Very Special Things: “GoldiCruX”

Read the stories behind the passion projects of the people of Specialized

We all know goldilocks was a fussy lass. No too big or too small, too hot or too cold. Nope, everything had to be juuuuust right. Well listen up: goldilocks was a fairytale that glorified trespassing, while GoldiCruX is the real deal. A bike that effortlessly blends heritage, luxury, and performance in a juuuust right way, and all without stomping on some innocent bears’ personal property rights in the process.

Originally published, 2015

She’s a lightning rod for opinion. Some look at GoldiCruX’s golden curves and think Jersey Shore, while others lean more toward Last Samurai. And then there are those speak-their-mind individuals who take one look and say: “That’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Whatever your reaction to Jon Takao’s vision, one thing is obvious — GoldiCruX is a lady with a strong point of view.

Ghosted S and S-Works: “I didn’t want the branding to dominate the design. This seemed like a subtle way to handle it.”
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24K of awesome
The Takao family crest pops up in places.
There can be no mistaking who owns it.

Background and Inspiration

Where did the idea of a gilded, 24k gold, faux-lugged carbon bike come from? You could say a thin sheet of gold leaf fluttered around in the forest of Jon’s brain for some time before it materialized as the concept of faux-lugged carbon bike. In his head, he saw it taking shape on the body of a Tarmac. But when a raw, straight-off-the-line CruX frame presented itself, Jon decided to stop dilly-dallying — he’d been sitting on the idea since the beginning of 2014 and Christmas was fast approaching — and get cracking.

“The hardest part of any project — the biggest challenge —is just getting started.”

One thing was clear right from the start — no matter what kind of bike, Tarmac or CruX, it had to be S-Works level. Coveted by gear heads, weight weenies, and lovers of fine race machines, the S-Works would lay the foundation of the theme itself: a theme that could be summed up in three simple words.

LUXURY. HERITAGE. PERFORMANCE.

“The whole vision behind the bike is actually bit of a jab at S-Works,” he says. “If you’re not being paid to ride an S-works bike, there’s no logical reason to buy one — it’s really a luxury item already. The inline graphics on our [Specialized’s] top-tier bikes already reflect an underlying theme of un-compromised performance. Since this is a personal project and will never be raced at an elite level, I wanted to add more ‘luxury’ to that performance.”

“The plan was to add value in the graphics, but without compromising performance by adding too much weight in paint, and at the same time make sure that at the end of the day it still looked like a Specialized.

“Where I really got lucky was getting my hands on that raw carbon frame and fork — it’s as unfinished as you can get a frame, and it basically gave me blank canvas to work with. On every production bike with visible carbon, the junctions are painted black. Seeing all these raw carbon frames with painted junctions I thought, ‘why aren’t the junctions part of the design?’ The junctions have always been something that’s been overlooked and seemed like an opportunity, so I wanted to highlight the carbon in the design of the bike.”

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A raw CruX frame becomes the perfect canvas for GoldicruX

When looking for graphic inspiration to push this bike over the edge in term of detail, Takao looked to the classic simplicity of steel bikes. The details and touches that made them stand out and have that premium feel.

“That’s when the light went on in my head — lugged steel bikes,” he explains. “They have functional yet designed junctions, so I figured why not just paint on fake lugs to cover the junctions? That would give a top-tier race machine a classic look while still serving that elite purpose.”

Who better to take inspiration from then one of the leading and most respected steel bike builders around?

“A few years ago at NAHBS in Austin, TX, I had the pleasure of talking to Mark DiNucci. All of the lugs on his bikes are beautiful, functional, purposeful — works of art, really. So, when I decided that I wanted faux lugs on my bike I knew I wanted to base the design on his lugs. It seemed even more appropriate since he designed the lugs on the first Specialized Allez and redesigned them for the 40th Anniversary Allez, which I thought would be a nice head nod to Specialized’s heritage and branding.”

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Mark DiNucci’s lugs are works of art. Takao took his lug cues from him. Photo: Dan Escobar

The Devil is in the Details

The first thing that jumps out at you is the gold. From a distance, it’s shiny and crisp and, well, golden. But it’s only when you get up close you start to notice the roughness, the texture, the ‘nuggetyness’ of it. And that’s when you start to wonder… is that, um, is that real gold?

“It’s funny, even on lunch ride the other day, Riekert rolled up next to me — and he’s been looking at this thing for weeks — and he says: “Is that really real gold?” When people find out that, yes, it really is, the bike gets an extra boost of coolness to it.”

Finding out it is actual gold leaf raises more questions than it answers, with cost and ‘how the hell did you apply gold leaf to a carbon frame?’ the top two. In talking to Takao, the answer to the latter seems to be ‘with great difficulty’. But in the spirit of learning-while-doing — and after watching many YouTube videos — Jon worked out the kinks with a mix of trial and error and pure 24k luck. Lessons were learned, and small victories celebrated. So, take this story as a lesson for all who seek to move forward with a gold leaf project of their own.

“The gold leaf was…challenging. I mean, the process itself is relatively easy, and there’s definitely a technique to getting it on, but I found out only after I’d started that 24K is the softest stuff — it’s the most gold — and the hardest to deal with.

“I know I inhaled a lot — I got sick after I did it. I mean, I don’t know if that was from something else, but I don’t think it made me feel good.”

– Jon “Taco” Takao on working with gold leaf, 1/1000 the thickness of a piece of paper.

“Size-wise, the sheets of gold are about 60 or 70 millimeters square by 0.1 micron thick. They’re like 1/1000th the thickness of a sheet of paper. If you breathe on this stuff wrong, it’ll just… pfffttttt! If you touch it, it disintegrates. Those sheets were very temperamental. Sometimes they’d break apart before I could even get them on the frame. Did you see how nasty it goes on? [see images below] And that’s if you’re being really careful. When you pat it down, it’ll crack and break, so then you have to go back and fill in all those areas, and that’s laborious too.

“I didn’t have a palette, but I would hold a piece of paper like a palette underneath when matting down the gold. Sometimes these little holes where the gold leaf would separate and open up would appear — like a little micro-crevasse — and I’d take the gold sprinkles left over on the paper palette and jam that stuff back in the cracks and holes. I didn’t want to buy more sheets just to fix a pinhead-sized hole, so sprinkles were the filler.”

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The very finicky process of applying gold leaf. Each gold leaf sheet is 1/1000th the thickness of a piece of paper

But he’s jumping ahead, talking about filling cracks and holes. He’s skipping the whole comedy part — the rubbing a brush on your hair to get it full of static to actually try and bend gold leaf to your will without losing your mind in the process, part. Extreme care and delicate movements, is what it takes. And lots and lots of patience. Tedium becomes electric.

“First,” he says, raising his hand as though holding a brush to demonstrate, “you load up your squirrel-hair brush with static.” He mimics the action. “You just take this little brush and literally run it through your hair. Then you have to open up the pad of gold leaf really carefully — there’s tissue paper between each sheet — and grab the edge of it with the brush. Then you place it over the area that you want to apply the gold leaf and kind of hold it and peel back…just move the pad out from under the gold leaf so it stays still. If you pull at it, everything crinkles, rips, or pulls away, so you have to remove it really carefully and then lay it down in a sheet. Then you switch to a goat-hair brush and pat the whole thing down.

“The bottom bracket was one of the easiest places to apply it, because the surface area is just so big. One of the hardest places was probably the seat tube cluster, where the seat stays meet the seat tube and top tube. It’s just a high junction area.”

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A clear coating session in the booth. Note the subtle placement of the logo on the brake bridge and underside of the fork crown. There’s no overwhelming branding here.

All the pain seems to have been worth it. Up close, the gold has a texture that’s brimming with character. The detail isn’t perfect — and that’s just fine by Jon.

“I like that it’s got that character. Part of me wishes I could get even more patina, or to make it look a little more used or rough around the edges. From five feet it’s super crisp and you’re like ‘mmmm shiny’ and then you get up close to it and you can actually see the brush strokes of the size underneath because it didn’t lay totally flat. I think that’s cool.

“I also think the coarseness of the brush I used helped give it a texture. I had a brush just for putting on the size, like the glue stuff, and I think if I’d used a finer hairbrush there, then I would’ve ended up with fewer brushstrokes in the gold. The gold really picked up any surface imperfections.”

But GoldiCruX is much more than gold leaf on a frame. It’s a combination of subtle and not so subtle details that make this truly one man’s machine — Jon Takao’s bike.

There’s a flower motif, subtly embossed into the gold in a few select locations. Some ‘easter egg’ and ‘more to the story’ graphics are tucked away and make for joyful discoveries for those who seek. What’s the story behind these?

“The embossed flower on the fork blades and top tube is actually my family crest,” he says. “The color scheme and finish mostly came from seeing this mark on the sheath of one of my Grandpa’s swords.”

An obvious question — um, Jon, why did Grandpa have swords in the house?

“Nothing sinister. He served as president of the U.S. Kendo Association and traveled around the United States to promote the sport. He actually held the second highest Kendo rank and was a representative to the World Kendo Association in Japan.”

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The Takao family Crest on a sword sheath lives on with this bike.

“And then there’s this,” he says, pointing to the 24K mark at the back side of the seat tube on the BB lug. “I added this to represent the level of gold leaf I used in the faux-lugs. Most luxury items made of gold are marked with its purity somewhere — typically in a hidden place, like the underside of a wristwatch, so this seemed like a good spot.”

The Specialized branding on the bike is very subdued in keeping with Takao’s wish that it be a bike that’s distinctly his, but also true to its roots. A small S on the underside of the fork crown, another on the brake bridge were simple nods in that direction, but where appropriate he injected a little more premium feel to the brand mark on the canvas.

“Our [Specialized’s] model call-outs are usually in very visible places. Since this bike is my personal bike, I didn’t feel like it needed to be so obvious, so I tucked the CruX name near the base of the down tube. The bear and year represent Specialized as a California company founded in 1974.

“One thing I was really happy with was how the ghosted S and S-Works graphics turned out. I didn’t want the branding of the bike to dominate or overwhelm the design — the lugs need to be the first thing you see. So the S-Works and S were painted with black paint mixed with charcoal pearl for really tonal branding.”

The other advantage of a personal project is the freedom to do ‘one-off’ cheeky things. Like the FACT sticker on the seat tube which, if you know your Italian cycling icons, you’ll recognize instantly.

“Columbus Tubi is one of the most iconic brands in the cycling industry. The name conjures up ideas of quality, craftsmanship, and Italian heritage, so I basically just knocked off the Columbus branding and made a one-off for my bike.”

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1. The work of masking is never done. 2. Graphics in design. 3. Homage to tubi

One of the most talked about features (apart from the gold), is what we’ll refer to for the sake of propriety as ‘the FAF’ on the bottom bracket. It’s hidden for obvious reasons, but the Easter egg nature of it raises a secret smile upon discovery.

“FAF was a last minute add-on, and it came into existence as the bike progressed,” he explains. “When I started showing people the gold on the frame, I’d jokingly say that the bike was ‘Fancy as f@$k’. Then I decided I wanted to actually put that on the frame somewhere in a discrete location that would be my little secret — underneath the BB was the perfect spot.”

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It’s hard to argue that the end result is anything but spectacular — whether you think spectacularly bad or spectacularly awesome. And it’s the reactions to it that have really made Jon proud of the effort.

“One of my favorite things about people’s reactions is that they’ve been really opinionated. I would say the majority of people really like it and think it’s cool, and then they think it’s even cooler once they find out it’s real gold. I think that’s part of the story. And then I mean there’s the other side where it’s “That’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen” and that’s OK. I’m glad it has opinion. ’Cause it wouldn’t have been as strong to me if I only got pats on the back. It’s weird now, I’m actually kind of glad there was a real negative reaction to it, because it has a specific stance. There’s a disagreeable stance. Like, if I had just painted a white bike you know most people would be like ‘oh it’s really clean, it’s nice”. But nobody wants to be just nice.

That’s the advantage of the personal project — something that’s just for you.

“It’s so good to have a project where nobody else can say no.”

“Some people, they share the process as they go and put images out in social as they’re happening. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want feedback. I wanted this to be just my project — I wasn’t looking for critique until the end. And honestly, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks really. Because it’s not something we’re selling or doing anything with. It was just like ‘this is for me, I don’t want anybody to say no and I’m not even going to open it up for discussion’. I kept it pretty hidden until it was maybe 70 percent done and at that point it was like, screw it, I’m just finishing this thing and nothing you’re saying is going to change it for me.”

Speaking of changing things, now that GoldiCrux is out in the world turning heads and glinting in the sunshine, if he had to do it all again, what would he do differently?

“Hmmm. I would definitely change the design of the lugs a little bit more, and spend more time to make them a little more asymmetric. Right now they’re pretty even front to back. DiNucci’s lugs are really nice, where one side’s a little shorter and the back end of it is extended and long. That part was super cool to me. But part of the problem I had is just that our tube shapes don’t allow for the same sort of elegant start and finish his have, because steel tubing is just so small. It would have been nice to spend more time making sure all the lug detailing was really dialed but I kinda just jumped in. I got to a point where I was just like ‘we’re getting this done. I’m getting this done.’”

“Oh, and you know what else? I mean, I like that I used 24k, but as far as workability I probably could’ve used a 20 and it would’ve been fine. Or maybe even just experiment with it more? It would’ve been nice to talk to somebody and say, ‘this is what I’m doing’ and get some pointers. I didn’t talk to any sign painters or anyone, so maybe talking to somebody who had experience instead of just watching YouTube. So, if I did it again I would go back and ask people more questions I think. Experts.”

Special Thing Rap Sheet

NAME: “GoldiCruX”

CREATOR:

Jon Takao, aka Takao, Juan Taco, Taco. Jon is currently a Footwear Designer at Specialized in Morgan Hill, and was formerly in the ID and Graphics team.

WHAT IS IT?

24k gold gilded, faux-lugged, carbon bike

FRAME:

2015 S-Works CruX EVO

GROUPO:

Di2

WHEELSET:

Roval Control CX

TIME TO COMPLETE:

“Total labor time, I’d say I spent about 35 hours on it. Design was probably around another 5, and then the build was probably another 5 hours on top of that. Time was an issue, actually, and things shifting between sessions. It was an entirely ‘after school’ project, so I’d mask things one night and by the time I’d finally get back to the project, the masks had moved. If you let the lining tape sit long enough, or even it if gets warm, it’ll just shift because it wants to go back straight. So if you mask it and then wait a week, it might have shifted. Because I was using a dark blue mask on the carbon, sometimes I couldn’t tell it had shifted, and in a couple of places I ended up with a big jog in the lug because I hadn’t noticed. I had to go back and mask off just that section and relief the shark tooth that came out of it. That was a pain in the ass.”

Gold and mud. A winning combination at the 2015 Dirty Kanza 200. Jon and Goldi ended up 28th overall, in what were the toughest conditions ever for the race. Photo: Andy White

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