Ya Gotta Earn It

Getting a bit serious about riding can make one kinda judgmental. I admit it.

Last Saturday I was out with the Dark Horse Flyers, about 16 of us, on the long (125 km) ride. We were in a double paceline, and as we were waiting to make a left turn at an intersection, a single, geared-up cyclist rolled by us on our right. He was rumbling along at a cruising pace; he was wearing a replica world champion’s rainbow jersey; he was riding a new Pinarello Dogma; and he wasn't exactly…  racing trim.

Not exactly as shown
As we watched him pass, one of the Flyers I was riding beside said, "That just breaks so many rules."(1) I suspect a few in our group had a similar thought. Yep, I agreed, and added, "I could never even think about wearing a jersey that was yellow, pink, green, or polka-dotted, either." Hell, I barely feel legit wearing my Dark Horse Flyers jersey;  I couldn't even bring myself to it wear on club rides until I had actually raced.

The great Bernard Hinault – in his usual tactful and diplomatic way –  once said on the subject of jerseys: "When I see pot-bellied cyclists with stomachs like they're pregnant wearing a maillot jaune it appalls me." Magnanimity was never Hinault's strong suit, but I can see how winning five Tours might make you touchy about that sort of thing. So I, for one, prefer never to incur the wrath of Le Blaireau.

Bottom line, for me anyway: you can't just wear the stuff; one way or another, ya gotta earn it.

Same goes for gear.

For real pros and serious amateurs, tech actually matters and can mean the difference between winning and losing. (See Fignon vs LeMond '89). For the rest of us, it's nice (no, it's great), but guys like me are a long way from maxing out the capabilities of our bodies to the point where slightly better, much more expensive tech is the only way up. And if you're that dude in the champion's jersey on the Pinarello, you're driving a Lambourgini with a Learner's Permit.

That said, what the hell – power to the Pinarello guy. Maybe in time he turns into a serious rider, earns his bike, learns the error of his ways, and buries that jersey in a bottom drawer somewhere. And then kicks my ass.

It's my own hang-up, but my relationship with gear is fraught with ambiguity: I love cool new stuff  (going from steel to carbon fibre, for example, was awesome), but if somebody handed me a Pinarello Dogma (or a Cervelo Rca or some other exotic superbike) I'm not sure I'd be comfortable riding it; not, at least, til I had actually felt like I had earned it, somehow – like maybe by placing decently in a race. Probably this derives from playing too much pick-up hockey, where all too often some guy shows up with old, beat-up Tacks and purple pants and green gloves (2) and no shoulder pads, and then skates rings around everybody. Especially the guys with the hot new matching gear and $300 composite sticks.

Gotta earn it; gotta earn the right to need it. (3)

1. The extreme exemplar of this is of course the Rules of the Velominati (see Rules  #15, 16 & 17). Which I enjoy partly for its hilariously over-the-top, hard-man persona, and partly because there’s part of me that can’t help taking it slightly seriously.

I think cyclists are touchy on the subject of kit because this stuff is so iconic. The Maillot Jaune or the Maglia Rosa is sacred. But there is also a “wear what you want” camp that – perhaps rightly – rejects jersey fetishizing. After all, the UCI & the Tour and the teams all license their jerseys. So do the New York Yankees and nobody has a beef with middle-aged softball players wearing Derek Jeter jerseys. My feeling is: wear a team jersey as a supporter if you really dig Sky or Saxo or Garmin while watching a race or hanging out. Just not on the bike. Classic replica jerseys (Molteni, Peugot, La Vie Claire) however, are fully acceptable, and indeed demonstrate an appreciation for the history of the sport.

2. Weird-coloured, beat-up gloves and hockey pants are a sure tip-off that you have a ringer in the dressing room. It means the guy played junior B or minor pro somewhere years ago and these are the last bits of his old team-issue equipment. No matter what he looks like, prepare to be embarrassed.

3. Gotta be able to afford it too, and justify it in the household finances, but that's another story. (See Velominati Rule # 12.)


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