Cycling’s Greatest Style Sins
By Will Newton
The world’s most beautiful sport is steeped in rich history, formal traditions and – you guessed it – a strict sartorial code. If old school riders are to be believed, violation of one of these unwritten but crucial clothing edicts will have heads turning, eyes rolling and swift calls for you to be axed from the next, communal group ride.
We’re not sure how far we agree with ‘The Rules’, as this sort of thing frequently serves to alienate new cyclists rather than encourage them. That being said, whether you set store in this sort of dogma or not, you can still boost your style game by taking note of the dos and don’ts we’ve listed below…
Socks, a complicated conundrum
A fashion pioneered by the peloton’s most stylish of riders, Eddy Merckx and Fausto Coppi, the traditional cycling sock never exceeded 7.5cm in length and was always white – a true classic throughout the peloton. Looking to echo the greats and bring the sock debate back into the limelight was Bradley Wiggins, a stalwart fashionista that loved nothing more than to adorn his body with the sleekest of kit. Even he, however, made a slight fashion blunder in his hour record attempt – long black socks the talk of a nation at the time.
While longer socks may claim increased performance, the science is still very much up for debate. On the other hand, there are precious style points at stake and, to some, these are far more important than speed. Sean Sako, creator of Sako7 attesting to this.
“There’s nothing worse when someone is wearing stylish cycling apparel and then messes up the look with sub-standard socks. Socks can make a bad kit look good or a good kit look awful. Of course, it comes down to the individual, but for me the socks maketh the kit!”
Keep the peaks on the off-road, unless it’s a cap
Peaked cycling helmets are for mountain biking, there’s no debate there, but more often than not we’ll see a few creeping onto the road – your ride partner swearing blind that they picked up the wrong lid on their dark dash through the garage on the morning of the ride.
The only peak that may feature on the noggin of a road cyclist is that of a fashionable cycling cap – the more retro the better. But how do you wear the cap? Peak up, peak down? This is just a whole other can of worms.
Cycling’s prophet, Eddy Merckx, and his apostles, Hinault, Fignon and Kelly were all masters of wearing the cycling cap – adhering to the three-point system, a rule that dictates any headwear must be worn in alignment to the three main points on the head: the eyebrows, ears and nape of the neck. This may refer to a time before the game-changing helmet, but it shouldn’t stop you adopting a similar, cap-wearing style to that of cycling’s greats – just make sure you put a lid on it.
Peak up or peak down?
Flying in the face of rational, aerodynamic thinking, the ‘peak up’ fashion craze adopted by peloton favourites like Sylvain Chavanel and Philippe Gilbert may not quite cut the mustard when it comes to aero efficiency – but it sure does look cool.
The peak down option, on the other hand, has been claimed to be the faster of the two styles – the rim of the cap cutting through the air like a hot knife through butter as it opens a pocket of air for the rider to fly into. Social media giants, GCN, went to test this theory in one of the world’s leading wind tunnel labs and found no conclusive difference between the two fashion choices. So, in short, this is one cycling fashion that isn’t so set in stone – peak up, or peak down, take your pick – just please, don’t wear it back to front.
An amateur in professional kit
Riding in the apparel of your favourite team is one thing, but wearing the national – or even, dare I say it, rainbow bands – is another faux-pas all together. There can only be one world champion and one national champion per country – the unique jerseys reserved for these special riders – not average Joes like me, who occasionally still struggle to unclip and end up toppling over at traffic lights.
That being said, you needn’t compromise on a stylish looking jersey – the trade teams are not the only ones with kit adhering to cycling’s strictest fashion rules. A boom in sleek, stylish and edgy cycling brands has brought a wealth of options to choose from – just make sure you have enough cash in the wallet for the more popular labels.
Bib shorts may only ever be black
Whether elite pro or budding amateur, bib shorts have to be black – no questions asked. While some trade teams may get away with it, there’s no excuses for you, the amateur. No sponsors are forcing you to wear those garish yellow, iridescent bibs. Burn them.
For years the world champion was plagued by a constant curse of the dreaded, ‘white bibs’, a look that sends a shiver down the spines of all cycling fashionistas. From Mario Cipollini, to Thor Hushovd and onto Rui Costa – the white bib shorts hounded the cycling world for decades. Our lord and saviour, Peter Sagan only recently condemned this fashion faux-pas to the history books when he reverted back to black bibs.
Over, not under
No matter what your triathlete friends may say, cycling glasses must always be worn over the helmet straps – not only is this a century-old tradition and symbol of fashion, it also has two, major safety benefits.
As most helmet straps are designed to lie flat along the temples and jaw, ensuring the tightest fit upon one’s head – the safest, and most comfortable way to wear glasses is clearly with the arms OVER the straps. Secondly, in the unfortunate circumstance of a crash, wearing them over the helmet straps also makes sure they are jettisoned from your person before you inevitably hit the deck – you certainly don’t want a pair cracking in front of your face.
The hallmarks of a complete amateur
There are a select few things that highlight the true amateurs among us – fashion blunders that will shun us from the local group ride quicker than you can say, “but what’s a gear ratio?”
The fabled ‘fourth-cat tat’ is one piece of ink that you won’t want to be bragging about – the dirty chainring mark identifying those riders who just haven’t quite mastered the cleanest pedal stroke or bike dismount. To avoid embarrassment, these are marks that will need to be covered – but remember, no extremely long socks and certainly no leg warmers, you’ve shaved your legs for a reason.
Nothing screams ‘amateur’ more than a chain guard, handlebar bell or set of flashy wheel reflectors – blemishes on an otherwise perfect machine. Remove these the moment you purchase the bike and banish them to the depths of the nearest rubbish tip – they have absolutely no place on a serious bicycle.
The above is a list of ‘rules’ that some people follow, and some people don’t. In truth, the most unstylish thing you can do on a bicycle is probably giving other people stick for what they’re wearing. After all, to paraphrase the great Eddy Merckx, it’s not about how far you ride (or what you wear), it’s only important that you ride.
Have you committed any of these fashion faux-pas or witnessed someone who has? Make sure to let us know on our Facebook page. What are your big cycling no-no’s? We’d love to hear those too.