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Gear as Art: Hampsten Cycles Celebrates La Vie Claire

Words by Clive Pursehouse, Images by Michael Matisse/Hampsten Cycles

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When Ineos won yet another Tour back in July, it was their seventh in eight tries, with their fourth different winner. The term “super team” was on a lot of people’s lips. They finished on the top two steps of the podium at this past edition and that has been a theme with their success. Their super team status, though, pales in comparison to the finish of the French squad, La Vie Claire in the 1986 version of le Tour. That historically stacked team completely dominated the race, along with the headlines in France that summer. In addition to their six stage wins and the dominance of Bernard Hinault (who ended the race in polka dots) and eventual winner Greg Lemond, the wily youngster Andy Hampsten took the white jersey. The eponymous Hampsten Cycles, operated by Andy’s brother Steve, celebrated its 20th year in 2019 by reviving what is probably the greatest cycling jersey color scheme to ever appear in the professional peloton, which they’re calling Anno20. 


“For me, those classic old jerseys from the sixties, when everything was wool and embroidered will always be the sort of the icons of cycling,” reflects Andy Hampsten. “I think, though, that the La Vie Claire jersey is easily the best of the sort of sublimation printing era, when you could really print anything on a jersey.”

As Steve shared, there’s a lot more to the paint job than just looks. “From day one, in 1999, when we started doing the bikes, we’ve thought about a La Vie Claire paint scheme, and we’ve had numerous requests for it. Somewhere along the way was a visit to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts showing of a Piet Mondrian exhibit. What struck me about Mondrian, that I think we miss when we see digital representations of his work, is how hand-rendered his work is: the lines aren’t as crisp as we expect, the colors are somewhat muddied, and there is a great organic feeling to the work that is not at all sterile or machined. Then we can see how La Vie Claire took that idea and played with it: erasing some of the spontaneity and replacing much of the white with their own gray. It was effective for their uses but not so much, I felt, for our own. We also wanted to touch on Andy’s winning of the maillot blanc – the white jersey – for the best rider 22 and under in that classic 1986 Tour.”

“We start with a lovely pearl-white base coat and add hand-drawn lines interrupted with blocks of primary colors: red, blue and yellow. The graphics are kept to a minimum: a black boar on the head tube and a red ‘Hampsten’ in our own font on the down tube. We’ve done several of these, and while each follows the same general idea, there are some small differences from one frame to the next and no two are exactly alike.”

The frames are unique, and really it’s up to the rider in terms of what sort of material they want. “Every paint scheme needs a frame, it appears… and we offer ours from carbon, steel, and titanium and each one is custom,” said Steve. “The bulk of our sales here are welded steel which are fabricated locally by R & E Cycles. We also offer in-house production of lugged steel frames with Martin Tweedy wielding the torch along with tube-to-tube carbon frames built right here by Peter Graham. And titanium frames come from Brad Bingham in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, who has built most of our ti frames for us over the past 20 years. Really, any of these frames look fantastic with paint—especially the Anno20 scheme—and we have so many different tubes to choose from that we can really dial in the ride and handling that each customer is looking for.”

In terms of super teams, Andy is confident in La Vie Claire’s place in that particular pantheon. “Nobody has stacked talent, and wins like that…ever. I mean, Ineos was first and second this year, but we were first, second, fourth, seventh. We won every major jersey, except green. Four different guys won stages, Hinault won three. We had the team classification. It was incredibly stressful, to be honest, but in hindsight, it was really a lot of fun. It was stressful for us, but I think for every rider in the peloton it was as well, because of Hinault. The way he was racing, he just tore that race to shreds, almost every day. It was stressful, and at times, as you probably know, it felt like we had these French guys working together, and then three North Americans, and then we had two Swiss guys who, funnily enough, were trying to stay neutral.”

“I remember one stage I was in the breakaway, thinking that my presence would neutralize the race, and we were flying,” recalls Andy. “I got a flat and I remember going back, our car was toward the front, but they had to stay with Greg and Steve Bauer, and, of course, Hinault. I saw two of my French teammates, but really, given everything that was going on I didn’t expect much help from them. I got my wheel change and then I look up the road, and here are Jean-François Bernard and Alain Vigneron and they take me right to the front of the race. I remember being just so surprised, and so grateful, and I couldn’t really talk to them, beyond saying thank you, because we were at full speed. It so happened that they were roommates and I went to see them afterwards, and my French, it was passable in one on one conversations, so I just said or tried to say, ‘you know, I really appreciate it, I hope that you don’t get into any trouble with Hinault.’ At some point I think I sort of got in trouble with my French and next thing you know I’m talking about my feelings or whatever, and they stopped me and they said, ‘Andy, you’re in fourth place. Our prize split for that is like 57,000 francs. Don’t worry about Hinault; we’ll take care of it.’”

“I think that moment reminded me that despite how it seemed, and even sometimes how it is remembered, these guys were complete professionals, and this was business. It wasn’t personal. We were a team.”

The Anno20 paint colorway is available in custom steel at $3,200, and the pricing goes up from there to include carbon and titanium frames. Wait time for a Hampsten custom frame is two to four months.

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