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Dear Frank : The Fairer Socks

Dear Frank Socks 02
Frank Strack
10 Jun 2015

When it comes to socks, you can have any colour you like, but think before you choose.

Dear Frank

Can you please use your influence to make a Rule banning black socks? White socks are elegant, black socks are naff.

John Hassall, by email


Dear John

I really wish Lance Armstrong had never worn black socks. That, and all that other stuff he did, like doping, being such a dick, and wearing those long shorts. All equally offensive. In that order. Black socks, doping, dick-being, and long shorts. The black socks are the worst of his offences because it makes it very tempting to throw a Rule up that says black socks have their place – on mountain bikers because they are already wearing baggy shorts and there is no more hope for civility among their number. Or in your chain-cleaning rag bucket, or something like that.

Did Merckx wear black socks? Sometimes, but when he started riding that day they were white. It’s hard to keep your socks spotless when you’re busy crushing fools all day. And Coppi? Anquetil? Hinault? Kelly? LeMond? No sir. White socks only, at least when they set out.

The Rules existed long before we, The Keepers, never wrote them down. They were unspoken, passed along from one Cyclist to the next, to be absorbed by those inclined and ignored by those not. Cyclists recognised kindred spirits by one another’s interpretation of the unspoken Cyclists’ Code, which, like the Pirate Code, was more like guidelines than rules. Minus the pillaging.

Interpretation of the Rules can be a grey area, quite literally in the case of black and white socks, because it becomes a question of style, which is more art than it is science. Science can be taught to you no matter how stupid you are, while art is visceral – innate – and if you don’t have it, no one can teach it to you no matter how big a genius you are. Just look at any rich tech tycoon you’ve ever seen on TV. Case closed.

Style is conviction. It is expressed not by what we choose to wear, but by how we choose to wear it. Within the accepted standards, we each decide what does and doesn’t look good, and after that choice is made, our conviction of that decision is what convinces the observer of our choice much more than its actual appearance. That which makes us feel good makes us look good. In the immortal words of Paul Fournel, to look good is already to go fast.

Each of us needs to find our own style, which leaves plenty of leeway for individuality. Socks offer the Cyclist a small bit of freedom in a rigid world of history, culture and etiquette. The Rules are clear on what we can and can’t wear: black shorts (Rule #14), no team kit unless you’re part of the team (Rule #17), no leader’s jerseys (Rule #16), no cycling caps off the bike (Rule #22), sock and short length are carefully laid out (Rule #27), eyewear shall be cycling-specific (Rule #36), no beards (Rule #50 – I’d like the bulk of the pro bunch to review that one please, Cycling is not a 70s porno).

In this list, Rule #28 stands out as a beacon of stylistic freedom: Socks can be any damn colour you like. I refer to this as The Aesthete’s Choice, an opportunity for each of us to express ourselves. Much like Rule #8 allows us to choose our bar tape and tyre colour, Rule #28 allows us to choose our sock colour. White is the obvious choice, but there are other classy choices to be made. And make no mistake, just as we each have the right to choose, we each have the right to judge. Never stop judging, and never stop choosing. It is in our nature.

Frank Strack is the creator and curator of The Rules. For further illumination see and find a copy of his book The Rules (Sceptre) in all good book shops. Email your questions to him at

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