It has not escaped my attention that as I’ve evolved away from my original profession as a software developer and moved towards systems and solutions architecture and management, that I have tended to focus more on the theoretical aspects that support its fundamental principles rather than on the discrete activities that drive its execution. Being further removed from the work, it appears, causes one to become more philosophical about the labor.
And so it is with Cycling; the shorter days of the winter months carry with them a certain introspection that we don’t encounter during the summer when we feast on The V on a regular basis. With this perspective, it is not a wonder that Looking Fantastic has been front of mind these past few weeks. After all, Looking Fantastic, as I already said last week, is all I have at times like these. If this is starting to feel repetitive to you, then I ask your forgiveness. But I write more for my own pleasure than I do for yours, so you’ll just have to put up with it. Or stop reading; that’s an option too.
The subject of Looking Fantastic brings up an important point: what is it that allows some people to always look amazing and others to always look crap? The secret lies in the fact that Style isn’t about what you wear, but about how you wear it. Fit, placement, and the choices of what bits to combine with others are key elements, but none of it will work without a healthy dose of attitude and certain je ne sais quoi. Coppi, Bobet, Anquetil, Merckx, de Vlaeminck, Hinault, Fignon, Kelly, LeMond, Bugno, Cipollini, Millar. These are all riders who raced on teams with what is objectively ugly kit and turned them into icons of the sport.
Every day I get emails from readers who are seeking advice on what is and isn’t allowed in accordance with The Rules. What color socks are acceptable, how much yellow is needed before it becomes a YJA, are flashers allowed on a bike, are mud guards (fenders) acceptable – and what about race blades, does a rolled-up sock under the saddle make it an EPMS. (Any, any, yes, yes, yes, and yes.)
But all these questions miss the point. The first order of business is to ride our bikes. Period. The second order of business is to come home safely from the ride, so we may repeat the pattern. We all live in different environments and have differing degrees of risk we are willing to accept as part of doing The Great Work. Based on those criteria, our job as Aesthetes is not to reject them, but through some alchemy make them Look Fantastic. A prime example being the question of sock color: white is both the most classic and the most distinguished – the obvious choice. But grimy socks are only beautiful if you’re coming home from a ride, not when you’re leaving for one. So if you can’t keep them clean, then make another choice. Style.
With these concepts held firmly in our minds, the following list serves only as example situations wherein Style is applied in order to accommodate specific choices required in order to feel comfortable riding in your environment and repeating the process.
- High visibility gear. Keep it classy; you don’t have to join the Light Brigade in order to be visible. A lot of black bad-weather kit like shoe covers and rain jerseys and jackets include reflective seams which are unobtrusive when a light isn’t shining on them. I’ve used black reflective tape to cover the crank arms, chain stays, and head tube of my Nine Bike to great success. It is nearly invisible in normal conditions, but lights up light a Christmas tree when a car’s headlights shine on it.
- Flasher lights. By all means, use them – especially in rain and in low-light conditions. Front and back. But that doesn’t mean you have to affix lights permanently; find small, elegant yet bright lights that give the viewer a seizure but still only attach to your frame by rubber band so they come on and off quickly and easily. And for Merckx’s sake, take them off before photographing your bike.
- Mud Guards. A perfect example of a clear contravention of the philosophical bylaws of Rule #9, yet not being strictly banned by The Rules. If you’re going to adorn your bike in fenders, do so tastefully and make sure they are mounted properly so as to be entirely silent. And if you use mudguards, note that they look much more stylish with low-hanging mudflaps. Visual counter-balance.
- Helmets. Don’t wear them without Sunnies. This is very often neglected, and it is very distressing. They add a lot of visual weight to your head, so you need to ease it back by wearing some sweet shades. If you’re riding in the rain or cold, add a cycling cap. And if you’re riding in the rain or cold and you can’t keep wearing your cool cat shades, then tuck them into your helmet’s vents. If they don’t fit in there, buy another helmet or other shades. Again: counter-balance.
- Tights. I understand it gets cold where you live. And yes, they look worse than knee warmers or knickers. All tights make even the most rad guns look amorphic, that’s the problem with them. So you have to introduce some visual aides to break up the monolith. Leg warmers are a start over tights, with the extra seams provided by the cuffs on the bibs. Contrasting sock color is another strong move. A seam below the knees is even better. And full tights with stirrups belong in ballet class, don’t try that at home, kids.