Monday, October 26, 2009

Defending the jersey

It's All About The Jersey

Hope you enjoyed the Taco Bell commercial, because what I really want to talk about today is how the world of cycling reveres some jerseys, but not others.

You probably noticed Lemond wearing the world champion jersey in that commercial, which makes sense. He was the world champion, and Taco Bell probably didn't want to pay Lemond's team for the rights to have him wear his team kit. If you go to Williamsburg these days, however, you'll see that pretty much every single person on a fixed gear bike is the world champion too, because they ALL wear something with the stripes.

A clearly understood rule of cycling is that you simply do not wear a yellow jersey (or the green or polka dot jersey) unless you earned THE jersey. I guess if a guy who won the Tour gives you a jersey after you make him dinner or something, you've technically earned the jersey...but that still doesn't count I think. I'm talking to you Mr Williams.

Looks like a warm day for armwarmers...oh...wait...oops, nevermind.

As I've stated before, wearing a yellow jersey as you ride around the block at 15mph is a bit like wearing a fake gold medal from the olympics as you jog in your local trail. For the sake of effect, I'll go one further...I believe it's like wearing a Purple Heart medal while you play paintball. While none of these offenses are punishable by law, they certainly should be.

I don't know why I feel this way. I don't think it's due to the blind reverence that many have towards all professional cyclists. I mean, things have gotten so out of whack these days that the word "pro" is spelled in ALL CAPS by multiple blogs, and at least one online retailer. Even if this is done half-jokingly, and as homage to a now defunct blog it strikes me as insane. "God" only gets one capital letter, so can we just stop sucking their balls for one split second?

The idea of being "PRO", it seems, is about almost going overboard, but knowing when to stop. It's a fine balance. It's this fine line that separates those in the know, from those who are decidedly out. It's also a fine balance between your abilities and your gear/attire choices. Funny though, considering that if you are not a professional, but you are trying to look "PRO" in any way, you are (by definition) a poser. No?

I know about "posers" because I spent years of my life steeped in metal and punk rock culture, where there was constant paranoia about posers, and about being "true" Believe me, I know.

But let's get back to the jerseys. As I see it, those jerseys (the ones that riders win) as symbols of something that someone worked very hard for. I don't think that anyone else wearing them necessarily diminishes their value, but it just seems a little tacky. I know that in other sports, the iconography of its winners is is not usually held in such high esteem. In the NHL for example, anyone and everyone seems to make replicas of the Stanley Cup.

Watch out though, because even though it's okay to make a fake Cup, and hold it over your head...if you ever get your hands on the real Cup, you are simply NOT allowed to hold it over your head unless you've won. Seriously, people have gotten screamed at and nearly tackled for doing this. At the end of the day, we can all wear whatever we want. I hate cycling's implied rules, and its obsession with the past (though I'm partially guilty of it)...but at the same time I find it all very interesting. The obsession with the past is almost unique to cycling, which is odd considering most American cycling fans only started to watch the sport in their later years. Is this the reason that many don't see how important a yellow jersey is? Perhaps they don't care all that much, and that's fine too. Everyone is allowed to enjoy anything (be it cycling or something else) in their own way. But still, there are millions of other jerseys to wear, so just buy one of those other ones instead. On top of being a conceptually tacky thing to wear, a polka dotted shirt really is tacky and visually offense as well. How do you not realize the fact that you look like a godamned horse jockey on a bike while wearing it?

You'll never hear me say this again...but this jersey is a fine choice for anyone to buy. I mean, if the other choice that you're considering is a polka dotted one...please, buy this one instead. I beg of you.

Yellow and Pink

I completely hate that I'm bringing up this whole topic actually, because I think all the stupid rules and regulations that road cycling fashion has are incredibly insipid. Whenever people start to talk about their white shoes, white socks vs tall black socks, or if wearing gloves is or is not "PRO" ...I just quietly go to the corner of the room and jam a pencil in my ear. That may sound like an extreme measure to take, but believe me when I tell you that it's easier to take than having to listen to a doughy guy who is dressed like Jimmy Buffet talk about cycling fashion. I mean, seriously, have you seen how many of these people dress off the bike? Jesus Christ, how about saving the money you spent on the new white shoes, and buying a decent pair of jeans that aren't pleated at the front?

But back to my original point, how come so many agree with me about how tacky it is to wear the yellow or polka dotted jersey...and yet so few seem to mind the overuse of the World Champion stripes? Today's hipsters in particular are huge offenders in this area. Similarly, the Maglia Rosa is seldom seen in the same light by most cyclists. Want proof? Rapha (keepers and soothsayers of style according to all) have gone as far as making a commemorative pink jersey in honor of Andy Hampsten, and the Gavia Pass. The jersey even went as far as coming with a replica of Hampsten's number and safety pins.

Now I must ask, would Rapha ever make a yellow jersey? Surely Hampsten's persona (and the Gavia Pass story) plays into this. Compared to Lemond and Armstrong, he's not a polarizing figure, and is generally well liked. But how about a yellow replica jersey for Roche? They would never do it. So a company so grounded in aesthetics, as well as the general do's and don'ts of cycling, making a pink jersey struck me as funny.

Is the Giro cooler because fewer people (in England and the US) watch it? If Armstrong is at the Tour, the secretary at your office knows about it, and annoyingly asks you questions about the race. When the Giro is happening, no one at your work will even know about it. The Giro is yours, and no one else's. Like the kid who throws a tantrum, and decides to take his ball home so no one else can play, the Giro is all yours. Does this merely get back to the attitude I experienced as a youngster, whereby everyone took pride in knowing about more obscure and extreme punk and metal bands? Is knowing or caring about the Tour like knowing about Metallica (or even Winger), but the Giro is more like Slayer? By that measure, what is Roubaix? Early Napalm Death? Are small races in Belgium like listening to underground Black Metal (circa 1994)? I better stop making comparisons, because it could all get a little nutty.

Rapha uses the color pink as its primary corporate color, and they made the Hampsten jersey. They are supposed to be very cool. They have managed to leverage design, branding and marketing to make their products very desirable. This is no small feat. Good for them. If you've seen their photography, you know they are supposed to be really cool. Miles Davis cool. But not the late era Miles Davis, the one that makes you cringe and dry-heave. I'm talking about the young Miles. Smooth. The Giro is cool because fewer people watch it. The guys who win the Giro are often cyclists that your secretary at work has never heard of. I mean, if your secretary knows who Paolo Savoldelli or Ivan Gotti are, let me know.

Livestrong uses yellow as its primary corporate color. Livestrong (the foundation, and the company that sells stationary bikes) is not very cool within the closed-off world of cycling. Freds may think it's cool, but you know better, because you yourself are cool. Yes, I'm being partially facetious here, but you get my point. I mean, you may think that Livestrong and Armstrong are doing something good in regards to cancer, but they are not cool like the Giro is cool. Live strong = the Tour. Livestrong = Lance, the guy that everyone at your job knows about. Everyone says they want cycling to spread and become more well known. We want more respect from drivers as we ride our bikes, and want to be understood..but the moment someone like Lance Armstrong makes cycling more well known in the States, he gets shit on for it. Yes, some people dislike Lance for many other reasons...but I sometimes feel that his biggest crime is being too popular. Being so well known is not cool. Certainly not Rapha cool. Exclusivity (or at least the perception of it), reigns supreme.

It all gets back to cyclists wanting to be part of a secret society, like the godamned Masons. Like the Masons, cyclists seem to want secret symbols, and would like their favorite sport to remain virtually unknown...while at the same time crying that there's not enough cycling coverage on TV. More people should ride bikes, but god forbid that a guy with a triple crank or 105 shifters gets close to you. Cyclists complain about the lack of safety on the roads, but still want to be seen like oddballs, and enjoy being "weird" because they shave their legs. You can't have it both ways...I'm sorry. If cycling DID become more popular, and accepted (let's just pretend) would some cyclists loose interest? Is the relative oddball nature of cycling its appeal to some? If cycling became as popular as the NFL, and your pick-up truck driving neighbor gave up his Packers sweatshirt and traded it in for some Rapha gear...and he even got himself a would you feel? Less special? Would your secret club feel less secret? I for one, would be thrilled.

Maybe I'm wrong about this last part, perhaps I'm wrong about all of this...but I still thought it was worth bringing up.


  1. It seems kinda lame to me, even though I'm not a huge cycling fan. I'd liken it to people running around with replica wrestling championship belts and that is extraordinarily lame. If you didn't win it, don't wear it. No one has fake Super Bowl trophies on their mantles unless they're really mixed up.

  2. Burch, outside a wrestling event I saw many dudes with the replica belts...the really nice ones that are probably expensive. I guess the guys that really "won" them, actually had them bestowed up upon them by the script writers...but still. Those guys work hard, train hard and perform difficult stunts and very athletic moves. seeing a fatty who is 5'4" with the belt is pretty funny.

  3. The problem with the hipsters on fixies comparisons is the irony factor. Wearing the world championship stripes while walking your fixed gear bike along the sidewalk is simply ripe with irony. That's all they want.

    The fat guy wearing the polka-dot jersey is almost funny enough to pass muster in my book.

    I think the argument might break down simply because cycling apparel in its most basic form is superfluous for all but the most competitive cyclists. Yet, every day I see someone riding a hybrid bike on a shared path at 17km/h with TT bars and wearing full kit.

    Jeans and tshirts for everyone.

  4. youaretheengine,

    i see your point about irony...but i don't think most hipsters wear those stripes with any sense of irony...which is amazing considering that EVERYTHING else they do is full of irony. i just don't think they know or care what they are...which is cool. not everyone must know and care exactly about the same things i care about. i think it's just seen as a cool part of cycling iconography, and can be easily used in clothing etc.

    regarding cycling attire, i partly understand your point..and largely agree. however, i must say that i found cotton t-shirts to be absolutely unbearable for my ride in to work. my commute into work is 15 miles, including one very long and tough (at least for me) climb. 10% to 15% grade for over a mile, with some higher spikes along the way. I also encounter two short climbs in the low 20s. As a result, i sweat a good bit...even though i'm not normally a very sweaty guy at all. wearing a cotton tshirt became so incredibly cumbersome, that i simply had to try something else. i would be absolutely soaked, and wearing jeans during a 90 degree ride for that long is tough, at least for me. shirts or jerseys made out of materials that wick really do work better and dry quickly. additionally, they actually dry while i work so that i can wear them on the way home. I've tried both and had a hell of a time with t-shirts. still, i don't wear a yellow jersey or some team kit. oh no. i look mighty stylish and rad. similarly, going on a 60-80 mile ride on the weekend wearing jeans mid-summer really sucks balls. not saying you have to wear a full superman outfit...but considering some inexpensive alternatives may work well for you in the long run.

    to wear a full team kit because it's what "cyclists do" is silly, but (at the risk of sounding dogmatic) swearing off all cycling, or sporting attire just because of what is is...well, that's just as silly as well. no? this conversation could go on for days. lycra wont make you faster, neither will a carbon frame. guys in Smart cars have moved entire couches before, guys in pick up trucks claim to have blown away many BMW M3s racing off the line at a stop light. you can do pretty much anything while wearing or using almost anything. yes, guys with very heavy steel bikes have blown away douchebags in Orbea/De Rosa/Colnago/Whatever carbon fiber frames. It all gets down to what works for you for what you are doing.

    similarly, cotton socks when it's 20-40 degrees on a long ride (4-5 hours) will surely make your toes freeze. perhaps i sound like a diva, perhaps i have a very low tolerance for pain or discomfort...but some of that goofy clothing works better for the intended purpose than random street clothing. i'm not a proponent of full kits, or even 99% of cycling clothing...but at least for me, some of it seems to work.

  5. Luncho,

    You are dead right. My "jeans and tshirts for everyone" call was intentionally flippant. I suppose there is a lovely middle ground that I wish everyone would find. That place is likely Copenhagen.

    I suppose the issue is cycling as sport, or as transportation. Cycling as sport has more leniency as far as ridiculous outfits go, as most sports have weird style issues. So, for all the professionals or semi-professionals out there: go to town.

    For the everyday, though, it's simply not necessary. Chances are people who do long daily commutes or ride for pleasure have (like you) struck the necessary balance through experience. It's the weekend warriors who need to be told. Like the woman I saw in the bike shop in full team kit and super pissed because she needed the mechanic to change her flat.

    Interestingly, newer urban cycling wear (Rapha, Cadence, etc.) perpetuates the problem of cycling clothes. They don't suggest that you look like an idiot, but be prepared to spend like one.

    But, yes, this debate has been raging for a long time and it's not likely to be settled any time soon. I don't begrudge anyone their apparel of choice, but I reserve the right to judge and mock under my breath.

  6. feel free to mock OVER your breath, if that's even and expression. I certainly do!

    I get your point though. Similarly, I'm sure you're familiar with the chubby guy who has been overheard at every bike shop on earth...the one who is asking about the $1000 wheelset because he wants to shed 200 grams. Looking at him, you can't help but wonder how he doesn't realize that loosing half a pound on his own frame would be much cheaper. eh...what can you do.

  7. I find that, on the weekend i am quite content in lycra, while during the week day commute, jeans and sleeveless Exodus shirt do very nicely.

  8. im a huge fan of who lemond used to be. and i think, under all his xxxtra layers of husky vitriol, he has a good heart and is passionate about cycling (has he ever called out merckx, btw? not american, but is/was super popular and doped).

    but hampsten and roll, to me, are the true faces of (north) american cycling: thrust u.s. cycling upon the worlds (read: continental european) collective consciousness; their careers were marked by fair-play, good sportsmanship, and general aplomb (ok, roll could fly off the handle, but it was fun to watch!). and those guys continue to be true class acts (ligget and roll?!?!? awesome!!!).

    pretty mutch the only cycling specific clothing i buy is functional: clipless, rain gear, power bars, booties, lycra and other moisture-wicking fabric shits... a lot of which can be purchased cheaply from non-cyclo-specific sources, e.g., $10 lycra tees form target. meh, whatever.

    although i did find a pair of craft-saxo bank cloves i want... andy schleck is goddamn good and fun to watch, and the whole team looks like a group of mongoloids escaped from a group home and raided the real saxo bank team bus ---> uhh, cant post the link. but go look. europeans are ugly fuckers!

  9. and how about a liggett post? epic dude! check out this months issue of ROAD magazine.

    also, check out 'blogging with roll.' never updated, but what hes got on there is mint!

    \m/ dZa \m/

  10. Death Race,
    Everyone knows that a sleeveless Exodus shirt provides optimal wicking and aerodynamic performance. Bravo!

    Andy Schleck in particular is pretty odd I see what you mean. I met Jens Voigt this summer, and well...I say this with an unblemished record of heterosexuality, the guy was very good looking. For reals. Having said that, Dominic Klemme is WEIRD looking:

    I do think it's weird how Merckx gets off easily when it comes to doping. Still, the man was amazing as was Lemond. If I ever had the chance to meet Lemond, or even Tyler Hamilton...I would probably shake their hand and tell them how badass they were...because it's true.

  11. I think your blowing it out of proportion. But maybe that's just me. I always wanted a Green jersey, but I refuse to pay over $120(Canadian) for one. If someone is dumb enough or rich enough to buy this season full team kit then more power to them. I find I do fine buying last years gear on sale.

  12. Yeah, I'm probably blowing it out of the end of the day, I don't really care what people wear...I only brought it up because I think it's funny that the yellow jersey is so sacred, while the pink one isn't.

  13. You've lead me to believe it's the opposite. When I think about it, the pink seems to be more sacred because it is used less, and it's significants is not as widely known (in north america). The yellow on the other hand is just "whored out" to anyone.

    Plus in north america as you've pointed out you get referred to as a "fag" for just being on a bike. The last thing you want to do is wear pink tights, you're just begging for trouble at that point.

  14. " You can't have it both ways...I'm sorry."

    I think we can and do have it both ways. Road bikes, shaved legs - they are ways for people to both be individuals as well as part of a select group. Just as we are individuals - except perhaps for unseparated twins - we also yearn for connection.

    I have and I proudly wear my Tour de France replica Polkadot jersey. It comes out once a year for an annual hill climb event in Los Angeles. As former record holder - 3 times - for most ascents in the course of a day, I feel I've earned the right to wear that silly looking jersey, and I enjoy the comments it engenders.

    As the once and always king of the hill, if not the mountain, it's my right and duty to pull on those 'dots.

  15. I'm a no jersey unlest you earn it sort of guy. However old team jersey's such as 7-eleven, Banesto, Moleni, and Coor's Classic Banners kick ass.

    Still I think it comes down to what we all think is the definition of cool. Hipsters like those fixies (by the way is hipster evolution go classic Puma's, tight pants, fixie, Vespa, Mini Cooper then...I'm going with an Airstream), mountain bikers now like 29'rs, Roadies dig those Cervelo's, and the list goes on. Cycling culture is a trendy culture for the insiders with each faction hurling verbage of I'm-cooler-than-thou vibe. I always thought it was because a vast majority of riders never did play a team sport. The all about me thing developed from there.

    Me, I get ridiculed constantly for my Lord of the Rings hat (aka Rivendell), of which I don't have the patience to explain to the non-bicycle public. Dorks.

  16. Matt, interesting that you mention that most roadies never played team sports. probably true. by the way, your airstream comment made me chuckle a good bit...totally right. ugh.

  17. I put on my old Polka Dot jersey once a year, when I ride up Fargo St., the steepest street - 33% - in Los Angeles. I am the former record holder for most rides up in a day, and wearing the KOM jersey seeming totally fitting to me (even if the street is only .10 miles in length).

  18. Athletic wear encompasses clothing worn to work out in gyms, to participate in sports or sports training, to yoga and pilates clothing styles, to the traditional sweatsuit.

  19. I think I want to go buy a Yellow Jersey now.


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