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Dear Frank : Aero Clothing

Frank Strack
14 May 2015

When the need to go fast clashes with the need to look great, it’s time for the Velominati’s Frank Strack to step in and arbitrate


Dear Frank aero clothing

Dear Frank

I’ve noticed ever more road riders wearing aero kit – smooth helmets, ultra-tight speed suits, slippery overshoes. It often looks ridiculous, but is there an argument for abandoning sartorial elegance in the name of more speed?

Felix, London

Dear Felix

Throughout our history as Cyclists, we have reached for the highest possible rung on the aesthetic ladder, but we were sometimes held back by the fabric technology: wool. That was it. Shorts? Wool. Jersey? Wool. Leggings? Wool. Long sleeves? Wool. Eyeglasses? Not wool but made of glass that would shatter in a crash and scar you or possibly blind you. (Wool glasses would have been an upgrade, but the science wasn’t there.) Great fabric, wool. I love the stuff. But it does get a bit saggy when introduced to moisture, which a Cyclist does tend to produce a fair amount of, even when it isn’t raining. This meant most Cyclists raced in drooping jerseys and short-short woollen shorts until the late 1970s, when the first Lycra shorts were introduced.

This is the moment when the Golden Age of Cycling Aesthetics was born. Lycra allowed kit to stay in place and eliminated sag. Jersey pockets that once bobbed for apples off the tail of the saddle now rested on the lower back of the rider. Shorts stayed firm on the widest point of the quad, where maximum gunnage could be flaunted for intimidation purposes. Jerseys were comfortably loose, but had a snug enough fit that they didn’t flap about in the wind, sapping the most unquantifiable of cycling metrics – V – from the rider’s efforts.

These were glorious times, besmirched by only a few incidents of note, most of them perpetrated by my personal heroes. The most striking was Andy Hampsten, showing up to a 58km mountainous road stage in the 1985 Giro d’Italia in a skin suit, until then reserved only for time-trials in Europe or criteriums in the United States. He won the stage, but the bunch laughed at him nevertheless.

The moment when we evolved beyond wool is what ignited the most aesthetically pleasing time in our sport, irrespective of our penchant for neon colours during the late 1980s. These happy times continued until Castelli introduced the Aero Race Jersey three decades later and Cyclists started worrying about idiotic things like ‘going faster’ instead of ‘looking more fantastic’. Mark Cavendish put the last nail in the coffin when he won the World Road Race Championship in an aero helmet and a skinsuit with – wait for it – three-quarter-length sleeves. That set off the whole aero helmet, aero bike, aero kit, aero food tidal wave we are a spectator of today.

Three-quarter-length sleeves? It wasn’t even cold out. What are we, savages? The Velominati balance aesthetics and function, and it appears that aero kit does offer some functional advantage. But I would say that the most meaningful function is achieved by training as hard as you can, and meditating compulsively on The V. Unless the stakes are at their very highest, your time is better spent training than worrying about aero helmets and skinsuits.

And even then, who wants to raise their arms in one of those little crop-top unis we see so much of these days? Maybe I’m too old for this stuff, but the belly-button-flaunt-of-victory thing really seems one step too far. But if it was me, I’d rather roll up to the line with no one else in the picture, pull my jersey down nice and straight – maybe wipe some mud off it like a good professional – and raise my arms like I earned it through hard work, not through technicalities. The way Fignon would have done it.

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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