In the flurry of excitement and trepidation prior to this week’s Australian F1 Grand Prix – which culminated in the masterfully handled last-gasp cancellation of the whole shebang – Mercedes-AMG Petronas driver Valtteri Bottas quietly lobbed an expensive bit of merch into the ether.
That’s right: for an as-yet-unspecified price – although expect it to be five figures – you, too, could show your love for your favourite F1 team by owning a rude-looking road bike splattered with Mercedes logos.
We’d love to tell you more about the history and heritage of this thing, but the only clue to its origin is an exceptionally barebones website belonging to a company called NPlus (and/or n+) Bikes. That website features a single non-driveside image of the bike in all of its glory, and the promise of an official launch on a race day that will now no longer happen.
The domain was registered in Western Australia in August of last year, and is hosted by godaddy.com. There’s an inactive LinkedIn company page. Their Instagram page is more forthcoming, but not by much.
So if we don’t know much about the bike itself, or the people that made it, what can we surmise from the appearance?
Well, it’s an aero road bike. It looks like most other aero road bikes of the moment. It doesn’t not look like an OEM frame. It’s got an internal seatpost clamp, which is nestled in a goiter under the top tube. Running a SRAM Red AXS groupset, there are no shifter cables to flap about, and the brake hoses are hidden from handlebar to caliper. There is a fin covering the front disc brake, and for reasons we’ll admit we’re not totally clear on, a matching fin on the opposite side.
NPlus’ Instagram page suggests that “to guarantee a level of exclusivity, the road bikes are hand crafted by the F1 Team members from the paint shop at the Brackley UK headquarters and are individually signed by the craftsman”, which seems to imply that AMG’s painters are moonlighting in carbon fibre layup. For what it’s worth, I reckon it’s more likely that Andrew is pulling something out of a box, spraying some paint and 500 or so Mercedes stars on it, and slapping on a signed sticker.
To the wheels. They’re moderately deep carbon affairs ringed by a hideous turquoise band, which makes them look like the brake tracks on a Tron bike. The wheels are wrapped in Pirelli tyres – because F1, get it? – in what we’re told is a “special edition ‘Petronas Green’” colour scheme. Topping things off is a terribly complicated-looking seatpost with roughly, oh, a metre or so of fore-aft adjustment.
The social media response to Bottas’ posts teasing the bike has been fairly breathless, but I suspect that’s more a function of the small overlap in the Venn circles of ‘die-hard F1 fans’ and ‘cycling tech heads’.
Based on past history, ‘collaborations’ between the cycling and automotive industries have been decidedly patchy in their outcomes.
At one end of the spectrum, you’ve got high-profile partnerships between the likes of McLaren and Specialized, which yielded the first Venge in 2011 and an eye-wateringly expensive zesty orange Tarmac about five years ago. McLaren has stayed in the sport, taking on co-title partnership of Bahrain-McLaren. Team Ineos has a relationship with Mercedes-AMG Petronas, too – although it’s worth noting that everyone’s favourite grand tour powerhouses are sticking with Pinarello for bikes rather than jumping across to NPlus, whoever they might be.
At the other end of the spectrum are a whole lot of dead-eyed marketing exercises, where automotive brands slap their label on an existing bike, jack the price up, and wait for the dollars to roll in.
Sometimes the bikes that they’re using for this purpose are actually good. Bianchi has dabbled in this space on a couple of different occasions – first with Ducati, and then with a Ferrari-branded Specialissima. Red-blooded Italians that they are, Ferrari has also been in bed with Colnago. Lamborghini’s ‘collaborated’ with BMC, Aston-Martin with both Factor and Storck, Neal Pryde with BMW, and Lotus with Condor.
But while some of these bikes have admittedly been fairly lovely – besides the enormous car logos on them, perhaps – there are several examples of automotive-branded bikes that are neither lovely, nor good. Maserati and Kawasaki have both slapped their label on horrendous e-bikes from Diavelo; Porsche is a particularly egregious offender with a range of US$8,000 commuters and hardtails that are the visual representation of expensive poor-taste.
So in the spectrum of good to bad automotive collaborations, where does that leave the NPlus collaboration with Mercedes-AMG Petronas? Somewhere in the middle, probably, but based on A) the ‘best or nothing’ motto on the top tube and B) the current evidence before us, we’re maybe a bit closer to ‘nothing’.