitely 'going for it' with the unbridled hubris Virilio feared. Taking full advantage of the chemicals being slipped his way, the results were as Virlio predicted in Lance's microcosm of society, the pro cycling tour. Translations of Virilio's work use the word "pitiless" frequently and I think that's an appropriate descriptive for Lance's treatment of those around him as he went beyond what is humanly capable if riding clean. Teammates and former allies were de-humanized as obstacles to be overcome or thrown under the bus in his vain attempt to cling to fleeting glory.

That infamous rider represents the extreme, but the peloton as a whole were pushing in a similar vein (albeit to a lesser extent in most cases). Though the doping is an assumption, pushing the technology of the bikes and components to the extreme for speed and power was empirically recognizable. Man was fused with machine that conjured images more akin to the uniformed Power Rangers than the nostalgic image of heroes such as Merckx or Coppi—images where the soul and charisma of the rider shined through. Fortunately, as is common with a bout of extremity, the pendulum has started swinging back the other way.

Enter Bradley Wiggins, who it seems cleanly won the 2012 Tour de France. Images of Wiggins from that year conjures associations with the British rock than pro cycling: E.L.O. rather than E.P.O. Yes, Wiggins, his teammates and competitors were all striving for power and speed, working and suffering for the glory and their paycheques, but stage times had slowed and there seems to be something more relatable about it all again—a human connection; a return of the humanism in cycling.

Wiggin's team so happens to be sponsored by Rapha, a cycling 'lifestyle' company who have capitalized on this swing to put humanism (or "romanticism" as founder Simon Mottram describes in this interview back into the sport. Of course I'm glossing over the fact that there are more players and factors than Rapha's ubiquitous black and white photos that have lead to what I would call a renaissance in cycling.

For my co-founder Mike and I, what this all added up to was the perfect time to start a bike company: when the interests of the industry at large were more closely aligned with our own. A time when the experience of the journey is at least as important as the end goal. As cliché as that may sound, it's what has always kept me hooked on cycling. The meditative, almost spiritual condition of experiencing the world on the bike, mostly on my own, but occasionally with the welcomed company of a group remains one of life's greatest pleasures.

That's where this bike company came from: finding a place between the advances of technology and the utilization of them that enhances the positive aspects of the joy of cycling. I've had all kinds of road bikes over the years, but the ones that stayed in the stable the longest were those that found this sweet spot. Yes, I want to be able to push my personal limits on a fast, responsive and stiff bike, but I also want to be seated on the right material which also allows me to enjoy the ride quality and a geometry that's predictable, grounded and perfectly tuned between comfort and full-out aerodynamics.

Titanium does this really well, and when the frame it's being utilized in is hand-made in the U.S. by expert craftsmen, it sings. It also looks pretty damn classy when you get the graphics and finishing right.

Mike wrote me a really nice note after he took the Great Divide prototypes out for his first ride—the guy knows bikes and that gave me the satisfaction that we were on the right track. We haven't been around very long yet, but the similar positive feedback we've received in the press and more importantly from our customers, continues to reinforce that with our rider-first approach, this humanist sensibility in cycling, we're on the right track.

Bryce Gracey
Bryce Gracey


1 Response

donald sisto
donald sisto

March 04, 2017

Since graduating from college in 1981, I have witnessed the erosion of art and craftsmanship across many facets of society and everyday life. I believe we can do far better as a culture by educating & supporting young minds to follow careers of creativity and construct.

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