The human eye can perceive about one million different colors, according to most research, but there is something special about “viper red.” Cannondale’s bright red, paired with yellow graphics hit me right in the feels 25 years ago. It still does today, so much so that I had to buy a modern F-Si hardtail adorned with the classic Volvo-Cannondale team livery. Totally worth it.
Between this nostalgic splurge and the start of the Tour de France, I got to thinking: What are the other iconic colors in the world of bikes? What are the hues and combinations that emotionally bind us to a rider, team, or bike brand?
As is the case in motorsports, it seems that an iconic bicycle color is usually borne out of a legendary team or rider. Then, that shine rubs off on the bike brand, if it plays its cards right. So prepare yourself for a trip over Alpe du Vintage.
Bianchi: Celeste green
Why not start at the beginning, with the world’s oldest bike company? Frankly, it seems wrong every time I come across a Bianchi that is anything other than that teal hue. There are a few legends about how the color was created. The most plausible is that Bianchi ended up with a surplus of military green paint after World War I. Not satisfied with that color, its painters blended the drab green with white to create the original celeste. From that point on, legends like Fausto Coppi, Felice Gimondi, and Marco Pantani left their marks on the sport aboard Bianchi bikes.
Merckx (Colnago): Molteni orange
Eddy Merckx in full flight aboard a Colnago bearing his name and the Molteni team colors. Photo: Sirotti
It’s only logical that the greatest of all time would also have an iconic color to match. Eddy Merckx dominated the world of cycling throughout the 1970s, and he did so with the Molteni team, which in a delightfully Italian way was sponsored by a Milanese salami manufacturer. The sponsor’s burnt orange color found its way onto team kits and Merckx-branded bikes, which were actually made by Colnago. Though Tadej Pogacar was cheered as the first rider to win the Tour de France aboard a Colnago, Merckx won three of his yellow jerseys aboard a “Colnago.” And it was Molteni orange.
Cannondale: Viper red
As I mentioned at the top, I’m a sucker for the original red-and-yellow livery of the legendary Volvo-Cannondale team, which came on the scene in 1994. Along the way, legendary cross-country and downhill riders alike rode these distinctive bikes — Tinker Juarez, Alison Sydor, Missy Giove, Myles Rockwell, and many, many others. But the roadies got in on the fun too! The Saeco-Cannondale team of the larger-than-life Mario Cipollini also rode viper red aluminum Cannondales at the biggest races in Europe.
Iconic color combinations: Mapei, Look, 7-Eleven
Now it’s time for the lightning round. These famous team liveries weren’t so much colors as they were straight-up vibes. I’m talking about iconic color schemes and designs that will be hard to match in the modern era. (Kudos to EF Pro Cycling for giving it a solid effort.)
The Italian team that dominated ‘90s pro road cycling also dominated the fashion game. The kit, bikes, and basically everything else was adorned with colorful cubes. (And a special hello to the good people at Rudy Project sunglasses!) Mapei riders were instantly recognizable in their stand-out kits — whether the average cycling fan drew the connection to the team’s industrial chemical company sponsor is another matter.
Photo courtesy Look
As explained in my deep dive on Look’s unexpected kinship with Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, the French company’s primary colors and abstract shapes were born out of the innovative La Vie Claire team of the 1980s. And could there be a more stylish, ‘80s-appropriate look than, well, Look?
Anyone who’s been rescued from a bonk by a 7-Eleven stop has a soft spot for the convenience store. So why not just take that exact red, white, and green color scheme — that mid-ride beacon of sugary hope — and slap it onto a team kit? It sure helps when the team goes on to be the foundation of American pro cycling and home to stars like Davis Phinney, Andy Hampsten, and more.
Team USPS blue: Except, you know, Lance.
Fox factory orange: The easiest way to tell if a mountain bike will rip.
Volvo-Cannondale team blue: The successor to viper red and also worthy, especially with a yellow dust boot on a Headshok.
Yeti turquoise: Yeti Turq has its own origin story but it's a bit too similar to celeste green to merit a full entry.
Renault-Gitane yellow, black, and white: Already mentioned Look, so we don’t want the French to get too cocky.
Team Sky blue: Still too recent to decisively call it iconic. Get back to me after another 10 years.
SRAM red and Shimano blue: I like the point/counterpoint of these two drivetrain titans, but the components themselves rarely show their true colors.
The rainbow bands: The only trouble is that you’ve got to earn them to wear them!
I'm sure I missed some colors, so let me know what your favorites are in the comments!