Death In Memphis: Specialized RHC Milan Allez by Erik Nohlin

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The design movement instigated by Milan’s Memphis Group during the 80s was a derisive one: for some aesthetes, it was a crime against the eye and for others, it was the zeitgeist of a generation. Specialized’s Senior Designer, Erik Nohlin, paid homage to the Group’s founder, Ettore Sottsass, for the fourth and final RHC team kit and bikes.

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Erik Nohlin, like his idol Sottsass, is an iconoclast, and when it comes to his influence upon the world of bicycle design, is equally as prodigious. Erik is responsible for the new wave of polarising models from the Big S such as the AWOL and the reissued Sequoia, both of which are acute summaries of current market trends.

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The final Milan Red Hook Crit for 2016 was held a week ago on the 1st of October and while Aldo Ino Ilesic stepped onto the third step of the podium and Colin Strickland came in at eighth place, Team Allez-Allez Specialized took out the season’s blue ribbon — perhaps thanks in no small part to their bikes’ spectacular liveries and matching kits.

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Specialized executed an impressive project by enlisting the artwork of their designers for a localized concept dedicated to each event in Brooklyn, London, Barcelona and, finally, Milan. It would nearly be accurate to say that the Allez frame used for all cities referenced local culture, but Erik’s design actually left the frame raw.

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Anyone with an inquisitive mind who tries to comprehend the intricacies of how this paint concept was applied to the components will be left confounded, even more so when they consider how many hours in the paint booth it would’ve taken to mask, spray, unmask, and respray each layer.

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Not only was it a vast project, it’s a tribute to Nohlin’s dedication to his role as designer, his skill with a spray gun and his understanding of the Memphis Group’s work, which ranged from architecture to furniture, fabrics, ceramics, and glass and metal objects — down to the inclusion of the mysterious red ball, seen here behind the saddle.

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The red ball has been documented attached to both the saddle and bidon bosses, with assertions that it is for wind tunnel-tested aerodynamic purposes. If you use your imagination, the rationality is perhaps plausible. It’s reason has been discussed at length on social medias and Reddit threads, with no definite conclusion at this stage.

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One can observe a tiny sticker attached to the device which features a Cloud, Wireless and Bluetooth symbol, and the words ‘Fintotech Prototype’. Finto is Italian for false, so it could just be a big joke, or a reference to Herman Miller’s Eames Hang-It-All, or just a nod to Ettore Sottsass’ sculptural work. As the English would say, “it looks the bollocks”.

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The Roval wheels really are the pièce de résistance, veneered with woodgrain, marble and glittering primary colours that are also reflected in the graphic patterns on the forks and handlebars that were distinguishing features of the Memphis movement. The woodgrain effect is mirrored underneath the saddle with a real ply of Black Walnut.

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While the 80s were very much a plastic decade, filled with MTV-friendly sound bites and stratospheric consumerism, the touch of real wood brings the RHC Milan Allez concept back down to earth — which is exactly where Erik prefers to exist. There’s an excellent video on the Specialized website which provides a deep insight into his inspiration.

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