Defending the jersey

It's All About The Jersey

Hope you enjoyed the Taco Bell commercial, because what I really want to talk about today is how the world of cycling reveres some jerseys, but not others.

You probably noticed Lemond wearing the world champion jersey in that commercial, which makes sense. He was the world champion, and Taco Bell probably didn't want to pay Lemond's team for the rights to have him wear his team kit. If you go to Williamsburg these days, however, you'll see that pretty much every single person on a fixed gear bike is the world champion too, because they ALL wear something with the stripes.

A clearly understood rule of cycling is that you simply do not wear a yellow jersey (or the green or polka dot jersey) unless you earned THE jersey. I guess if a guy who won the Tour gives you a jersey after you make him dinner or something, you've technically earned the jersey...but that still doesn't count I think. I'm talking to you Mr Williams.

Looks like a warm day for armwarmers...oh...wait...oops, nevermind.

As I've stated before, wearing a yellow jersey as you ride around the block at 15mph is a bit like wearing a fake gold medal from the olympics as you jog in your local trail. For the sake of effect, I'll go one further...I believe it's like wearing a Purple Heart medal while you play paintball. While none of these offenses are punishable by law, they certainly should be.

I don't know why I feel this way. I don't think it's due to the blind reverence that many have towards all professional cyclists. I mean, things have gotten so out of whack these days that the word "pro" is spelled in ALL CAPS by multiple blogs, and at least one online retailer. Even if this is done half-jokingly, and as homage to a now defunct blog it strikes me as insane. "God" only gets one capital letter, so can we just stop sucking their balls for one split second?

The idea of being "PRO", it seems, is about almost going overboard, but knowing when to stop. It's a fine balance. It's this fine line that separates those in the know, from those who are decidedly out. It's also a fine balance between your abilities and your gear/attire choices. Funny though, considering that if you are not a professional, but you are trying to look "PRO" in any way, you are (by definition) a poser. No?

I know about "posers" because I spent years of my life steeped in metal and punk rock culture, where there was constant paranoia about posers, and about being "true" Believe me, I know.

But let's get back to the jerseys. As I see it, those jerseys (the ones that riders win) as symbols of something that someone worked very hard for. I don't think that anyone else wearing them necessarily diminishes their value, but it just seems a little tacky. I know that in other sports, the iconography of its winners is is not usually held in such high esteem. In the NHL for example, anyone and everyone seems to make replicas of the Stanley Cup.

Watch out though, because even though it's okay to make a fake Cup, and hold it over your head...if you ever get your hands on the real Cup, you are simply NOT allowed to hold it over your head unless you've won. Seriously, people have gotten screamed at and nearly tackled for doing this. At the end of the day, we can all wear whatever we want. I hate cycling's implied rules, and its obsession with the past (though I'm partially guilty of it)...but at the same time I find it all very interesting. The obsession with the past is almost unique to cycling, which is odd considering most American cycling fans only started to watch the sport in their later years. Is this the reason that many don't see how important a yellow jersey is? Perhaps they don't care all that much, and that's fine too. Everyone is allowed to enjoy anything (be it cycling or something else) in their own way. But still, there are millions of other jerseys to wear, so just buy one of those other ones instead. On top of being a conceptually tacky thing to wear, a polka dotted shirt really is tacky and visually offense as well. How do you not realize the fact that you look like a godamned horse jockey on a bike while wearing it?

You'll never hear me say this again...but this jersey is a fine choice for anyone to buy. I mean, if the other choice that you're considering is a polka dotted one...please, buy this one instead. I beg of you.

Yellow and Pink

I completely hate that I'm bringing up this whole topic actually, because I think all the stupid rules and regulations that road cycling fashion has are incredibly insipid. Whenever people start to talk about their white shoes, white socks vs tall black socks, or if wearing gloves is or is not "PRO" ...I just quietly go to the corner of the room and jam a pencil in my ear. That may sound like an extreme measure to take, but believe me when I tell you that it's easier to take than having to listen to a doughy guy who is dressed like Jimmy Buffet talk about cycling fashion. I mean, seriously, have you seen how many of these people dress off the bike? Jesus Christ, how about saving the money you spent on the new white shoes, and buying a decent pair of jeans that aren't pleated at the front?

But back to my original point, how come so many agree with me about how tacky it is to wear the yellow or polka dotted jersey...and yet so few seem to mind the overuse of the World Champion stripes? Today's hipsters in particular are huge offenders in this area. Similarly, the Maglia Rosa is seldom seen in the same light by most cyclists. Want proof? Rapha (keepers and soothsayers of style according to all) have gone as far as making a commemorative pink jersey in honor of Andy Hampsten, and the Gavia Pass. The jersey even went as far as coming with a replica of Hampsten's number and safety pins.

Now I must ask, would Rapha ever make a yellow jersey? Surely Hampsten's persona (and the Gavia Pass story) plays into this. Compared to Lemond and Armstrong, he's not a polarizing figure, and is generally well liked. But how about a yellow replica jersey for Roche? They would never do it. So a company so grounded in aesthetics, as well as the general do's and don'ts of cycling, making a pink jersey struck me as funny.

Is the Giro cooler because fewer people (in England and the US) watch it? If Armstrong is at the Tour, the secretary at your office knows about it, and annoyingly asks you questions about the race. When the Giro is happening, no one at your work will even know about it. The Giro is yours, and no one else's. Like the kid who throws a tantrum, and decides to take his ball home so no one else can play, the Giro is all yours. Does this merely get back to the attitude I experienced as a youngster, whereby everyone took pride in knowing about more obscure and extreme punk and metal bands? Is knowing or caring about the Tour like knowing about Metallica (or even Winger), but the Giro is more like Slayer? By that measure, what is Roubaix? Early Napalm Death? Are small races in Belgium like listening to underground Black Metal (circa 1994)? I better stop making comparisons, because it could all get a little nutty.

Rapha uses the color pink as its primary corporate color, and they made the Hampsten jersey. They are supposed to be very cool. They have managed to leverage design, branding and marketing to make their products very desirable. This is no small feat. Good for them. If you've seen their photography, you know they are supposed to be really cool. Miles Davis cool. But not the late era Miles Davis, the one that makes you cringe and dry-heave. I'm talking about the young Miles. Smooth. The Giro is cool because fewer people watch it. The guys who win the Giro are often cyclists that your secretary at work has never heard of. I mean, if your secretary knows who Paolo Savoldelli or Ivan Gotti are, let me know.

Livestrong uses yellow as its primary corporate color. Livestrong (the foundation, and the company that sells stationary bikes) is not very cool within the closed-off world of cycling. Freds may think it's cool, but you know better, because you yourself are cool. Yes, I'm being partially facetious here, but you get my point. I mean, you may think that Livestrong and Armstrong are doing something good in regards to cancer, but they are not cool like the Giro is cool. Live strong = the Tour. Livestrong = Lance, the guy that everyone at your job knows about. Everyone says they want cycling to spread and become more well known. We want more respect from drivers as we ride our bikes, and want to be understood..but the moment someone like Lance Armstrong makes cycling more well known in the States, he gets shit on for it. Yes, some people dislike Lance for many other reasons...but I sometimes feel that his biggest crime is being too popular. Being so well known is not cool. Certainly not Rapha cool. Exclusivity (or at least the perception of it), reigns supreme.

It all gets back to cyclists wanting to be part of a secret society, like the godamned Masons. Like the Masons, cyclists seem to want secret symbols, and would like their favorite sport to remain virtually unknown...while at the same time crying that there's not enough cycling coverage on TV. More people should ride bikes, but god forbid that a guy with a triple crank or 105 shifters gets close to you. Cyclists complain about the lack of safety on the roads, but still want to be seen like oddballs, and enjoy being "weird" because they shave their legs. You can't have it both ways...I'm sorry. If cycling DID become more popular, and accepted (let's just pretend) would some cyclists loose interest? Is the relative oddball nature of cycling its appeal to some? If cycling became as popular as the NFL, and your pick-up truck driving neighbor gave up his Packers sweatshirt and traded it in for some Rapha gear...and he even got himself a would you feel? Less special? Would your secret club feel less secret? I for one, would be thrilled.

Maybe I'm wrong about this last part, perhaps I'm wrong about all of this...but I still thought it was worth bringing up.