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Dear Frank: Something old, something new

Frank Strack
17 Jun 2016

Is it acceptable to mix modern and vintage? Frank Strack consults the Velominati rule book for the answer.

Dear Frank

A cycling friend is in the habit of riding his ultra-modern carbon aero bike while dressed in a vintage wool Molteni jersey and cap. Is there a Rule regarding the sartorial mixing of different cycling eras?

Jeff, by email

Dear Jeff

I feel like I just stepped into a vortex. I’m not entirely sure I even understand your question. It is a riddle, wrapped in mystery, inside a jersey – to paraphrase a famous person who lived in a church on a hill. Apparently.

Are you sure your ‘friend’ isn’t really you? It’s OK if it is. I won’t tell anyone.

Vintage wool Molteni jersey and cap? You mean from the 1970s? When Eddy raced? Your friend got them then and still rides in them? They are still in one piece? The moths haven’t gotten to them yet? Or do you mean ‘replica’ or ‘reproduction’? Because that would make more sense. And that would still be an enigma wrapped in a mystery given the wool-carbon mix. But at least it isn’t tipping the Insane Scale in quite the same way, mostly because that vintage kit should be in a display case, not on some punter riding around on an aero bike. 

The question at hand comes down to a few basic principles. First, there is the matter of respecting the jersey (Rules #16 and #17). This has to do largely with understanding the difference between holding an article in reverence and having respect for the sacrifice that someone made in order to earn the right to wear it. Peter Sagan and Lizzie Armitstead laid down untold hours of suffering and sacrifice to find their way into their rainbow jerseys last September. We would be cheapening their commitment by wearing the same jersey they fought so hard to earn. At a lesser level, the same goes for team kit. Members of the team work hard to earn a place on the squad and we show our respect for that achievement by not wearing their team kit.

Molteni kit sits on a level all of its own. It was worn by the Prophet himself during the height of his powers, and he thereby forged it into the canon as one of the most iconic bits of kit in existence. To wear Molteni kit is an act that sits alongside wearing the rainbow jersey or the maillot jaune itself. 

Secondarily, it comes down to Looking Fantastic At All Times. Looking Fantastic is not just a matter of coordinating your kit. Architect Louis Sullivan said that form should always follow function, that beauty comes firstly from an object’s intended purpose and secondly from its appearance. In other words, make something as beautiful as you like, so long as the purpose of its utility is not violated.

I’d like to understand better why your mate wears a heavy, saggy wool jersey on his lightweight go-fast bike. Wool is a great material for certain applications, like riding in the cold or wet, but technology has advanced well beyond its function as a daily fabric. On the other hand, your friend’s bicycle is what we might consider the pinnacle of modern technology with the sole intent of allowing the rider and bicycle to travel as fast as possible. The mixing of wool jersey and aero bike is in contradiction of their mutual purposes.

But as cyclists, we are permitted to behave foolishly. This is a hobby and we do it entirely for our own amusement. As Velominati, we endeavour to do so with the utmost reverence for those who have ridden before us, who have done the work that has built the embankments of Mount Velomis. 

From this perspective, wearing Molteni kit on a regular basis is already in violation of the reverence we hold for it. I suggest your mate reserve the Molteni jersey exclusively for the occasion of Festum Prophetae, Eddy Merckx’s birthday on 17th June. On this day, we honour him in whatever form we choose and kitting up in his likeness feels like a nice way to show your respect. Especially if riding a steel bike.

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