Friday Group Ride #469

Friday Group Ride #469

They say that form is fleeting by class is permanent. Similarly, fashion comes and goes, but style is permanent. Or maybe fashion is what you where, but style is how you wear it.

Sometimes you see a rider with all the right kit, just put together in an awful way. And other times you might see someone with all the right kit, put together in too right a way, everything just exactly as fashion demands, and there’s something styleless about that too. I suspect that why The Rules are so irritating, because they imply, albeit tongue-in-cheek, that you should follow fashion in order to have style on the bike, when in fact the two aren’t related and style abhors rules.

My 12-year-old son has style. It doesn’t matter what you give him to wear. He makes it look good. I don’t know how he does this. It’s part keen, unconscious eye maybe, part indifference, part body proportion. He has it, and I don’t. Is this what stylish people struggle with, via fashion, ways to impart style to the rest of us, when it communicates in a language that is non-verbal, or sub-sonic, or accesses a part of the visual spectrum we just can’t see.

Of course, there are a few ways to think of style on the bike. There’s what you wear, and there’s how you move. This latter is perhaps a more natural entry into thinking about cycling style as it’s less superficial, and we all want to move well, even if we don’t care what we’re wearing. Not caring what you’re wearing, ironically, might be stylish.

So that way of moving is souplesse, smoothness, gracefulness, ease. I can’t tell you with 100% certainty that it makes you a faster bike rider, but I can tell you that imbues the experience of riding a bike with a different sort of pleasure, like umami for the athletically inclined. It’s a long time since the bike messenger was the avatar of cycling style, but I recall watching some of those guys ride, back in the ’80s, and thinking how goddamned good they looked, just pedaling their bikes.

This week’s Group Ride asks, does style even matter? Do you need to have one on the bike? Or is this like asking if being left-handed matters, you either are or you aren’t? How do you develop your own style? And how do you communicate that, if not through rules?

Image: Rides a Bike

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  1. Dave

    For me style comes down to how you ride and if you’re having fun. Guys wearing 80s mismatched kit but with souplesse, are much more stylish than riders that color coordinate their kit and bike. That’s not to say the latter group doesn’t have some style, but they are trying too hard which detracts from style.

    As for me, I rarely wear team jerseys or shorts except for clubs I was a member of. Usually you’ll find me in all Pearl Izumi because it fits me perfectly and is comfortable. I see lots of local racer types with all the latest and greatest gear with their heads down looking at their power numbers. It’s often hard to tell if they are actually enjoying their ride. They rarely say hello when you pass them or they pass you.

    All that being said, no matter what you are wearing and how you roll doesn’t mean squat as long as you’re having fun. Do that and you have style in abundance.

    1. Shawn

      I think you nailed it when you mentioned trying too hard. Perceptible effort is style’s kryptonite. On the other hand, the great — the stylish — make it look effortless. Jordan dunking a basketball? Style. Sagan riding a wheelie? Style. George Clooney in greasy mechanic coveralls? Style. Bjork’s swan dress? Not style.

      That’s not to say there is no style in struggling, or even failure. But a dude with a food baby wearing $1,000 worth of race cut Lycra? Not style.

  2. Jay

    I have noticed that The Rules have invoked in a number of essays that I have read lately. Having been a member of the essentially defunct Velominati community I am always amazed at the responses that they provoke. I thought that they were humorous for the most part and served as talking points for discussions within the group that often touched on a surprising variety of topics. They really weren’t rules, but more along the line of platitudes, never really to be taken seriously. But enough about that…

    As for style, I view that as a personal thing. Anyone can define their own style. Rules don’t matter. What you yourself like, and are comfortable with, will define style. It’s up to others to make their own choices with regard to themselves. There is no style that is wrong. It just may not appeal to you, but that’s the point. It doesn’t have to…

  3. Michael

    I really don’t pay any attention to style, if that is related to what one wears or how one looks. What I wear needs to match what I am doing. Whether the socks are tall or short or the glasses tucked in or out is beyond irrelevant. Smooth riding, and a sense of humor when it isn’t, is what is worth striving for. Can you remove a link and put your chain back together on the trail? Can you true the wheel enough after breaking a spoke to get the forty miles home? That is style, and shaved legs, face, or head have nothing to do with it.

  4. Alan

    My 8-year old daughter goes to school every day with mis-matched socks on purpose because that’s the style. It occurred to me I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cyclist with mismatched socks–but if the pros did it, we all would too. So what is style?

    At this point I simply prefer comfortable and well-fitting bibs, socks without holes, and a club or local jersey that tells you who I ride with.

    1. Jeff vdD

      Ha! My sock style is mismatched. My two primary bikes have different color left and right bar tape (red/blue on one, orange/green on the other). I match my socks to my bar tape: one color on one side, the other in the other.

  5. Quentin

    I don’t think I’ve ever had much style, but if I ever did, I now realize there are higher priorities. At Christmas, I can count on my wife getting me a jersey in a color that suggests a safety vest for a highway construction worker. She wants me home alive. I don’t know how much it helps, but if it’s even a little, I’m happy to wear them, so I do.

    1. TomInAlbany

      You’ll know you’re in the doghouse when she buys you a black jersey with no pattern or any other color whatsoever!

  6. rides in-be

    I ride with two men who have very different styles and yet both have lots of style. They dress differently. Th first is former racer who still dresses like one. The other has a more muted collection of matching kits. Their bike choices also differ drastically. One has a single bike while the other has a stable. Deeper than the differences though are core skills, refined character, and deep wells of joy that allow them to ride together and delight in the miles. Both have style and both have a capacity for friendship. I learn a lot from both and different things from each about the deeper kind of style that never goes out of style.

  7. AG

    Oh yes, style matters. But I think one earns style. By getting out before dawn so you can still take the kids to school. Scrubbing road grime out of the rash on your hip, then telling your wife it’s not that bad (even though it hurts like you-know-what). Becoming an integral part of a group and laughing with your mates about what a dweeb you were when you first joined. I guess I think style comes through experience, but more than that its being able to keep it all in perspective and finding humor in all of it. You can tell from a ways off if a rider has style, not just because of their kit (which doesn’t need to be “pro” but definitely needs to be “correct”) but also how they carry themselves, ride with others and seem to always smile and keep things fun. That takes time.

  8. Stephen Barner

    The foundation of style is competence. You cannot have the former until you have mastered the latter. Once you are there, style comes naturally–it cannot be forced. Style is a state of mind, an ability to ride the wind without ever loosing control, or your cool.

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