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Dear Frank: Kit design

Dear Frank - Team Kit
Frank Strack
22 Sep 2015

When it comes to designing team kit, take some tips from the greats of the sport... and then possibly ignore them.

Dear Frank

I have been tasked with designing new kit for my cycling club. What are your suggestions for ensuring that it is Rules-compatible?

Tim, by email

Dear Tim

In its most elemental form, designing a kit is a simple thing. The low bar is designing a kit that doesn’t Look Crap. The high bar is designing a kit that Looks Fantastic. The magic happens while navigating the currents between the two.

If your goal was only to design a Rules-compliant kit, my answer would be simple: study The Rules and don’t violate any of them. Done. Thanks for asking. Next question.

But that’s not your question. You want to know how to design a kit that Looks Fantastic. Therein lies the rub. Kit design, like any other kind of design, is art, not science. Which is another way of saying that I’ll tell you when I see it.

There is a method to the madness. In the words of Aristotle, ‘The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.’

What you want to do is convey the spirit of The Rules, not simply comply with them. What do The Rules draw from? History, culture, reverence for the sport.

What did Coppi wear? Black shorts with a simple jersey. What did Anquetil wear? Black shorts with a simple jersey. What did De Vlaeminck wear? Black shorts with the most innovative jersey of his era, representing chewing gum, which would go on to confuse New Yorkers for decades to come. Which only goes to show that The Rules can be broken if you can also win Paris-Roubaix more times than Eddy Merckx.

To wit, what did Eddy Merckx wear? Black shorts with a simply jersey. And so did every classy pro rider until 1991 when some bright spark decided to print a denim pattern on a pair of shorts for the Carrera Jeans team.

I might point out that the emergence of non-black shorts coincides precisely with the emergence of the abuse of EPO, although I’m not saying the two are related, apart from the possibility that the kit designers were abusing the same drugs as the riders. All of which is to say, the good money is on black shorts. Or at least mostly black. You can add some colour to the side panels if you fancy it – certainly some colorful logos are welcome – so long as you don’t go asking your kit manufacturer to match the chamois to the drapes à la Astana (if you know what I mean). No one needs that unitard look.

This brings us to the jersey, which is where you have freedom to roam. You don’t want to mimic another kit, and you don’t want to mimic any Grand Tour leader’s jersey. That throws out any solid yellow, pink or red. Also avoid national championship jerseys, which throws out a load of really cool tricolour jersey designs and also a load of really crap non-tricolour jersey designs.

Other than that, you’ve got carte blanche. If La Vie Claire could come up with the La Mondiale jersey in 1985, you can come up with something cool in 2015. But don’t go overboard: just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should. The Colombian women’s team IDRD-Bogota is a prime example of this rule of thumb.

Which brings us back to the art of it all: balance. While you don’t want to design a kit that’s too busy, you also don’t want to go for a kit that’s so simple you cause a narcolepsy pandemic in the peloton. To innovate is to bend The Rules. To offend is to break them. Keep it simple but push the boundaries.

And by all means seek opinions on each iteration – preferably from sane people with Good Taste – to find balance.

Frank Strack is the creator, and curator, of The Rules. For futher illumination see velominati.com and find a copy of his book The Rules in all good bookshops. You can email your questions for Frank to cyclist@dennis.co.uk

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