Very Special Things: “Operation Flying Pig”

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

Sometimes, you don’t want to know how the sausage is made, just in case it’s all…um…bits you’d rather not think about. Fear not. “Operation Flying Pig” is no mystery meat package. It’s a porcine-themed treat of a bike made from the most organic and authentic of ingredients — pure history and passion. Porsche aficionados who know their stuff flip their car-luvin’ wigs when they see it — “it’s the trufflehunter of zuffenhausen!” — while bike lovers unfamiliar with the story behind the design, catch a glimpse and simply salivate over this tasty, custom-painted S-works Venge.

Originally published 2015

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So, how did it come to be? Just what IS the inspiration behind this succulent little morsel of a bike? Fortunately, the recipe for Brian Szykowny’s custom-painted Venge project is anything but secret, and he’s happy to share the story of its creation, the special ingredients, and just what happened to that second Pig?

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The pork cuts roughly match their placement on the bike. Hern for head, Schulter for shoulder.
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Details, such as the race number 23, bring an added touch of authenticity to The Pig.
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1. Campagnolo adds an Italian flavor to a German pig. 2. A customized Power Saddle. 3. Emergency cut off lightning bolts mimic both engine emergency cut off graphics and a Specialized S.

Background and Inspiration

It’s lunchtime at Specialized’s HQ in Morgan Hill, and three guys — Brian Szykowny, Chris Riekert, and Stratton Easter — have just recently finished their ride. There’s some post “lunch race” talk, with swagger and smack talk and typical ‘sandbagger’ accusation type stuff. But when that’s done with, the subject invariably turns to cars, a shared passion of the trio. On this day, it takes a specific turn towards dream paint jobs on racecars.

And that’s when the pig enters the conversation.

The Pink Pig, aka Der Truffeljäger von Zuffenhausen, is a car well known to Porsche fanatics. It’s famous — or infamous, depending on how you look at it — not because it won a butt-load of races, or because of who drove it (in fact, it only raced Le Mans once in 1971, and it crashed half-way through the race). The Pink Pig is famous because of how it looks.

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Der Truffeljäger von Zuffenhausen in the Porsche Museum, Stuttgart, Germany. Photo: Jon Takao

It’s easy to see why a racecar with no sponsor logos and painted to look like cuts of meat from a pig may have raised some eyebrows at Le Mans. And, like most ‘stuff of legends’ origin stories, the story of how a Porsche 917/20 aerodynamic prototype ended up looking that way smacks of a tale relayed through a game of telephone.

“The way I heard it,” says Stratton, recounting his version of the legend, “Count Martini, of Martini and Rossi, used to be a huge sponsor of Porsche racing (Martini Racing Team). He saw the car and didn’t want his name or logos on it because of its bulbous fender flares and kind of fat ass in general. Said it looked like a fat pig. So the German engineers took that and said, well, ok, if it’s a pig, let’s just paint it like a butcher’s diagram of pig cuts.”

While the details of its origin story vary, depending on who’s telling it*, two things can’t be denied:

  1. The Pig raced Le Mans in 1971, suffered a brake failure, and crashed, and
  2. Its unusual race livery really struck a memorable chord with Stratton.

“I’ve always kind of defaulted to old motorsports for design inspiration, and I’d stumbled on a picture of The Pig on the Internet a while ago. I’d always wanted to paint a bike based on it, but I never quite had the right canvas. When I started working at Specialized, the Venge or the Shiv seemed like good options because of the wider tube shapes.”

So, back to lunch. On this day, this simple post-lunch ride conversation would prove to be very fortuitous for Stratton, a copywriter at Specialized. When designer and paint hobbyist Brian Szykowny heard Stratton’s Pink Pig dream, he was 100% in. For painting two of them, in fact — one for him and one for Stratton.

“A Venge is an aerodynamic bike, and the pig is a prototype aerodynamic car, so it just sort of made sense.”

– Brian Szykowny, on why the Venge became the canvas

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Enough talk about the recipe. Let’s get to how THIS sausage was made.

Special Ingredients

There are certain things about the Pig that make it truly piggy, with the most striking being the color. It was a trial and error process of mixing to get the color just right, going back and forth until both Stratton and Brian were happy.

“I matched the color to the car the best I could, and I feel we got it pretty damn close. I mean, as close as you can get without asking Porsche for their paint,” says Brian. “It’d be really rad to see this thing in the Porsche museum next to the real deal, actually, to see how close I got it.”

Stratton didn’t entirely escape the grunt work for getting the pig prepped and ready for its coat of paint either. The Venge was a production paint job frame, so was painted with a stock colorway and brand and model graphics. Not ideal for laying down a shock of pink.

“I had Stratton sand it and mask it — you don’t get anything for free,” says Brian, laughing as he explains why he prefers to get the eventual owner of the bike to do some of the ground work. “That’s kind of the non-creative, tedious, boring part of this whole process. If you can get the recipient to do that, then you won’t get bitched out for not masking it nicely, later.”

The process of roughing up, knocking down edges off decals, getting stuff flat and roughed up, then masking the bottom bracket, head set, cable ports and dropouts — any part you don’t want paint — takes two to three hours.

“Once that was done, I made a dummy seatpost out of wood to hold the frame so I could move it around while I was painting. I primed it and since this bike is a really light color, painted it white so the pink would pop. Then came the pink.”

It seems like a good time to bring up the second pig, the one that was to be Brian’s.

“I had a lot of issues with my paint,” he says, explaining why only one version of the bike exists, when the original plan was twin pigs. “I was going to go more detailed with some odds and ends, like inside of chain stays, but I had some weird paint rejection issues. The vinyl mask I’d used basically melted underneath the paint so when I tried to remove it, it left all the adhesive on the basecoat — the pink. It just turned to shit and I had to sand it all down and paint it pink again. By that time, I was nearly finished with Stratton’s bike and I was like, you know what? There can only be one pig. My frame later became the #rustvenge, but that’s a story for another day.”

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Two potential pigs — only one will make it.

The second key to making this bike as close to the car as possible was finding the right font to represent the pork cuts, and laying them out in a logical manner that was true to the spirit of the Pig and to the anatomy of, well, both the car and the animal. To a person not familiar with German — or cuts of meat for that matter — it’s not immediately obvious that the words are actually roughly correctly placed in comparison.

“It’s pretty close,” says Brian, pointing out words on a picture of the car. “Like hern is the head, and schwanz is the tail and it’s on the tail end of it. They correlate pretty well. I had to sort of fudge it on the bike though, ’cause there’s not as much real estate, and it doesn’t look as much like a pig. The Venge is more slender.”

“I had to find extra German words, because the car doesn’t have exactly the same parts as a bike.”

“We found a font online that was nearly identical to the one Porsche used so I bought that. Then I just started printing out a bunch of different words — just on the printer in black and white — and some dotted lines. I played around and it took a while to figure out the scale of the thing to make it look similar to the car. Figuring out where everything was gonna go was also a challenge. I actually added a word that wasn’t on the car to the frame. This word here. Unterschale.”

The placement of these words, the precise application of them and the dotted lines that make this so like a butchery chart, was actually the biggest headache after paint.

“Honestly, getting the word placement right within the sections was a headache. It’s a mirrored bike, and they don’t have to be perfect right to left, but getting the placement to where I felt it was acceptable in a graphic design sense was pretty challenging. I think I pulled probably half of them off the bike at least once and then replaced them. Like I’d have to go back and cut them out, and then weed them, and then put them on transfer paper and then try place them again in a good spot. Probably more annoying than challenging. I dunno. I just don’t like half arsing anything.”

“I added a lightning bolt to the outside fork leg — the one that’s also an arrow and mimics the S on the inside fork leg — and it points to the quick release. On racecars, they’ll have an emergency cut off switch and there’ll be a lightning bolt arrow that points to it. That’s part of the car too — it has a lightning bolt under the number.”

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It’s the little details like this, plus the care and love that’s gone into the bike, that really make it stand out in a crowd. According to Stratton, the response to it when he’s taken it out has been unbelievable.

“It’s interesting,” he says, “because people that don’t know what it is are initially drawn to it just because it’s crazy looking. And they’re like whoa, what is this? Like they can see it’s a Venge and have questions from there. And then there are the people who know exactly what it is, and they lose their minds. I was in Venice (Beach) and Patrick Dempsey pulled over in his Porsche and was asking about it. We were just chatting about it for five minutes — he’s a huge Porsche fanatic.”

Final words? We’ll leave you with Brian’s thoughts on why he thinks it’s important to work on side projects like the Pig.

“With these projects, there’s no-one telling you how they want it to be — it’s just all up to you. When I start these projects for people, I preface it with just kind of letting the soon-to-be owner realize that they’re not going to have any creative control. Ultimately, I will be making all the design decisions of the project. And if they’re good with that then we go. And if they’re not, well then they have to go find someone else to paint their bike.” [Laughs] “But yeah, having a project out of work is extremely important because you can feel free, and you can kind of reboot, creatively.”

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Special Thing Rap Sheet

Name:

“Operation Flying Pig”

Creator:

Brian Szykowny, Industrial Designer at Specialized Bicycle Components. “I mostly work on component and frame design for performance road.”

What is it?

Custom painted Venge with ‘Truffle Hunter of Zufflehausen’ theme

Frame:

2014 S-Works Venge

Groupo:

Campy

Handlebar:

Aerofly

Saddle:

S-Works Power saddle (customized)

Wheelset:

Roval CLX-60

Time to Complete:

“I dunno, I try not to quantify that kind of thing because it’s just depressing. It’s all after work hours, and weekends. I think I put in at least 1 or 2 all-nighters on this project.”

*The Origin Story of “The Pink Pig”

The story of how it came to be pink and like a butcher’s chart is a hotly debated one, depending on who you believe, as this forum demonstrates. It also contained a link to a video shot in the Porsche museum. Who to believe? You choose.

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