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Hard and fast rules: looking pro while wrapping up in winter

Frank Strack
9 Dec 2019

The trick to suffering is to know when and why it matters, says Frank Strack

Dear Frank

When it gets cold, my riding buddy scoffs at me when I turn up in bibtights, thick gloves and thermal jacket, and quotes Rule #5 at me. I argue that this rule is not about suffering just for the sake of it. Can you confirm this for me?

Stephen, via email

Dear Stephen,

You’re wandering into a quagmire of confluence of Rules. True, Rule #5 (Harden the f*** up) isn’t based on needless suffering. It’s a philosophical principle that one is to endure suffering when necessary, for a greater purpose, whether that purpose is self-discovery or to overcome a psychological or physical barrier or hardship.

On the other hand, I suspect your arrival to the ride wearing the Michelin Man’s hand-me-downs might be overly pessimistic.

Whenever I do anything, I try my best to channel Han Solo leaving the cantina after cooking Greedo in Star Wars, which has been scientifically proven to be the maximum possible score on the Casually Deliberate Scale.

Being Casually Deliberate comes down to two fundamental truths that you must hold unwaveringly within your heart: that you Look Fantastic and that You Are Awesome At What You Do. Greedo, the slimy green bugger, never stood a chance – we wouldn’t even remember him if he hadn’t gotten smoked by Han.

To look pro is to strive to Look Fantastic and to be at ease on a bicycle. It is to walk the line between form and function and is based entirely on the premise that the peloton is far more experienced in this endeavour than we mere mortals will ever be.

Their lessons are delivered through their actions on the bike, serving as a beacon to provide us the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and triumphs. But this is a dangerous game. Being a pro does not mean one Looks Fantastic – in fact more than a few of them look dishevelled and unkempt (I’m looking at you, Chris Froome).

There is apparently no commutative property of looking pro – Looking Fantastic does not mean you look pro, and being a pro does not mean you Look Fantastic. The pros are our inspiration, but you must choose your muses wisely.

Looking pro in good weather is a simple matter: bibs, jersey, (white) socks, shoes and hopefully a helmet. Shave and tan your guns, match your kit and you’re out the door. Nobody needs to get hurt.

But in the colder months we become obsessed with this notion of keeping warm. In fact, we should dress to leave the house cold, and endeavour to achieve warmth through our effort, not our clothes.

That said, there is also a sensibility to how we dress. Last winter I was caught out in weather that was colder than I expected and my fingers became so cold that I only regained full sensation in them some months later. But such incidents are rare, since we largely overestimate how much clothing we need.

When making decisions about how to dress for winter, keep the following points in mind:

• Layering offers versatility that will come in handy as you warm up during the ride. Whenever possible, forgo jackets and tights for the flexibility of arm and kneewarmers that can be pulled up or down, and gilets, which can be unzipped or stowed.

Belgian booties and shoe covers are to fit snuggly over the shoe. Gloves are to be tight and sleek so as to provide maximum dexterity and function.

• Kneewarmers are employed to keep the knees warm below 10°C, while at the same time allowing the shins to breathe like a fine bottle of wine. If kneewarmers don’t suffice, move on to legwarmers before you commit to bibtights.

• Maintain order. If it’s cold enough for kneewarmers, it’s cold enough for armwarmers. First come armwarmers, then kneewarmers.

• While cycling caps may be worn in a variety of conditions, cotton cycling caps are to be worn under helmets any time the rain falls or kneewarmers are deployed.

In extreme cold, a winter cycling cap may be considered. Skull caps, due in large part to their condom-like appearance, are to be avoided at all costs.

• Tights are to be avoided whenever possible. If, due to some kind of genetic shortcoming, you simply must wear full-length tights, ensure they’re straight-ankled and not stirrups. We’re cyclists, not dancers.

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