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Dear Frank: Defending your lines

Cycling tan lines
Frank Strack
3 Jun 2016

British cyclists aren't known for their glowing tans, but that's no reason to ignore Rule #7, says Frank Strack.

Dear Frank

I’m taking a summer holiday with the family (no cycling involved, sadly). I want to follow Rule #7 and maintain the integrity of my tan lines but would rather not have to wear my bibs and jersey on the beach. Any suggestions? 

Guy, by email

Dear Guy 

I’m very confused by your question. You use the words ‘holiday’ and ‘cycling’, which makes intuitive sense, but then you add a bunch of other words that make it sound like there is such a thing as a holiday that doesn’t involve cycling. I hate to even wonder what you did to deserve such a fate, but I hope it was worth it. I also hadn’t realised there was a recreational use for beaches; I thought their purpose was to allow race organisers to build obstacles on cyclocross courses. 

In any case, I’m happy to see that at least you have the sense to be concerned with your adherence to Rule #7 [Tan lines should be cultivated and kept razor sharp]. It is, however, the first time I’ve considered this particular dilemma because I hadn’t realised one might be caught outside in the sun for extended periods without one’s cycling kit on. 

I tease, of course. We all find ourselves in the sun off the bike from time to time, and it is a problem all Velominati must come to grips with at some stage. 

The consequence of perfect adherence to Rule #7 is that our torsos and a third of our arms and legs are a pasty white while the extremities are gloriously tanned right up to where they meet the boundary where our socks are, at which point they go back to being stark white. This is the hallmark of both the pro and the obsessive recreational Cyclist. But sadly, this is not realistic for most people, which means we have to look to the intent behind the Rule to understand its spirit and use that to guide our decisions.

In this case, the intent is that rather than be ashamed of tan lines, we should embrace them as marks of our trade and seek not to marginalise them by shifting the extremities of our kit. We should endeavour to place the grippers of our shorts in exactly the same place every time we ride, pull the socks to the same height, and ensure our jersey sleeves fall to the same line on our puny arms. 

How does this apply to the beach? I am unfamiliar with this sort of elitist ‘beach’ trouble, but I do wear shorts as often as I can, mostly to show off my shaved guns. My favourite shorts-related footwear is my pair of black and orange Nike sneakers that say ‘RULE’ on the right tongue and ‘FIVE’ on the left. I wear them only with a black version of the white DeFeet socks I ride in, to make sure the ankle tan line stays crisp. 

But I do wear sandals from time to time, which diminishes the tan lines I work so hard to keep. C’est la vie. Also, whenever I sit down when wearing shorts or I wear short-sleeve T-shirts, the crispness of my tan lines is threatened. While I’m not above manipulating my clothing to ensure the hems of my sleeves and shorts land precisely on my tan lines, I accept my social agenda doesn’t conform entirely to being a Cyclist 100% of the time. Which means parts of my non-Cycling physique will sometimes see the sun. It’s the price I pay to be a (semi-functioning) member of civilised society. 

Let’s get back to the core of Rule #7 for a moment, because I’m confusing myself. Rule #7 talks about keeping the lines as crisp as possible. It says nothing about being ghostly white on the rest of your body. That may well be the Velominatus’ Aesthetic Ideal, but it is not part of the Rule. Basically, all we need to do is counter every hour in the sun off the bike with the same number of hours riding in the sun. Whatever tan you gain will be overlaid by an equal tan gained on the bike, a classic win-win situation. Each Universal Suntan Unit (USU) spent on the beach you will be indebted to repay by riding your bike in the sun. Plus interest.

Tan lines are worn as a badge of honour, signalling to everyone that we are Cyclists; the rest of the world merely rides a bike.

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