Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Worst Pro Jerseys of the 2013 Tour de France

The Tour de France is the only bike race that gets any kind of general media coverage in North America.

Which means it's the one time we actually see much of the European pro team jerseys, all at once. And maybe that's not a good thing, because really: it's not a pretty sight.

As a collection, they been beaten hard with the ugly stick: too busy, too goofily "graphical", mostly with colour schemes that just downright hurt the eyes. And it’s been that way for a while. Seven Tour wins, and can anybody remember a single jersey Lance wore? Were any of them even remotely iconic? (US Postal? Really?) Possibly it’s because so many of the sponsors these days just have crap logos. Maybe it’s because sponsoring a pro cycling team is so financially idiotic that it takes 3 or 4 of them at a time to make a go of it, guaranteeing a dog’s breakfast of a jersey.

OK, Sky is pretty good. Certainly the best of a bad lot. And it never hurts to have the glow of a winner not named Armstrong attached to it. In fact, I'd argue that some of Sky's success as a team can be attributed to the fact that putting on that jersey doesn't make you look like a dork. That has to be worth at least 3 minutes in the General Classification.

Adds a good 0.5 watts per kilo
Movistar is also pretty cool. (And cool is in very short supply in this crowd.) It's sharp and clean, and its colours are subtle and sophisticated. Even if that "M" does look like a Pixar cartoon monster. And after this year's Tour they are gonna sell like crazy in Colombia.

You've lost the minute you put it on
Things get pretty sketchy after that, however. Katushka? Omega Pharma Quickstep? (I would argue that jersey cost Cav the sprint in the last stage of the TdF.) Or God helps us, Astana or Lampre? (Seriously, how could anybody who puts that Lampre jersey on expect to win? It looks like Team My Little Pony.)

Here then, are my personal rankings of this year's pro circuit jerseys:

 Really. No contest.
And from what I could see in the UK last week, the punters are already snapping up the Sky replicas. This should come as no surprise with Froome's win, but an actually cool design makes it a lot safer to wear in the pub than, say, Astana.

Bearable & possibly wearable: 

Belkin is crisp and uncluttered, but that's one dire shade of hospital waiting-room green. Euskatel might have made the top 3 if not for that giant, goofy old-school phone poking out of the side of it (see "Big Graphic Things!", below). Similarly Cofidis had a great base colour and looked pretty good on the road but got undermined by that silly swoosh off the shoulder, which looks like something that got rejected as a uniform design for the Starship Enterprise. Points to Garmin, though, for the daring "argyle" motif. Yep, nothing puts the fear of God into the pro peloton like the sight of argyle.

Getting sketchy:
Orica & Omega-Pharma both make the crucial error of doing screened colour blends for the classic cheezy 3-D effect, with Omega's black & turquoise combo notably goofy. Saxo and especially Katushka just look like somebody barfed a bunch of Eurologos all over them.

What were they thinking?

All white? Really? I guess when your logo looks like a bathroom cleanser, Argos, it makes sense. Shimano, however, should know better. At least the AG2R guys get some colour on their shorts but it's brown for chrissake. A crappy shade of brown at that.

Big graphic things!

Somebody in the world of pro cycling jersey design seems to have got it into his or her head that a big screened-back graphical element thing bursting up through the riders' stomachs like a logo Alien was a good idea. FDJ might not be half bad without it. But for the rest it's just icing on the crap cake. Sojasun looks like a seed sack, Europcar seems to be a design rejected for the new Irish Spring bottle, and the less said about Vacansoleil the better. It's no wonder poor old Phil Liggett couldn't keep half these teams straight when he was trying to call the race.

Just flat-out hideous (and possibly detrimental to your team):
Here's the thing: any grand tour is basically a superhuman feat of strength and endurance. How these guys race 3,400 kms in 3 weeks is beyond imagining. The physical & psychological wear must be phenomenal. Surely every little bit of an edge must make a difference. So I gotta wonder: how demoralising must it be to put on either of these two jerseys after a bad day on Mt Ventoux? Exactly. And from a viewer's perspective, the first time I saw these two on my screen I thought something had gone wrong with the colour balance.

Why does it matter?
Because they're the pros. We look up to them, we copy them, we wear stuff and buy stuff to feel like  them. They have a responsibility to set standards, godammit, including aesthetic ones. Certainly as far as jerseys go there seems to be a trickle-down effect to amateur clubs. I have mentioned before that a lot of the club jerseys in my area (Toronto) are not exactly monuments to great design. (Bit of a deal-breaker for me. Which is why I appreciate the DHF jersey, which is one of the nicest I’ve seen in these parts.) But as Sky and Movistar demonstrate: the field is wide open for making a mark with a really beautiful team jersey.

Next up:
The best team jerseys of all time. In my humble opinion.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ya Gotta Earn It

Getting a bit serious about riding can make one kinda judgmental. I admit it.

Last Saturday I was out with the Dark Horse Flyers, about 16 of us, on the long (125 km) ride. We were in a double paceline, and as we were waiting to make a left turn at an intersection, a single, geared-up cyclist rolled by us on our right. He was rumbling along at a cruising pace; he was wearing a replica world champion’s rainbow jersey; he was riding a new Pinarello Dogma; and he wasn't exactly…  racing trim.

Not exactly as shown
As we watched him pass, one of the Flyers I was riding beside said, "That just breaks so many rules."(1) I suspect a few in our group had a similar thought. Yep, I agreed, and added, "I could never even think about wearing a jersey that was yellow, pink, green, or polka-dotted, either." Hell, I barely feel legit wearing my Dark Horse Flyers jersey;  I couldn't even bring myself to it wear on club rides until I had actually raced.

The great Bernard Hinault – in his usual tactful and diplomatic way –  once said on the subject of jerseys: "When I see pot-bellied cyclists with stomachs like they're pregnant wearing a maillot jaune it appalls me." Magnanimity was never Hinault's strong suit, but I can see how winning five Tours might make you touchy about that sort of thing. So I, for one, prefer never to incur the wrath of Le Blaireau.

Bottom line, for me anyway: you can't just wear the stuff; one way or another, ya gotta earn it.

Same goes for gear.

For real pros and serious amateurs, tech actually matters and can mean the difference between winning and losing. (See Fignon vs LeMond '89). For the rest of us, it's nice (no, it's great), but guys like me are a long way from maxing out the capabilities of our bodies to the point where slightly better, much more expensive tech is the only way up. And if you're that dude in the champion's jersey on the Pinarello, you're driving a Lambourgini with a Learner's Permit.

That said, what the hell – power to the Pinarello guy. Maybe in time he turns into a serious rider, earns his bike, learns the error of his ways, and buries that jersey in a bottom drawer somewhere. And then kicks my ass.

It's my own hang-up, but my relationship with gear is fraught with ambiguity: I love cool new stuff  (going from steel to carbon fibre, for example, was awesome), but if somebody handed me a Pinarello Dogma (or a Cervelo Rca or some other exotic superbike) I'm not sure I'd be comfortable riding it; not, at least, til I had actually felt like I had earned it, somehow – like maybe by placing decently in a race. Probably this derives from playing too much pick-up hockey, where all too often some guy shows up with old, beat-up Tacks and purple pants and green gloves (2) and no shoulder pads, and then skates rings around everybody. Especially the guys with the hot new matching gear and $300 composite sticks.

Gotta earn it; gotta earn the right to need it. (3)

1. The extreme exemplar of this is of course the Rules of the Velominati (see Rules  #15, 16 & 17). Which I enjoy partly for its hilariously over-the-top, hard-man persona, and partly because there’s part of me that can’t help taking it slightly seriously.

I think cyclists are touchy on the subject of kit because this stuff is so iconic. The Maillot Jaune or the Maglia Rosa is sacred. But there is also a “wear what you want” camp that – perhaps rightly – rejects jersey fetishizing. After all, the UCI & the Tour and the teams all license their jerseys. So do the New York Yankees and nobody has a beef with middle-aged softball players wearing Derek Jeter jerseys. My feeling is: wear a team jersey as a supporter if you really dig Sky or Saxo or Garmin while watching a race or hanging out. Just not on the bike. Classic replica jerseys (Molteni, Peugot, La Vie Claire) however, are fully acceptable, and indeed demonstrate an appreciation for the history of the sport.

2. Weird-coloured, beat-up gloves and hockey pants are a sure tip-off that you have a ringer in the dressing room. It means the guy played junior B or minor pro somewhere years ago and these are the last bits of his old team-issue equipment. No matter what he looks like, prepare to be embarrassed.

3. Gotta be able to afford it too, and justify it in the household finances, but that's another story. (See Velominati Rule # 12.)