My motto on the bike is that if you can’t be fast, you should at least look good. But looking good is a subjective thing, what with beauty being in the eye of the beholder and all that. Hence our runaway victory with the best-looking crew at Leadville (the podium presentation was awesome, and you should see the trophy). Here I thought Ricky and Dug were holding us back, when in fact they were scoring huge with the judges, even the not-very-fastidious, slightly-overweight, male Russian judge (who knew?).
Anyway, as we all know, style is much more about how you wear something than what you wear. It’s like the kid who picks his nose and eats it but whose mom dresses him up in designer clothes to try and help him make friends when he gets to middle school. Does it work? No. The kid’s image doesn’t change, despite being dressed just like or better than the cool kids.
Likewise, people that are, by all objective standards, ugly and poorly-dressed may have members of the opposite (or same, depending on their preference) sex falling all over them. Case in point: Tommy Lee.
Another great example of the importance of how you wear stuff is a long-time friend, let’s call him “Curtis.” I’ve long joked with Curtis that his MO for selecting a new shirt is to just go pick the ugliest one on the rack. Yet when he puts it on, he’s so confident that he’s a stylish guy (Curtis is in film and has always been a bit artsy-fartsy—you could never have convinced him he wasn’t stylish, even when his mom was dressing him), that the shirt somehow looks good on him.
What you wear on the bike is really no different. I mean, there’s only so much you can do with brightly-colored lycra. So if you walk around as if you’re embarrassed to be seen so attired, that attitude will transcend the pre-and-post-ride moments and into the ride itself. You’ll never look good, because you never felt like you looked good. And since winning is irrelevant, looking good is all that matters (which is why, when friends and family are spectating, you should always sprint to the front of the pack as you pass them, even if it leaves you completely blown for the rest of the race).
Of course, we aren’t all born confident, and some of us need some reassurances that what we’re wearing really does look good in order to confidently wear it. With that in mind, here are a few pointers:
- Never wear yellow. Sure, yellow is the color of the race leader in The Tour and countless other events. You’re not the race leader. Don’t wear yellow—it puts a target on your back, and unless you really are the race leader, you’ll never have the confidence to pull it off. Besides, very few of us have a complexion that looks good with yellow. Same is true for polka dots.
- Never wear pro team kit unless you are fast enough to back it up. Some people (mistakenly) think that as long as it’s not yellow, it’s OK to wear pro team kit. It’s not. If you wear Caisse D’Epargne kit in a road race, for example, you don’t even need to violate the centerline rule or hit the brakes in the middle of the bunch for people to know you’re a wreck waiting to happen. And I’ve only ever seen the “unless you’re fast enough to back it up” clause applied once. That was a kid who showed up to the Mt. Harrison hill climb last year with hairy legs and full Rock Racing team kit. He purchased a one-day Cat. 5 license and proceeded to take third overall, beating some very fast riders in the process.
- Shave. Speaking of hairy legs, if you’re going to show your legs, make sure they’re smooth. Baggy shorts mostly cover your legs, so if you’re on a MTB trail ride and wearing baggies, you get a pass. Otherwise, get rid of that stuff.
- Don’t mix genres. Baggies are OK anytime you’re on the MTB. They can be the difference between blending with the crowd and making a statement. Nobody remembers who won last year’s Draper I-Cup race, but who can forget how good Sleepy and Dug look in their plaid shorts on a trail ride (or digging around in the bushes for a lost ipod during the trail ride)? Baggy clothing is OK on dirt, and even required by the UCI in gravity events (no skinsuits allowed, even though they’re faster), which is why if you’re wearing the protective armor favored in gravity events, you should make sure and wear baggy shorts when you do. Likewise, you should never wear baggy shorts on the road, unless you’re riding a ‘cross bike or a fixie. If you can keep up with Lycra-clad roadies, especially going uphill, while wearing baggies on your ‘cross rig, that is the embodiment of style.
- Helmets are not invisible. Most of us have one helmet that we wear with every kit until we crash and break it, at which point we replace it. But if you haven’t crashed and broken your helmet since 2001, you probably aren’t riding hard enough. Even if you’re just that lucky, you should probably buy a new one anyway, because helmets have changed (for the better) since then. The exception to this is if you haven’t broken your helmet since 1994, and you’ve still got the Specialized/Mtn Dew team issue brain bucket ten years after that team disappeared. In that case, it becomes cool again in a retrogrouch/core/I’ve-been-doing-this-a-long-time sort of way.
- You don’t need to match. Rick sums this up, as far as dirt rides are concerned, rather nicely here. I’ll only add that for roadies, there’s a huge temptation to match everything—helmet, jersey, bibs, socks, shoes, bike. Fight it. If you’re wearing team colors because you’re part of a team, that’s expected. But it should end with team socks. Socks are a place to shout out to a friend or sponsor or show some personality. Same for arm warmers. For instance, I always race in Smartwool, or occasionally, Fat Cyclist socks (nevermind that pretty much all I own are Smartwool and Fat Cyclist socks, and I wear them to work and church as well). On dirt, as expected, one has even more latitude, and knee-high socks are a nice way to tell anyone passing you “I don’t care that you’re faster, because I’m better-looking.” Matching in a not-matching way is also a nice touch. Kevin from the Skull Candy team rides a red and black Tarmac festooned with bright green bar tape. The tape doesn’t match his bike at all, but it’s a perfect match with his kit. It’s a nice touch. And of course, a Fat Cyclist jersey, especially in pink, goes with everything. Even when it doesn’t.