RED HOOK CRIT
It’s a race beloved by many, where skinsuits reign and sheer leg strength is used for both going fast and slowing down. No brakes, no problems. To celebrate the joy that is the Red Hook Crit, four of our designers were given the task of personalizing a bike and gear for each city of the Red Hook Crit—Brooklyn, London, Barcelona, and Milano.
RED HOOK CRIT
Milan is more than just the location for Red Hook Crit: Milano No.7, it’s an inspirational place for designers of all walks of life. Fashion, architecture, art—you name it, it’s there. But as far as designer Erik Nohlin’s concerned, the best thing to come out of that fair city is not Prada, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, or Kartell, it’s Ettore Sottsass, “the only real punk rocker the field of design has ever had.” Never heard of Sottsass? Prepare to take your lesson, because to get to the soul of Nohlin’s Red Hook Crit Team Allez-Allez collection, you must first meet the man who stoked that fire.
Ettore Sottsass, an Italian architect and designer, founded the post modernistic artist collective called the Memphis Group in Milano in 1981. In the coming decades, this group reshaped the field of design by breaking all the rules, questioning everything, and basically turning the whole scene upside down. Their particular style of design elicited the same kind of reaction that most punk music does—it thrilled some people and created an intense sense of loathing in others. An article in the SF Chronicle once summed up Memphis as “a school of design that was a riot of color and materials that often overwhelmed a piece's original intent, a shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher-Price.”
Whether or not you agree with that assessment is a moot point, because from Nohlin’s POV, “Any break of rules is my friend, and Ettore has always been there as an inspiration for me in my work, not so much his physical work in the past, more his philosophy, method, and curiosity.” This was the starting point for the RHC Milano collection of bike, helmet, kit, and shoes.
Erik Nohlin, Scandinavian Rule Breaker
I want the public to look at this bike and think ‘WTF is that thing?’ just the way I reacted when I first saw a Sottsass piece in art school.
“In the early stages of the Red Hook Crit: Milano design process,” explains Nohlin, “I studied the massive amount of work Ettore contributed to the world and decided that my concept would be a tribute to him and his brilliant legacy. A big ‘thank you’ for all the inspiration and for making product design less boring for us all.” Ettore is, as Nohlin puts it, “one of the most important and influential designers, architects, and artists the world has ever seen.”
“The way Memphis gave the middle finger to the establishment has been a great inspiration to me as a designer,” he continues. “By simply having more fun while tearing down walls, Sottsass was able to create so much confusion that people simply had no choice but to like him, mostly because he made people insecure and confused.
“I naturally have a more Scandinavian approach to design. Toned down, natural, form follows function, and all that. Pretty much the opposite perspective from what Sottsass later work is known for.” As for Nohlin himself: “I certainly have a lot of Sottsass-type fun on the inside and to let some of it out during this design process has been refreshing. A tribute to Ettore is a playful and weird concept I hope is true to his legacy of breaking the rules while having all the fun, and in the end, creating a lot of confusion."
Team Allez-Allez’s Colin Strickland and Aldo Ilesic will ride Nohlin’s collection at RHC Milano No.7 and are ready to channel a little punk attitude of their own, confuse the competition, and turn the race on its head—just as the late, great Sottsass would have wanted it.
RED HOOK CRIT
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”
While it’s doubtful Sun Tzu ever raced a fixed-gear bicycle, this well-known line from “The Art of War” could easily have been written about the chaotic experience of finding yourself in the middle of the pack at a Red Hook Crit (RHC). There’s a frenzy of activity, colors flashing by, and the confusion of every rider wanting to make that break and steal the race. There is opportunity here—you just need to know when to strike.
“I call it Crit Camo,” says Specialized Industrial Designer Brian “Swiz” Szykowny, describing the theme of his RHC Barcelona designs—a colorful camouflage that’s as chaotic as the race itself. “It’s confusing and it blends in with everyone else’s crazy kits, but it also doesn’t. So you’re floating in the pack [but] if your teammate needs to know where you’re at, they can spot you from a mile away.”
When it comes to crit racing, you must always be able to see your allies in the field.
“I dug around for some 'Art of War' quotes to put on there, because crit racing is a lot like a battle,” he says, describing why he chose the particular quote that appears on the inside collar of the kit riders Colin Strickland and Aldo Ilesic (Allez-Allez Specialized) will be wearing. “In the midst of chaos there is also opportunity, and that's also a little bit of like our company."
The Red Hook bikes were the most challenging masking project I've done on a bike. This was 16 layers of paint with 6 different masks over all that, so it turned into a huge masking ordeal.
The RHC Barcelona bikes, kits, helmets, and shoes seek to create the effect of hiding in plain sight” during the race, but “Crit Camo” isn’t just a random collection of shapes. In finalizing his design, Szykowny combined three different military camouflage patterns: two German—Rain Pattern and Plane Tree—and a third splinter camo called M90. With a nod to the Spanish artist, Gaudi, and his mosaic style, Brian proceeded to blend all three together to create a kind of wild and outrageous color explosion. It is, to put it bluntly, loud.
“It actually started out a little bit more complicated and it got toned down as it developed,” says Brian, explaining how the color palette was chosen. “There is a little bit of color theory going on. Some triadic colors, so they complement each other on the color wheel, and at the end, I did a kind of Hail Mary pass added the blue, which is a complementary color to the orange.”
The problem with the colors—or challenge, really—was always going to be in the sheer level of work required to get them all on the bikes. “The painting is extensive for something like this, but I just honestly wanted a challenge in the paint booth.”
Looking at the behind the scenes photos in the booth, it seems he got his wish.
RED HOOK CRIT
What do you get when you take the U.K’s Royal family, Buckingham Palace, and the Crown Jewels, and mix them with Alice in Wonderland and a deck of cards? A collection (bike, kit, helmet, and shoes) that’s ready to deliver the royal treatment at RHC London No.2.
When Specialized Footwear Designer, Jon Takao, started thinking of the concept for his London-themed Red Hook Crit project, he focused first on the city itself and the icons people would recognize. Through this process, he arrived quite naturally at the front gates of Buckingham Palace and the Royal family. Elements from the Crown Jewels Collection, plus the actual black and gold of the gates to the palace, worked their way into the design of the bike and shoes. The final jewel in the project’s crown came once Takao began considering what it means to race in RCH’s wild and cutthroat format.
“I started thinking about the race and that half the time, it’s such a gamble. Racing in general is a lot of luck, positioning, and then fake-it-till-you-make it,” says Takao. With the idea of “the great gamble” in his head, Takao took the next logical step and arrived at a Royal Flush to tie it back to the original idea. After choosing the King as the featured player, he began to research detailing for design elements, and in the process, he found a way to create the final piece in the collection—one that would round out the theme.
“The Queen’s guards in Alice in Wonderland are playing cards, so that become the inspiration for the kit.”
With the black and gold of the bike (with reflective details that will come to vibrant life when hit by the flash of cameras), the intensity of the kit, and the regal audaciousness of the shoes, Takao has created a collection fit for Kings.
I pulled the detailing out of the gates [of Buckingham Palace] and put that on the bike in a reflective piece, and I found a sword in the Crown Jewels Collection, and that's where that detailing around all the lugs came from.
RED HOOK CRIT
The first Red Hook Crit—held in Red Hook, Brooklyn in 2008 to celebrate a birthday—was a humble affair, with just a handful of riders and spectators. Today, it's morphed into a true institution, with qualifying times and a field capped at 250. It’s an unsanctioned event that focuses on pure speed rather than endurance, and attracts riders who like their road races "alley cat" flavored, with hairpin bends and true technical skill needed for a chance to win. Loved by spectators and riders alike, the energy is pure street—the perfect environment for an artist to play.
McKenzie Sampson, Apparel and Technical Graphics Designer at Specialized, has always gravitated towards the street-art vibe of Brooklyn. When approaching this project, he took his personal style and love of graffiti, and mixed it with the emotions cyclists often feel when racing bikes: the sense of "fight or flight," of the mind fighting with the body to get through.
The frames, shoes, helmets, and skinsuits—one set white with black graphics, the other reversed—feature a collage of icons and drawings that appear to be pulled straight from Sampson’s sketchbook. The bikes and helmets had their designs applied directly by hand, and are true one-offs.
The bikes and gear will be showcased during the Red Hook Criterium series by Aldo Ilesic (Astellas Pro Cycling) and Colin Strickland (Elbowz Racing). Keep an eye out for McKenzie’s work at the first Red Hook in the series, Red Hook Brooklyn 9, April 30, 2016.
We definitely have to try extremely hard to make stuff that’s cool and relevant to the everyday person. It takes a lot of research and a lot of time building graphics and inspirations and things that represent that. It’s like a little piece of me, I guess.