To Look Pro is to strive to Look Fantastic and to be at our ease on a bicycle. It is to walk the line between form and function and is based entirely on the premise that the professional peloton is far more experienced in this endeavour than we shall ever be. Their lessons speak through their actions on the bike, serving as a beacon to provide us the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and triumphs. But this is a dangerous game; being a Pro does not mean one Looks Fantastic. Because of the Commutative Property of Looking Pro, Looking Fantastic does not mean you Look Pro. The Pros are our inspiration, but care must be taken to choose your muse wisely.
Looking Pro in good weather is an simple matter; bibs, jersey, (white) socks, shoes, and helmet. Tan your guns, match your kit properly, and get on with it. But when the chill sets in and layers are added, the matter becomes quite complicated quite quickly. Rule #21 and Good Taste dictate that we dress in our Flandrian Best; we don knickers or knee warmers, gillets, arm warmers, Belgian Booties or shoe covers, slip caps beneath our helmets, and hope to encounter some good old-fashioned gritty roads.
The preference for knee warmers over tights distills down to one elemental fact: no matter how one might try to disguise them, tights are simply not an attractive garment. Not on cyclists. Not on skiers. Not on overweight women at the market. Not on fit women at the Yoga studio. Not on runners, not on swimmers. Not in a box, not on a fox.
As is customary, I will leverage the powers of photography to illustrate my point. A casual glance at this particular photo shows a collection of proper hardmen rattling over the muddy cobbles of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. It is plainly obvious that perennial hardman Tomeke Boonen was suffering from some kind of mental trauma, as he chose to don full tights rather than his usual knee warmers. These actions are not without their consequence, and you can plainly see he is ill at ease and destined to perform below his best for the remainder of the season. Eddy Boasson Hagen, in the blurry distance, suffered a similar fate and it took him until July to recover from his mistake. Boonen wasn’t so lucky, presumably because such an offense holds greater punishment for actual Flandrians as opposed to étrangers.
Then we have the others. Thor Hushovd, Lars Boom, and Philipe Gilbert all have two things in common: they all Look Fantastic, and they’re all dressed in their Flandrian Best. Hushovd has obviously already taken the safety off the howitzers, while Gilbert, if I’m not mistaken, is smirking – apparently at Boonen’s choice. Boom’s face can’t be read, but his posture is that of a Dutchman with intense Belgian aspirations.
When making decisions about how to dress for the cold and wet, keep the following points in mind.
- Layering offers maximum versatility; forgo jackets and tights for the flexibility of arm and knee warmers which can be pulled up or down, and gillets which can be unzipped or doffed and tucked under your pockets. It is also to be noted that your Flandrian Best should always be close-fitting. Belgian Booties and shoe covers are to fit tightly over the shoe; gloves are to be tight and sleek. (Sorry, Lobster claws, despite your utility, there is no place for you in a rider’s Flandrian Best.)
- Knee warmers are employed to keep the knees warm and protected from the cold, while at the same time allowing the shins to breathe like a fine bottle of wine after uncorking the magnums.
- Maintain order; if it’s cold enough for knee warmers, it’s cold enough for arm warmers. First come arm warmers, then knee warmers.
- While cycling caps may be worn in a variety of conditions for a variety of reasons, cotton cycling caps are to be worn under helmets any time the rain falls or knee warmers are deployed for use. In extreme cold conditions, a winter cycling cap may be considered. Skull caps, due in large part to their condom-like appearance, are to be avoided at all costs.
- Tights are to be avoided whenever possible. If, due to some kind of genetic shortcoming, you find that you simply must wear full-length tights, ensure that they are are straight-ankled and not stirrups. (We’re Cyclists, not dancers.)