Yesterday Hani and I were discussing lycra, leg-shaving, and other facets of modern cyclists. I thought I’d follow up with a very quick comparison of the modern look versus what I consider a much more “raw”, more attractive look: bikes and attire from the golden age of bicycling just prior and after World War II.

Lycra may make you more streamlined, but it also makes you look ridiculous. Furthermore it requires that you stay within 5 feet of your bicycle or immediately change clothes; a lycra-clad cyclist without a bicycle is a thing from a bad science-fiction movie.

Lance Armstrong dressed to kill... for a clown convention

Lance Armstrong dressed to kill... for a clown convention

Personally I think the classic short-shorts and jersey is much more “real”. Lycra says “I’ve got a 50 function bike computer, an intimate knowledge of the wind shear forces on this road, and a bottle of liquid designed specifically to my body’s chemistry; I have the technical advantage over you.” The classic attire says “I don’t need gadgetry; I’m going to beat you because I’m just plain better than you.”

Ken Russell doesn't need rainbow-colored clothing vaccuum pumped to his skin  to whip you on a hill.

Ken Russell doesn't need rainbow-colored clothing vaccuum pumped to his skin to whip you on a hill.

(If Lance’s bike gets a scratch his team simply throws him another off the rack. Ken Russell finished second in his first race riding a welded aluminum bike with a cracked fork.)

This follows over into bikes as well. A modern track bike is a carbon-fiber monstrosity. I showed the image below to Hani; she was perplexed how one would ride it. That’s a reasonable response – this thing resembles a bicycle only in silhouette. Sure it looks pretty cool, but there’s something lacking. It doesn’t have that light, wirey feel to it – it resorts to paint to imply speed rather than an airy, raw, powerful frame.

A bicycle purporting to be a carbon-fiber custom-made track bike.  Could also be an alien mothership.

A bicycle purporting to be a carbon-fiber custom-made track bike. Could also be an alien mothership.

Now maybe it’s just me, but that sort of bike wouldn’t intimidate me, where I the sort of person likely to be in a velodrome. The rider is putting a huge amount of money and technology into the bicycle, when in reality I’m not racing the bicycle, I’m racing the rider. I’m sure it is technologically superior than the steel lugged-frame bikes of the 40s and 50s, but be honest: wouldn’t you be more scared to find yourself on a grass path facing someone the bike below?

A sexy bicycle.

A sexy bicycle.

This bike says “don’t worry about the bike. You’ll be looking at the rider’s back for the last 200 meters anyway.” The rider of this bike isn’t going to be dressed like a Christmas tree, weighing the chin-strap on his helmet, or shooting chemical cocktails into his veins, he’s going to beating you.

There’s something to be said (indeed, I’ve said quite a bit!) about the “elemental” approach: metal, rubber, cloth. Forget high-tech gadgetry, artificial elastic jumpsuits, carbon-fiber frames, wind-tunnel tested angles: the classic cyclists didn’t need trickery.

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