Okay, there’s no hiding the fact that after 30 years of XC racing, and buying bikes and gear, that eventually you’ll miss the way things used to be. I was reminded of that in two ways recently.

First, I was digging around in my crawl space when I saw my vintage 1991 custom steel hardtail frame and fork, safely wrapped in bubble wrap and in a fully heated crawl space, sitting nearby. This 1991 frameset was brazed together than Doug Curtiss, of Curtlo Cycles. I’ll save the history of Doug, Curtlo, and my frame for another day. But one thing that struck me is how cool the paint job was. It is in fact the main reason I bought it 30 years ago. I had only had 2 mountain bikes before this high end custom frame. A sporting goods store no namer, and a white Raleigh Technium (it had a weird bonded construction where the rear end was one metal, and the front triangle was another. It was bonded crookedly too, the rear axle was off by a good 1/2″ from center…). So I went right from a $500 Raleigh, to a $2000 Curtlo custom steel.

The paint job was done by a local painter near Curtlo Cycles in California, going by Shades. It appears the frame was already a sparkly black, complete with white decals. Shades then proceeded to add brush strokes of purple, blue and green, randomly, but orderly. Then overlay a new set of decals and clear coat. It was stunning when I walked in to Straight Up Cyclery in June of 1991. It was like no other bike in the shop, and Straight Up was filled wall to wall with only high end bikes and frames. Yeti, WTB, Crosstrak, Curtlo, and a dozen more I can’t even remember. I saw it, and immediately wanted it. I had only had the Raleigh a few months, and had done 2 or 3 races on it. Custom paint sold a bike that day.

Fast forward to 2016 when I finally was ready to try something other than a steel Curtlo hardtail, and what do I end up with? A Trek Top Fuel, completely void of any color whatsoever. Black, black, and more black. Black logos on near black frame. The complete opposite of my earler Curtlo.

As the early 90’s progressed, I actually bought several more Curtlo frames, all with Shades’ own unique paint jobs. Every race I went, someone commented on how cool they were.

It really made going to races more interesting, when you’d see all kinds of small builders and custom paintjobs represented. Those days are gone it seems. Every race I go to now is made up mainly of Specialized, Trek, Giant, and some Cannondales mixed in. It’s all good, bikes are tools. But I still find myself looking around for something unique. Something that no one else might have. Good times.