Very Special Things: “Rust Venge”

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

First, Pig bike died. Let’s have a moment’s silence for what was a paint-fail tragedy. Second, Pig bike was reincarnated as an experimental “paint-by-numbers” concept. Alas, reincarnation didn’t stick either and that bike died. But from those two deaths rose a magnificently rusted Phoenix of a thing. A hat tip to the rat rod life, it’s known as Rust Venge, a rusted carbon bike that, for a while, smelled a little bit like, well…blood.

Wait, rusted carbon? Yes, you heard correctly. The creator of the Rust Venge, Brian ‘Swiz’ Szykowny, turned his personal S-Works Venge into something that looks like it could’ve crawled straight out of a wrecker’s yard, but is actually a high performance, er, rust bucket? This is the story of Rust Venge: an experiment in paint.

Background and Inspiration

But let’s get those macabre death tales out of the way. Eulogize the rejects, if you will. You may remember Brian’s other project, Operation Flying Pig? The original vision of that project was to have two pig bikes. Rust Venge is just the twin that died.

“I did a bunch of prep work to my frame getting it ready to become a pig. I did some bondo details on the frame itself,” he says. “So, if you look at where the seat stays meet the top tube at the seat tube, you can see I filled in a little area there with bondo to clean up that junction. And then I sharpened the top tube, the edge, a little bit and a weird little aerodynamic feature on the bottom of the headtube.”

It was all going swimmingly, until…

“There was a paint rejection issue when I painted it. Basically, I’d used a vinyl to mask off a red, negative space, “Specialized” word mark on the inside of chain stay and fork. Unfortunately, the vinyl mask just melted underneath the paint, so when I tried to remove the mask, it left the adhesive on the basecoat (the pink). It just turned to shit. I had to sand it all down and start over.

“So, I painted it pink again, but by that time I was nearly finished with Stratton’s Pig and I got to thinking, ‘you know what? There can only be one Pig.’ A) Because it was a ton of work to finish, and B) I just really wanted to race on my bike.

The Pig was dead. Long live the (other) Pig!

“Then I painted it white because I had this idea to do a Paint by Numbers bike. The idea was that there’d be outlines of sections where you could place colors, with some filled in and others numbered. I was going to color in the head tube and fade it back a bit, so it’d be blocks of color. Anyway, I set up a projector in one of the conference rooms, and had a graphic figured out in illustrator and projected it onto the frame itself.

“I tried to hand draw these lines, but it was a terrible, terrible failure. It just looked like total crap.”

Back to the drawing board. Again. Shortly after returning from a design inspiration trip to the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, with the Specialized ID and Graphics team, rust began to eat away (sorry) at Brian’s brain.

“After we got back from that trip, everyone gave little presentations on what they’d seen and liked. Pretty much everyone liked patina cars, or cars that looked old but were actually really nice. Actually, the year before it was the same — everyone liked patina cars — but no one had really done anything yet or translated that into a bike graphic. So I thought it might be kind of fun to try and do that.”

“It’s wabi-sabi — I think that’s what it’s called.”

To save you some googling time, here’s an article that attempts to explain wabi-sabi. But in a nutshell: “Wabi, which is humble and simple, and sabi, which is rusty and weathered.” Interestingly, Sabi by itself by itself means “the bloom of time,” Which brings us to the subject of Rat Rod-style cars, which bloom with the same glorious rust the Rust Venge aims to imitate.

“I think of Rat Rod as being something that looks like you just pulled it out of a barn, and the spirit of that was the inspiration. I just wanted to try doing a real paint patina, where it looks like it was painted once and it’s rusting underneath. I just have to experiment and see what I can get away with.”

Red roof, rusted

So, how exactly do you turn a carbon bike into a rust bike? Carbon isn’t exactly known for rusting in the wet, or succumbing to the vagaries of time.

“The thought of rusting a carbon frame was kind of exciting to me, so I did a little bit of research and found a company that makes a real rust paint. Once I saw that video, I was totally sold, so I ordered it. It came from the UK with some sort of absurd shipping cost because it was a hazardous material.”

The paint comes in a dry, powdered form. Mixed with a binder, it can then be applied to whatever you’re trying to rust. Once dry, you spray it with a light muriatic acid mixture which activates the iron suspended in the paint. And then you wait.

“The paint you spray on is initially black,” says Brian, “and then you spray the acid mixture — it’s a pretty mild mixture. It’s not going to eat through the floor or anything — and within three hours it turns to rust. Over the next 24 hrs, it develops. After that, it’s pretty much done.”

When you touch the bike for the first time, the texture — the feel of it beneath your fingers — can catch you a little off-guard. An expensive, high-performance road bike’s not supposed to feel like that.

“It’s rough, for sure. And for a while, like a month or so after it was finished, every time I would ride it and touch it, afterwards my hands would smell like blood. Like iron.”

The Vulture Swoops In

Once the bike was a rust canvas, all that remained was to give it a little personality boost.

“I wanted to follow the Rat Rod kind of patina and style I had going, so I asked Chuck (Teixerra, of The Merc fame), for a pinstriper reference. He referred Ray the Vulture, who did Chuck’s car. I mean, if you have or anything pinstriped by Ray the Vulture, it’s legit immediately.”

After contacting Ray and getting him to agree to take on the pinstriping, plus the lettering on the handlebars, Brian sent him a file showing a rough idea of what he was looking for and where he wanted it to go on the bike.

“So just rough direction, really. He’s the master of pinstriping and I didn’t want to affect what his interpretation of pinstriping a rust bike would be.”

He dropped the bike off with Ray in Folsom and picked it up just one week later.

“It just looked amazing. He did the Aero is Everything on the handlebars, and the “frame, chain, and a meat motor” on the chainstay. It’s all really cool.”

“I did the S-Works myself, later. I made a file and I made a vinyl mask and I used one shot to stencil it on there. That was kind of fun. I did the shadow for it too, moving back on either side so it has that sense of movement.”

Rusty Reactions

The best thing about a bike like this is gauging people’s reactions to it in the wild. As his main race bike, Brian took it out early in the season and pitted it against the shiniest of race machines.

“People in races kinda do a double take sometimes. Like, ‘cool bike. What’s going on there?’ There’s always the joke, ‘oh, did you leave it outside?’ or ‘too many rain rides?’ And it also can depend on the kind of automotive knowledge they have. People get really psyched on it if they know about Rat Rods, which is pretty cool, and they geek out on it for a second. Then they pick it up and feel how light it is and they’re like, ‘wuuut?! It messes with people’s heads.”

Rusted and rowdy. It wins on concept and starting looks, but does the rider match up?

“I won a crit, and I got a couple of second places on this bike,” says Brian. “My goal for the season was to win a race on it and get my Cat 2 upgrade — goal achieved.”

The #rustvenge takes the stage. Photo: Brian Szykowny

The verdict

Brian admits he’s pretty happy with how the bike turned out and people’s responses to it, and gives himself a final score of A+. But that doesn’t mean he’s finished tinkering with it. Anything he would change?

“I think maybe in the future… [pauses]. You know, it’s kinda like tattoos — I’d get more pinstriping done. I think it’d be cool if the whole thing were just like a rats nest of pinstriping. And it needs an S head badge, too. I’ve seen it online where people graffiti using moss. They make an organic mulch and then they sort of ‘plant’ things — writing or images — on walls, and then a couple of weeks later it ends up growing there. So, I thought about trying an S-badge on the front, grown out of moss.

“As with everything, it’s an ongoing project. But it’s fun to have a super unique racing bike.”

Special Thing Rap Sheet

NAME: “Rust Venge”, #rustvenge on instagram

CREATOR: Brian Szykowny, aka “Swiz” aka @swiznooski

WHAT IS IT? A carbon Venge bicycle frame treated with a special paint that makes the carbon appear rusted.

FRAME: 2015 S-Works Venge

GROUPO: Mechanical Dura-Ace 9000

WHEELSET: Roval CLX64 with Turbo Cotton tires

WHEELSET: “Undefined… The rust will never stop developing. If I leave it out at night or rain ride sometimes, the finish does change a little.

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