like many other spouses, i am doomed to watch every straining minute of x factor because mrs twmp, for reasons quite beyond my comprehension, enjoys it. granted i am often sat with macbook air at the time, one ipod earbud in place that i can listen to music of a more stimulating nature, but still allowing me to make well-timed grunts and nods when mrs feels moved to make comment. what has become a common theme, apart from the fact that most folk seem to think themselves able to sing when they plainly can not, is that the dream of becoming a pop superstar has been a passion for a surprisingly large proportion of the x factor generation. so passionate are they, in fact, that the very thought of joining a band and slogging round a succession of working mens' clubs, dance halls and student unions has escaped them completely.
that's the way to build a career; it's called paying your dues.
it's unlikely that anyone would consider attaching themselves to the bicycle trade or sport in order to garner their fifteen minutes of fame. cycling is a hard sport, and there's no equivalent of auto-tune to get you up to speed if the spirit is willing but failing miserably. it's usually real passion that brings folks into the two-wheeled fold, and the very same emotion that keeps them there. let's be honest, there are easier ways to earn a living than spending three weeks in france riding a hundred and fifty kilometres a day.
cycling is, of course, merely a niche market within the grand panoply of markets, and it's made up of even nicher markets, sometimes tiny one man/woman shows that, when aggregated, make cycling considerably greater than the sum of its parts. one of those niche constituents is that of performance race art, only recently brought to fruition by chris grove, and garnering an excellent and high-profile reputation in a very short space of time. but before we send off helmets and bicycle frames en-masse to be coloured in, will they be decorated by someone with a formal skill in art and design, or is it a guy in a hut with an airbrush?
chris grove, sole proprietor and artist by appointment at performance race art, attended carmarthen art college to study graphic design after leaving school. but why paint bicycles? Purely and simply for my love of bikes. If I'm not painting them I'm in the saddle. Lets just say bicycles are my life. Combining both my passions (cycling/painting) was always going to happen sooner or later. by 'later' one must assume therefore, that chris had other distractions in his life prior to his current venture. "Up until 2004 I was a Royal Marine, an illustrator in the Intelligence Section, upon leaving I decided to take my childhood hobby of airbrushing and make this my career. I started off painting motorcycle helmets for club racers, and this progressed to painting for riders on the professional grid."
i too would love to have a shot at decorating bicycles and even just one of my helmets, but wanting to do something and having the wherewithal so to do are not necessarily one and the same thing. since chris has chosen to ally his artistic prowess to that of the bicycle, did the skills come easily? No! It's a skill that's taken many years to get dialed in. Most will never understand the amount of knowledge, time and patience that goes into painting." surely only the acquired skill doesn't paint the bicycles all by itself? did chris have to procure a substantial amountof equipment to get performance race art off the ground? "For sure. In the early days I painted from a shed with one airbrush. Now i have a 1500 square foot studio with a spraybooth, baking room, racks, high tech print machines, water decal equipment, etc. Everything required to offer a full professional service to my customers."
some of you may have seen the exquisite art which chris applied to simon richardson's time-trial bike, something of a present to his friend who suffered serious injuries recently in a traffic accident. to the frame, chris applied the twitter names of everyone who had wished simon all the best for his recovery, and blended those with a particularly striking overall finish to the frame. how long did it take to complete? "A little over two weeks from start to finish, working full days for most of the two weeks solely on this project."
bearing in mind my facetious statement above regarding the desire to send frames or helmets to chris for decor, is it predominantly about colouring in or does he have complementary draughtsmanship skills too? "it goes far beyond graphics and colour; I often hand paint or sketch. However I'm far from being a expert in any of the forms.". just because you paint bicycles for a living doesn't necessarily mean you don't get the bus to town or go for long walks with the dog in the countryside. does chris actually get out on the bike much? "Yep most mornings before work and long training rides on the weekends. I have Simon Richardson shouting down the phone if i don't get out anyway! "
though i am reticent to enforce the word's claim as an oft used cliche, much of the passion involved in cycling is invested in the long-term. witness how many pros continue in the sport after hanging up their wheels, and those in the business of proffering bicycles, frames and components seem never to sleep in the quest to improve their goods and business. is chris happy with working day to day, or is there a cunning plan?
"Yes there is a big plan, I hope so anyway. I've invested everything I have in order to make this opportunity work. I want to offer a wide paint service throughout the cycling industry for teams and companies right throught to the enthusiast. My aim is to offer UK companies/teams the alternative of eliminating the oversea communication problems and offering a less templated design service, which you will find being exported from China. I envisage two divisions, one being the production side, and the other being custom-based for individual bespoke work."
we all have ideas and notions of just how we'd like our helmets or bicycle frames to look, but there's always the impending doom of knowing only exactly what we want after seeing just what we don't want. in this respect, does chris prefer carte blanche on a commission, or is he happier with as much customer input as possible?
"You've put me right on the spot now. Ok, simple customer input can either make a frame design or just kill it. For example, adding a customer's ideas, ie personal touches, can give a fantastic and individual result. It's when they can't make up their minds on anything, or asking for late amendments etc., which makes it more costly and time consuming. But i always make sure what is given back will leave them speechless, hopefully for the right reasons."
so what does chris need to know before the paint pots come out of the cupboard? "From my perspective, firstly the design needs to be fully approved. Then the bike needs to be completely stripped down and then prepped ready for paint. Also my customers need to be fully aware of the lead time on their frame so I'm not harassed every twenty minutes! This happens quite a lot, though that's understandable when they're excited."
so, we've decided that having the stock swirls and whoops on that ageing carbon frame need to be replaced with something a tad more decorative and personal. but how much, on average, is this likely to lighten the bank balance? "With some bikes costing thousands of pounds to build with componentry alone, it’s surprising how comparatively inexpensive a custom paint finish costs. For example, our basic re-paint of one colour plus logos starts at £230. Going up the range to a fully customized 2012 style factory finish would cost approximately £375 - £450. We also do special one-off designs that can take up to six weeks to produce. Prices for those start at £500."
can chris identify his typical customer, or is there, in reality, no such thing? "There's definitely no such thing! You're equally likely to see an elderly man walk through our doors with a Holdsworth frame as a young age-group triathlete with disposable income to spend on themselves". a prominent secondary consideration in having a frame painted is to repair various forms of road-rash. is this work that chris is happy to accommodate? "We only repair paint-work on bikes that have had paint jobs from our studio. We also offer a twelve month warranty on all our paint work."
i have been long a critic of the paint schemes being applied to even top of the range bicycles these days. the quality of such finishes is not in question, but the imagination behind most of them seems minimal at best. does chris have any personal opinions as to why this may be the case? "Pure and simply due to market trends. In my opinion, superstars like Cav with his Specialized Venge having a minimalistic stealth finish, obviously creates a ripple in the industry for what's current and what's not, even though the primary purpose of the design is to reduce the weight of the frame." does the existence of such blandness play into the hands of performance race art? "As you are aware, 'bland' designs, are now en-vogue. Therefore we do just as many of these designs as we do of the more creative ones. It's a matter of client preference."
the birmingham cycle show earlier this month gave many manufacturers the opportunity to display their wares for the 2012 season. bearing in mind my criticism of colour schemes in past years, was there anything on show that caught chris's eye. "Yes. Simon Richardson's Twitter Bike. plug plug"
if you've always fancied having that aging steel, aluminium or carbon frame that's lying at the back of the shed decorated par excellence, now you know where to send it. and even if you've an almost new bicycle that's exactly the same as several others in your peloton, maybe it's worth considering having it personalised enough to put the others in the shade. of course, all the others in the peloton are also reading this.
posted wednesday 12 october 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................