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Dear Frank: Looks aren't everything

Frank Strack
8 Aug 2016

Frank Strack, protector of The Rules, ponders whether a rider’s bike and kit should match their skill and experience.

Dear Frank

The Rules state the necessity to look ‘pro’, but is it possible to look too pro? I don’t want to be accused of having ‘all the gear, no idea’. 

Craig, by email

Dear Craig 

The last bit of your question caught me off guard for a moment until I remembered that you lot over there in the UK pretend there’s an ‘r’ at the end of ‘idea’. Now that I understand it rhymes, I’m taking your question more seriously.

Is it possible to look too pro? Yes, the same way a woman can be too beautiful or a man too handsome or a puppy too adorable. In other words, no, it’s not. 

Let’s start with the basics. Pros look like they were born on the bike and they behave like the machine is an extension of their very being. It is something more than skin deep; it’s about the kit, the bike, the clothes, the style, the mannerisms – all the elements that go into creating an effortless charisma and which come from spending hours upon hours on the bike. I’m talking about the kind of innate style that says to even the uninitiated that you are a cat that knows what’s up. 

To put it another way, if you don’t ride your bike enough to feel completely at home on your machine, then it doesn’t matter what you wear or what kind of bike you have, you still won’t look pro.

But there is also a technicality to discuss. The Rules don’t state the need to look pro, but to ‘Look Fantastic’. Looking pro doesn’t always mean you Look Fantastic; those scarf things the Spanish pros like to wear in spring? It’s pro, but looks complete crap. And don’t start me on their use of the European Posterior Man-Satchel. The pros are a great place to start learning what looks good on the bike and what doesn’t, but it’s not a guarantee to Look Fantastic by any means. This is where experience and good taste come in and this is where the Velominati are in their element.

As for your question, let’s turn it on its head. I hear a lot of moaning from people who feel they don’t deserve a certain gruppo or wheelset, or that they aren’t good enough to make carbon or titanium or custom steel worthwhile. The fact is, high-end kit and equipment generally performs better, and better performing gear generally makes riding more fun. While there is certainly an element of diminishing returns, none of us are making a living riding our bikes and that means we are riding for enjoyment first and function second. The bikes and kit we choose should be dictated more by our fancy and our budgetary choices than whether we’ve ‘earned’ it according to some arbitrary third-party judgment. Buy the gear you want for your own reasons, not because someone else might think it’s appropriate.

The spirit of Velominati is summarised in Rule #43: Don’t be a Jackass (And if you really must be a jackass, be a funny jackass.) Conduct yourself with dignity and respect, and treat others similarly. And always keep a sense of humour.

I imagine that this rider with ‘all the gear and no idea(r)’ that you’re afraid of being is one who doesn’t have an interest in the culture and etiquette of the sport, acts like a jerk, and still rides all the best equipment available. Personally, I have no issue with a rookie who can’t hold their line in a group but is eager to learn; what gear they’re riding doesn’t factor. The fact that they are invested in becoming a better Cyclist is what being a learner is all about. But people who have weak skills and aren’t open to improving are closed chapters; their journey into the sport ended with their credit card. 

If there is a concept (or perhaps even a Rule) to put around this question, I would summarise it by stating that your investment into equipment should be matched by an equal or greater investment into yourself and your interest in, and knowledge of, our beautifully complex sport. But always remember that this is an introspective exercise; leave external judgment out of it.

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