Every custom painted bike is a personal expression of individuality, but few have ever taken that as far as this OSTRO VAM created by Factor in collaboration with and for Duke Agyapong. It weighs heavy with layer upon layer of meaning.
Duke is a Factor ambassador, a writer, a multi-discipline racer, a mental health advocate and a thoughtful voice in the quest for equality. By trade, they’re a bike mechanic, but you’re most likely to recognise them as one of Rapha’s most prolific models.
We first ask what getting this bike means to them. “It’s a reminder to keep going,” Duke says.
“I never thought about cycling or racing while growing up and when I did start riding, even though London is quite diverse, I didn’t feel like cycling was open to me. This custom bike is not a milestone, because I never thought this could happen so it wasn’t a goal for me, but it’s a real moment and a reminder to keep going. I hope that it inspires other people to take up cycling.”
The intricate design is the product of a long and devoted process of collaboration between Duke and Jay Gundzik, Creative Director for Factor and Black Inc. “We chatted about Duke’s inspiration and influences in life and in art,” Jay explains.
“We landed on three very focused themes to capture in the design: diversity, poetry and fashion.”
Into the detail
Jay created an aesthetic direction that was strongly inspired by the art of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a hugely important figure to Duke. Jay then took a deep dive into Duke’s poetry to find the perfect color palette and a way to interpret it graphically and through collage. “I combined hand painted typography, images and visuals in acrylic paint and ink on canvas, along with separate hand drawn graphics to bring Duke’s personality to life,” says Jay.
“It was two to three months of sharing ideas, back and forth. Then Jay went quiet for a few weeks and re-emerged with this,” recalls Duke. “It captures everything perfectly. Jay did a spectacular job in the colors and the excerpts. He made it authentic.”
The frame includes lines from Duke’s seminal poem ‘BLK’, about the black experience and the long road still to be walked, or ridden, towards equality. ‘Feel the passion in what I say’ is emblazoned on the downtube; discover the full poem here. Next to that excerpt is an image of Martin Luther King Jr, whose rallying cry ‘Don’t let the dream die’ also appears. “Those words are so important to me,” says Duke.
The Basquiat crown motifs are a reference to the term ‘Black King’, which has nothing to do with one being above all others, as in a monarchy. “It means that I’m a person of value,” says Duke. “It’s a contra to the daily micro-aggressions that all black people experience.”
Growing up in London, Duke was looking for a means of expression and to find the freedom that spurred their family to move from Ghana to the UK. Duke’s history is one reason Jay was determined to make this bike something really remarkable. Each image, each color used for the special design represents something from Duke’s life that Jay sought out and connected.
“Getting the right balance of color and story together was painstaking,” says Jay. “Once the artwork was complete, I photographed it, composed it digitally, and then worked closely with Jay Liao (Factor Production Artist) to tweak the design to fit the bike. I was blown away at how it finally came together.”
Available as a limited edition
At Factor, we feel Duke’s bike is so special that we have made a limited edition version for sale. It differs only slightly from Duke’s original – it doesn’t include the image of their face on the downtube, at their request. “That photo was taken by a friend for a podcast about mental health and how it relates to sport. It’s a picture of me being very vulnerable. I was very self conscious about it. While I felt that it connects to my bike, it’s better that it isn’t on the limited edition because that bike is not about me, it’s about the journey and progression for all black people.”