Artwork by father Mathieu Bigaud, 41, from the central French town of Saint-Etienne, won’t be in the gallery (unless his Instagram account is counted). But his art remains popular around the world. his canvas? Bicycle Helmet.
Bigaud’s work has been featured on the heads of some of the biggest names in triathlon: Alistair Brownlee, Vincent Luis and Michelle Vesterby are some of the most recent pros wearing his custom bike helmets. His craft combines two of his greatest passions: art and sports.
“As far as I know, I’ve always been passionate about creating: painting, sketching, woodworking, cooking — if you think about it, it’s not too different from painting,” says Bigaud. “I’ve always liked the idea of creating something in my head and using whatever technology was necessary to bring it to life.”
As a child, Bigaud could be seen playing with every conceivable art tool: watercolors, oil paints, charcoal sketchbooks. He was most inspired by graffiti artist and icon Troy Lee, known for creating colorful custom mountain bike and motocross gear. After high school, he attended art school and then started working as a graphic designer for companies in France, China and South America. His work shifted from graffiti to graphic design for brochures and billboards. In his 30s, he started competing in triathlons. He fell in love with the sport and fell in love with French professional triathlete Jeanne Colon. He left the art world and instead decided to be the manager of a triathlon shop in Nice. But art has always been something he hopes to return to one day.
“Jenny and I had a baby girl in 2018, and I took care of our daughter for the first two years as a stay-at-home dad,” Bigaud said. “During that time, I had some time to think about what I wanted to do in my career. It was obvious to me that I needed to go back to my artistic background, but I also didn’t want to get rid of triathlon.”
He thought of his childhood dream—designing a helmet like Troy Lee—and opened his sketchbook. “If you look at any sport that uses helmets — motorcycles, karts, skiing — athletes have custom painted lids. But in triathlons, that’s not very common.”
His first custom helmet was for his wife. People noticed and wondered how they could get one of their own. Pro Jodie Stimpson was the first to commission Bigaud, followed by Michelle Vesterby. Ótimo Designs (“excellent” in Portuguese) was born, and in just two years, Bigaud had made his mark on the triathlon world. His client list is growing every month, with weekly custom orders shipped to Europe, New Zealand, Middle East, Africa and the US.
“To me, custom painting is a bit like a tattoo,” says Bigaud. “The point is to express that part of your personality. I love that part of the job, talking to people, trying to understand what they want, what they like, and that translates into design.”
“Jodie lost her father in 2019, so she wanted to do a design to honor him. It was obviously a very special project for me, and even more so for her. We worked together. We used what her father liked The color of the football club (dark blue), some sentimental words, and a set of angel wings. The idea came from Jodie, which I put into the design.”
“I started working with Vincent Luis a few weeks ago – super nice guy and also French. I’ve always been a fan. He wanted to do something special for the war [in Russia and Ukraine]. I came up with this design as the start of a conversation about something really serious. “
“This cover shows how something simple can look cool. We didn’t have a lot of options for the design because of the sponsor Erdinger – obviously it had to be blue, and Erdinger was the main thing in the design. But with some Blue shades, a nice Union Jack and some shades, we got something really cool and Nikki really liked it.”
“I did this in two days, shipped it to Oceanside on Friday and it arrived on Monday. That was one day before Alistair and five days before the race! It was a little bit stressful, but I love the Pho3nix Foundation design, I love this very deep red.”
“When I lived and worked as a designer in China, I worked at the New Zealand embassy. I always loved the black and white graphic design on their flag, and the ferns. It looks so nice to me. So when I had the opportunity to work with Teresa Adam, it immediately came to my mind. Theresa and I are on the same page. The result is one of my favorite creations to date. “
“Michelle called me excited to tell me she was pregnant and she wanted a new lid for the Lanzarote announcement. We made something fun and cute, obviously pink — —We’re talking about Michelle after all. The hardest part is keeping her information private.”
“As a graphic designer, I love this type of work! Lots of color and some lines, and some nice details. I think the result looks really cool.”
“I made this for a client who was supposed to be heading to Kona for the 2020 Ironman World Championships. I’m guessing he’s going to use it this year! He wants to bring the spirit of the island into his lid. There are so many different techniques and Details; it’s a big project that takes about 20 hours of work.”
“For my wife’s birthday, I had our baby girl draw on the helmet with her hands and then draw some baby drawings on it. Then I cleared the drawing. This one was special to me. It was fun doing it, And a lovely family treasure.”