Look Pro: Flandrian Best

Hushovd shows his Flandrian Flair, even over the actual Flandrian, Boonen. Photo: Kris Claeyé

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.)

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298 Replies to “Look Pro: Flandrian Best”

  1. @eightzero

    For me, form follows functionality. That which is simple almost always performs best. When layers are called for, the warmers are the way to go. I also find a simple rain jacket at least as versitle as a gillet, so I go with the former.
    However, when the ride will be long in the cold, and never forecast to be in the shorts category, I go with tights. Yes, they look gross, but I am secure enough in my passion to know that when comfortable, I rider better, harder and further. Tights functionality is unquestionable, and are better at keeping cold away than warmers in certain conditions. Thus, one is able to Dish More V when comfortable. And push comes to shove: Dishing the merckxdamn V is it. And heed the Badger: don’t bitch about it either.

    This runs contrary to everything Velominati. When you go out to swing your leg over your top tube knowing you look like Hushovd does above and not like some leotard-wearing ice-skater who accidentally found themselves on a bicycle, you will go for a much better ride – and have more fun doing it.

    Nothing will make you lay down more of the v than gazing up the road past your cycling cap’s brim, with the drops of water from the brim tapping out the rhythm. Then, dropping your chin down to see your legs thrashing away with knickers and shoe covers, inspiring visions of Flandrian Hardness.

    If you’re after comfort first, I suggest your try your hand at Couch Surfing.

  2. @brett

    Some varying examples from the same race…

    The Rabobank rider looks to be spot on. The Leopard rider looks good but I deduct points for the skullcap and his helmet is sitting high and in clear violation of the three-point system, The Lotta rider is in the same violation. the two in the back are whearing tights which is why they are in the back.

  3. @scaler911

    @gaswepass

    out of sheer contrariness, gonna argue for tights in the real cold (<5c). if its gonna heat up 10+C during the ride, go use your leg warmers if you must. Gotta say, bought several pairs of canari tights w gel chamois- used both to race cross and recently in that ridiculous long/cold road ride. They wick hard, screen wind fairly well, and take some gravel spills without shredding (if you’re not falling you’re not going for it).
    cotton cap in the real cold? really?

    Really.
    I gotta ask about your handle: are you lactose intolerant or do you work at an Shell station in Oregon?

    @all. I’m just fucking with him. He’s neither, and probably still at work. Hee!

  4. @frank

    @eightzero

    For me, form follows functionality. That which is simple almost always performs best. When layers are called for, the warmers are the way to go. I also find a simple rain jacket at least as versitle as a gillet, so I go with the former.
    However, when the ride will be long in the cold, and never forecast to be in the shorts category, I go with tights. Yes, they look gross, but I am secure enough in my passion to know that when comfortable, I rider better, harder and further. Tights functionality is unquestionable, and are better at keeping cold away than warmers in certain conditions. Thus, one is able to Dish More V when comfortable. And push comes to shove: Dishing the merckxdamn V is it. And heed the Badger: don’t bitch about it either.

    This runs contrary to everything Velominati. When you go out to swing your leg over your top tube knowing you look like Hushovd does above and not like some leotard-wearing ice-skater who accidentally found themselves on a bicycle, you will go for a much better ride – and have more fun doing it.
    Nothing will make you lay down more of The V than gazing up the road past your cycling cap’s brim, with the drops of water from the brim tapping out the rhythm. Then, dropping your chin down to see your legs thrashing away with knickers and shoe covers, inspiring visions of Flandrian Hardness.
    If you’re after comfort first, I suggest your try your hand at Couch Surfing.

    I suddenly feel great shame.

  5. While it doesn’t excuse them, the white ‘arm warmers’ seen on the various triathletes with sleeveless tops are I suspect arm coolers.

    A few people in Abu Dhabi use them but so far nobody I’ve spoken to has actually said it makes them feel any cooler, usually with a slightly embarrassed look.
    I think the best case is that it doesn’t make them warmer and it helps act as UV protection – obviously pointless if you also leave you shoulders bare.

    Kudos to the people who came up with the idea though. Getting onto the triathlon costume de rigueur bandwagon is a sure way to fame and fortune. Although they only retail for about 30-40 bucks – it would be much more reassuring if they were like $50… per arm.

  6. @frank
    Yes Frank, the one and only. No one else could carry off such a bad look. Brilliant that you found it/him! Obviously only someone with exceptional Velominati standing would be brave enough to post that photo.

  7. 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 fit women at the Yoga studio.

    I have in the last few years shunned tights like the plague, except on the coldest days in Swiss winters due to my whole hearted agreement with the above comment. That being said, I do have an affinity for very fit women practicing Yoga- even in tights.

  8. @Frank:

    Contrary to popular belief Dr. Seuss is still cycling the planet and not taking an extended dirt nap, and appears to have weighed in on “Tightgate”:

    You do not wear Lycra tights on your hams?

    I do not wear them, Merckx-I-am.

    Would you, could you, wear them in the rain?

    I would not, could not, in the rain.
    Not on the Muur. Not when Guns scream in pain,
    Not in the peloton, Not when laying down the V.
    I do not wear them, Eddy, you see.
    Not in Paris. Not in Roubaix.
    I will not wear them any day.
    I will not wear them here or there.
    I do not wear them anywhere!

  9. @Dr C

    Have you been doing a bit of consulting work for Castelli on the side?

    MOTHER KNOWS BEST. Remember when your mother used to tell you, “Wear your hat! You lose 90% of your heat through your head.”

    @frank

    It would seem that I can do nothing right! First it’s no to trade team kits and now my whole winter wardrobe has been called into question. Tights, woolly hat and lobster claws! And no I read that arm and leg warmers should only be black having just brought some club kit to try and improve my ratio of non trade team kit. The whole lot is red including the leg warmers. Surely club/team kit is exempted?

    Putting style aside, the Castelli Fluido Nonoflex tights are superb when it’s properly cold and I’m not convinced that when paired up with black foot covers look any worse than showing few inches of flesh when wearing knickers or leg warmers.

    Maybe it’s all part of a strategy to keep us spending our cash on V-Kit bibs rather than other products!

  10. Clinchers on the Cobbles?

    Is it a disaster waiting to happen or can it be done? Would I suffer death by mini pump for just so much as turning up on the Keepers’ Tour with my bike shod in such a manner?

  11. We rode clinchers last year when we did much of the Paris Roubaix route with no problems at all.

    We had one puncture in Arenberg but that was it.

  12. @frank

    @scaler911
    I think @girl might mean this guy?

    Check out his shin guards.

    The club has since banned him from wearing dick stickers on bunch rides.

  13. Although I now live in a place (Barcelona) where deep cold is never, except when doing long rides into the Pyrenees in the wintertime, the topic of cold weather gear is close to me.

    I am a firm believer in the old-timer saying that below 20degC your knees should be covered, unless you are racing when they should be uncovered and embrocated down to 0degC. That being said the covering is knee warmers, not tights.

    Arm warmers are great, and I disagree with the comments about pushing them down. Open vest, pushed down arm warmers on a climb is very pro, along with the gesture of zipping up the vest, and pulling up the arm warmers at the summit, before the descent. But there are a couple of things that must be kept in mind. NEVER let the arm warmers come over the sleeves of the jersey, or leave a gap when they are up.

    Unless it is over 30degC (most of the summer), I always wear a cap under my helmet. I have searched and experimented with many and the best quality, and only ones that come in LAAARGE, are the ones by Rapha. Who also have a great, brimmed wool hat for colder weather, under helmet use. I have simply grown used to the sensation of the hat, and having a brim to keep either sun or rain of my glasses.

    The other thing I completely agree with are the virtues of wool. I always wear a base layer under my jersey, mesh in summer, and as soon as it stops being ridiculously hot, wool. As the temperature drops I just use thicker, and then more, layers. There is nothing better to avoid clammy, shivering descents after big climbs than wool. This applies to jerseys whenever possible as well. Plastic clothes are not where its at.

    Back to Barcelona, I’ve been here for 14 years now and it still amazes me how cyclists bundle up. At 15degC, you see lots of riders in full thermal jackets, tights and even with a neck warmer pulled up over their faces – anti-Flandrian for sure. They say it is to lose weight – clearly the wrong approach. You lose weight by being cold, not by dehydrating yourself.

  14. Its a sure thing, no subject stirs the hornets nest more than judgements on acceptable apparel.

    I mean try saying “You’re not wearing that are you?” at the pre ride espresso joint. (Try saying anywhere for that matter.

    Nice thread though. Not a white sock in view in the title shot FWIW. I remember on this day we were all slagging Thor for great rainbow turd potential. His Tour was a first class redemption. But there’s no denying he oozes PRO notwithstanding his continuing flirtation with Rule #50.

    As for the Tri guy…note wrist cockering…gotta admire his commitment to his image, tasteless as it may be. He’s got the potential for a A grade pair of wookie shorts.

    Its summer here. So nice to spend 2 minutes kitting up rather than 20…

  15. @frank

    @scaler911
    I think @girl might mean this guy?

    Check out his shin guards.

    That’s an HRM strap just above the smugglers, yeh? Classy.

  16. @Blah

    You need to switch your computer off for a couple of hours, mate. You’re looking at an area of the page that you really shouldn’t. If needs be, google “ladies tights” the “yoga” part of @frank‘s search can be dropped under circumstances such as these.

  17. @Blah
    Confirming the saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, or in this case, sigmoid colon.

  18. Come see me in the dead of winter in Kansas. I’d love to see how your “breathing calves” feel in -6 temps. So do I look pro and get frostbite while being a hardman? More do I look pro in my laundry room on my trainer while shunning an opportunity to be a hardman? I think I have reached an excellent query, please help!

  19. @BikeMechNo3
    Remember, in what was quite possibly the greatest example of being a “hardman” in cycling – Bernard Hinault’s 1980 win in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, it was so cold and wet that he lost feeling in the tips of several fingers permanently. He was a pro and paid to do what he did. We’re not. So I say exercise caution and commonsense when the temps get very low. (I live in WI and will go out when the temps are in the low to mid 20s, but if it’s really windy or the roads are shitty, I’m staying put and safe).

  20. @frank

    Well, there’s something to be said for being a hardman, and there’s something to be said for being completely out of your damn mind. Just ask Bob Roll.

  21. I like that hairy tri / iron man…but only because the other competitors must really really hate him.

  22. @wiscot
    Looks more like Robert Wagner, definitely not Jens, but German none the less and probably pretty hard.

  23. Farnk – what do you wear on your body is say 40*F and raining? A gilet? A rain cape? I always find that waterproof jackets get you wet from the inside out. I do know some have suggested the Assos jacket, but I don’t have the funds for one of those this winter.

    And great write-up and comments. Only wearing what you must is key. And, always important to remember it’s best to be a bit cold when starting out, lest you overheat mid-ride.

  24. @snoov
    I stand corrected. Jens did not ride the Oomloop this year. Wagner did – #107 in the field. The highest placed leopard rider was Wouter Weylandt in 13th place.

  25. Since were on the topic of Leopard, is there any information on LeopardShack’s kit this year?

  26. I’m an unrepentant tights wearer when it gets below 10ºC. I have two pair of Castelli: regular and windproof.

    Cold wind cuts right through Summer-style lycra bibs. The windproof nature of winter tights make it a no-brainer to get out in any weather.

    I think the missing ingredient for me is embrocation. Does it make a difference? What’s the best for 2ºC weather so I can wear bibs and knee warmers without wind protection?

  27. @G’rilla
    Re embro: Get one of the Mad Alchemy flavors and try it out. Unless you have a thing for hippy chicks, I can’t rec the Rapha one, which works well enough but smells too much of patchouli. Maybe patchouli has a different connotation in the UK.

  28. Where does embrocation fall in the spectrum of looking Fantastic? I personally like a bit of embrocation on a day between 45-60* F instead of knee warmers. Of course the arm warmers go on before embrocation or knee warmers are considered….

  29. Today’s ride was a blustery 4ºC, with wind at 32kph. Normally this would drive me to a jacket, but I ventured to try the arm warmer route. With a solid baselayer, I can say the only part of my body that remained chilled was my chest. I’m beginning to think the armwarmer/gilet route may be the way to go. Thanks @frank. Sure beats trying to fiddle with pit zips while gloved.

  30. @Nate
    Back in the day I used to use some stuff my pal John’s Mum made (she worked in a drugstore). Baby oil, wintergreen and some other special, secret ingredients. Hot shit and you could smell it at 50 meters! Always had to use cheap cologne or some kind of alcohol to get it off!

  31. BTW the Mad Alchemy Russian Tea and Special Blend (coffee) are my favorite embros… Smell great and not too hot. Also come off with baby wipes so you’re not burning apres ride….

  32. @BikeMechNo3

    Come see me in the dead of winter in Kansas. I’d love to see how your “breathing calves” feel in -6 temps. So do I look pro and get frostbite while being a hardman? More do I look pro in my laundry room on my trainer while shunning an opportunity to be a hardman? I think I have reached an excellent query, please help!

    My help is tell you to refer to Rule #5. Speaking for those of us that really live up north (Kansas? Winter? Please!), we don’t considering listening to you or anybody bang on your jacket covered chest about Rule #9 until after you have mounted the studded tires on the cross bike so you can get off the trainer! Until then, please re-read Rule #3!

  33. @Ron

    Farnk – what do you wear on your body is say 40*F and raining? A gilet? A rain cape? I always find that waterproof jackets get you wet from the inside out. I do know some have suggested the Assos jacket, but I don’t have the funds for one of those this winter.
    And great write-up and comments. Only wearing what you must is key. And, always important to remember it’s best to be a bit cold when starting out, lest you overheat mid-ride.

    I have to assume that you’re asking me a question, although I have no idea who the fuck Farnk is. I personally don’t wear a raincoat unless its absolutely raining buckets – you know, the kind of rain that I assume the bible talks about. Otherwise, as you say, you just get wet from the inside. I do, however, have a Curve custom rain jacket and it is phenomenal.

    I don’t worry about getting wet. I’ll get wet one way or another if I’m riding in the rain. You get cold from wind on your chest, so I look at windproof products – usually a gillet, which I also use in the mountains for descending.

    In my opinion, waterproof gear is most practical for commuters – it doesn’t really matter for riders out training. We get wet from rain or sweat, and should be generating enough heat to keep warm. Wearing something that breathes well is much more important.

  34. Searching for something else, I came across this in a medical journal. I would prescribe nipple lube and NOT MENTIONING IT TO A SOUL.

  35. @razmaspaz

    Today’s ride was a blustery 4ºC, with wind at 32kph. Normally this would drive me to a jacket, but I ventured to try the arm warmer route. With a solid baselayer, I can say the only part of my body that remained chilled was my chest. I’m beginning to think the armwarmer/gilet route may be the way to go. Thanks @frank. Sure beats trying to fiddle with pit zips while gloved.

    I have a Pearl Izumi Barrier long sleeve undershirt. It has a windstop fabric in the chest area only, which keeps the cold wind out (thus keeping me warm). The back of the shirt is their Transfer material, allowing persperation to evaporate. Pretty nice undergarment for this time of year.

  36. @girl

    That was I initially thought but the whole point of a race number belt is that they’re a quick and easy way of getting your number on in the transition area after coming out of the water – you don’t need pins to transfer between shirts or whatever. He hasn’t got to the transition yet otherwise he’d have his bike rather than his pink swim cap and goggles.

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