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Pro kit what? In defence of wearing pro kit

Rob Whittle
18 Feb 2019

One fan of wearing pro team kit asks: Does wearing pro kit really make me a w*nker?

Pro kit fan Rob Whittle ponders when an outfit moves from unwearable to retro cool, and argues the case for those who choose to ride out in the latest replica kit from the WorldTour...

I was called ‘team kit w*nker’ at the weekend. Waiting at a roundabout, another cyclist came alongside and clocked my Lotto Belisol jersey. I said 'Morning' and he left me with those three words and the sight of his Rapha-clad backside disappearing up the road.

Why is wearing team kit such a no-no? I’ve also been called Andre Greipel ('F**k me! It’s Andre Greipel!') which, as slurs go, is not quite as bad, although I like to think of myself as more Tiesj Benoot. Even then, there are marked differences: he invariably has matching shorts and team bike, youth, power, speed, talent, and a gratuitous J.

So perhaps we can just take it as a given that pro kit is somehow off-limits, but surely we need some clarification on the obvious contradictions.

For example: retro pro kit, it seems, is fine. But what is retro? When does a jersey attain that hallowed status? And who are the arbiters of this? Why is it fine to wear a Peugeot or Molteni jersey (which I also have, in black) but not something more up-to-date?

Breaking the rules

My Molteni top came from the guys at Prendas, well-known for their replica retro kits. Their range goes from the 1960s through to the 1980s, with the stuff in the middle, the ‘70s kit, being most popular. Ten years ago, these replica kits outstripped anything else they sold. Now, most of their customers don’t want it. Is it that notion of being mocked on the road and falling foul of ‘The Velominati’?

While I respect Frank Strack’s quest for respectable dress and etiquette in cycling, one has to wonder if cyclists are taking these rules far too seriously?

In 2016, I rode up Ventoux three days before the Tour did, in my polka dot jersey. I nearly bottled it, knowing that the slopes would already be packed with all sorts of cycling fans who might view the spots on my back as a red rag to a bull. My wife pointed out that if I didn’t wear it, I would regret it, 'plus, if you can’t wear a mountains top on a mountain, where can you wear it?' You can’t argue with that!

Rounding the St Estève bend, I encountered a French family sitting down to breakfast outside their campervan and I held my breath (as much as you can on a 10% slope), expecting a barrage of disapproving French adjectives.

But dad leapt up and shouted 'Le maillot a pois!' The rest of the family followed suit and they all applauded. It was like that the whole way up as I cruised past Chalet Reynard and on up to the mast on a wave of goodwill. I think that would have been missing had I been in a less recognisable Assos or Castelli number. 

I felt, for a moment, like I was chasing the gruppetto at the Tour. Granted, nobody ran alongside me like they do on the telly, but then nobody called me a w*nker – which in many ways is just as good.

Accepted wisdom is that, in wearing my spots, I had not only risked the ire of pros old and young but broken ‘The Rules’, specifically #16: 'Respect the jersey. Championship and race leader jerseys must only be worn if you’ve won the championship or led the race' and #17: 'Team kit is for members of the team'.

It appears that, by wearing such iconic jerseys, we lower forms of cycling life dishonour them. Personally, I not only respect but I love the jersey. It was seeing it flying up sun-bleached mountains in the ‘80s that really hooked me into watching the sport, rather than just riding my bike around inanely.

While I don’t think I am in some way honouring the jersey by wearing it, there’s no bloody way I would have put my foot down whilst wearing it. Now surely that is paying ample respect?

The establishment versus...

This is not a new thing. In The Call of the Road, Chris Sidwells points out that the new, younger wave of British cyclists in the late 1940s and early 50s were marked out by their efforts to ape the dress of their Continental counterparts.

There are even letters to cycling publications of the time, bemoaning the fad of using foreign bidons.

The recent take up of team kit seems to have coincided with the post-2012 boom: Wiggins and all that. Suddenly, there were Team Sky kits and Pinarellos aplenty. This inrush of forty-somethings with ‘all the gear and no idea’ put quite a few long-time, club-riding noses out of joint. 

To the new converts, their kit was a way of joining the cycling fraternity, much as wearing a Manchester United top to Old Trafford, say. But, to the established cycling fraternity, they were just colours of ineptitude: where a team jersey appeared, it was usually attached to a horizontal rider at a junction, having forgotten to unclip in time... again.

But those heady days of 2012 have passed, and surely it’s time to reconsider our pro kit obsession? After all, when it comes to ‘all the gear and no idea’, there are bigger fish to fry.

Brand w*nkers?

The thing is, there are probably far more cyclists riding around now in full Rapha kit, or matching MAAP. While they push against and scoff at replica team kits, they’ve fallen into one of their own kind of kit tribe. 

I made a return from a long absence from cycling about 10 years ago, and I can still remember turning up at sportives in my polka dot jersey and my Sports Direct shorts (the pad literally appeared to be a half centimetre thick piece of foam nicked from a cushion) and attracting the knowing smiles of the Castelli brigade.

After that, it was the Assos assembly. Nowaday perhaps it’s a raft of Rapha. As more MAMILs come into the sport they all seek to be seen in the newest gear.

Cycling fashion in this respect is no different to any other. But if what we wear is all about imitating those in the know, what difference does it make if it’s a piece of Ashmei apparel that the fastest guy in the club run wears, or the same exact outfit as Chris Froome?

What’s more, if we do wear the pro race kit of our favourite teams, in a certain way perhaps we’re feeding the sport we love.

Retro team kit has longsince been considered painfully cool

Cycling’s saviour?

In the present economic climate, it might be time for cycling to look past its contempt for team kit and embrace it.

It wasn’t that long ago that the first replica football kits for adults were produced (the Admiral England shirt of 1982 – you can watch that story in the excellent documentary, “Get Shirty”) and now, replica kits are a massive revenue stream for professional football teams.

Not to mention the extra allure for sponsors to back a team, when they suddenly find that thousands of fans are sporting their logos the world-over.

By wearing the shirt, footy fans show support for their team and their game, but they also pour money into that game. By making team kit wearers pariahs, isn’t cycling missing something?

Personally, I see no problem in wearing team kit. It means nothing to me other than it is just something to wear whilst riding my bike that looks pretty good. If I look pretty good (which, trust me, I do), I feel pretty good.

So, I say to anyone, if you want to wear team kit, bloody well do so and sod the snipers! Unless it’s Castorama.

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