The picture above is from 1952; the year I started racing and riding seriously. The photo taken at a British Hill Climb; typically an end of season event taking place around October when temperatures were falling slightly.
Notice what the spectators are wearing; regular everyday clothes. (Click on the picture for a larger image.) These cyclists probably rode a considerable distance to the event; the only special equipment is the cycling shoes. Cords or heavier tweeds were popular in the colder months, being warm, comfortable, and hard wearing.
The person in the center is wearing jeans; he is probably a newcomer to the sport and would soon be advised, or figure out for himself that jeans were neither warm or comfortable. The thing is these are regular pants or trousers, worn in conjunction with bicycle clips to keep the bottoms from being caught in the chain.
On the upper body you will notice a mixture of sweaters and light jackets. I always wore a woolen undershirt next to my skin, wool stayed warm even when wet from sweat or outside elements. Often when setting out on a ride in the early morning hours, I would place a sheet of newspaper under my top sweater, to keep the cold wind off my chest. Later as the day warmed up, this was discarded.
In the summer everyone wore regular shorts. (Picture left.) Racing clothes were made out of wool, they were expensive, needed to be hand washed, and took forever to dry. You could not throw them in the drier, or they would become matted and shrink.
No one wore racing gear on a training ride. I do remember that when I did put these clothes on to race, they felt so comfortable and unrestrictive that I automatically rode faster.
The shorts had a real chamois leather insert inside, and I would smear a handful of Vaseline on it before a race. It felt extremely weird for about the first minute, but then kept me comfortable throughout the race, with zero chaffing.
Even the pros did not wear racing gear for training rides. The picture above is of Fausto Coppi (Left.) with his brother Serse. (Right.) and a few other riders about to set out on a training ride.
The trousers they are wearing would be specially made for cycling, but they are styled after regular street clothes with the exception that they fit just below the knee, and are worn in conjunction with knee length socks. On the top they are wearing a variety of woolen sweaters.
My mother was an expert at sewing, and I would take an old pair of trousers, and have her cut them off just below the knee. She would sew some wide elastic on the bottom to fit under my knee. The material cut from the bottom of the leg, she would make a double seat, which added comfort and made them wear longer.
By the 1970s, proper cycling clothes were available, but there were training clothes and racing clothes. Now it has become acceptable to train or simply ride for pleasure in racing gear.
I would not dress up in Lycra for a short trip to the post-office or store, but if I am riding for an hour or more, I love it and would not go back to wearing regular clothes for a long ride. The modern clothes are so comfortable, and the great thing is, I can throw the shorts and jersey in the washing machine, they are almost dry after the spin cycle, and air dry in a few hours.
However, in the 1950s we rode a hundred plus miles in a day in regular clothes so we proved that it can be done. You don’t have to wear special clothes to enjoy cycling, it is a personal choice; wear what you feel comfortable in.
Having said that; if you were invited to a formal dinner where everyone wore a tuxedo and black tie, you would look out of place if you showed up in casual clothes. Maybe you are thick-skinned enough that it wouldn’t bother you, but other guests would feel uncomfortable. The same would have been true if someone had shown up on a 1950s Club Run wearing racing gear.
It would also be the same today if I showed up dressed in street clothes, 1950s style for a ride with a group all wearing Lycra and helmets. Even if I was fit enough to stay with the group, some in the group would feel uncomfortable.
I know there will be others who disagree with me on this one; I can just hear the comments on “elitism.” We live in a social structure, and I feel that although we ultimately wear and do as we please, we do have a certain obligation not to offend or make others in our immediate peer group feel uncomfortable.
I use the term “immediate peer group,” because it seems when we wear Lycra we offend Joe Public, and that is not my problem, I will conform within limitations. Where Joe Public is concerned the “Gay Lycra outfits,” is just an expression of their contempt for the fact that we are on the road.
I remember in the 1950s, all the stuff you would normally carry in the rear pockets of your jersey, we carried in a small canvas bag called a Musette bag. (Tools, food, money, batteries for lights, etc.) I remember the general public, even those who used a bicycle for transport, would always ask, “What do you carry in those stupid little bags?”
Drivers delayed briefly by a group of cyclists wearing regular street clothes, the group I’m sure would be labeled, “Leftist, hippy, tree-huggers;” you can’t win that one.
Imagine the confusion that would be caused by a group or older gentlemen cyclists, dressed as the Italian Pro group above. How would they be labeled; “Old Poofters on Bikes,” maybe?
Whatever you do, don’t let the clothes you feel comfortable wearing, stop you from riding a bike.
Pictures are from Classic Lightweights, UK.
and Fausto Coppi, It.
This picture was on a Mothers’ Day card that caught my eye in a Target store. The caption inside reads, “Thanks for always covering my back.”
I started thinking, what would my sign say? Probably something like this:
“Thank you for your patience. Normal passage will be resumed when it is safe to pass. Please proceed with caution, and try to have a nice day.”
What would your sign say? In case you are wondering, this is just a little frivolity; I am not seriously suggesting we carry cardboard signs on our backs.
To make it interesting I’ll give signed copies of my book to the three I like the best. Entries will close on Monday, 28th April 23, 2008.
Keep it clean, unless it’s really funny, in which case a little obscenity will be excused. Post as a comment, and email me separately.
If you are interested, Mothers’ Day is on May 11th in the US; the date may be different in other countries.
Here is some silent black and white newsreel footage from the 1953 Giro d’Italia; featuring Italy's Fausto Coppi and Swiss rider Hugo Koblet.
When Coppi was on top form, he was unbeatable; however, Koblet was one of the few riders of that same era who could seriously challenge the Campionissimo. Filmed here is one of their many epic battles as they take on the Passo Sella in the 19th stage.
See if you can spot Hugo Koblet early on leading the peloton, as he flashes past the camera. His jersey appears white, although it is actually the “Magalia Rosa,” the race leader’s pink jersey. Fausto Coppi (5th in line.) is easier to spot in his distinctive Bianchi jersey. In addition, the camera lingers on Coppi.
There is an early solo break by Italy’s Pasquale Fornara, another great climber who took the King of the Mountains title in the 1953 Giro.
When the serious climbing starts, a three man chasing group forms. It includes Coppi and Koblet and another rider I am not able to recognize. On a brief respite from climbing, you will see the Swiss rider tighten his toe strap, a sure sign that he is about to attack.
In a classic move, as they catch Forana, Hugo Koblet immediately attacks. Again, spot him by his light jersey with no lettering; he is also not wearing a cap, whereas the other riders are. Notice Koblet’s speed, and how quickly he opens a considerable gap.
Tired from his long solo effort, Pasquale Fornara holds on briefly, but finds the pace too hot and is dropped. As they near the summit, Fausto Coppi has now left the remaining rider and is chasing alone.
There is a great shot of a motorcycle race marshal, kicking at the crowd to keep them back. You will also notice that Coppi is now wearing a “leather hairnet” helmet, in readiness for the descent. He reels in Koblet at the top of the climb.
Had he not closed the gap before the summit, he may never have caught the flying Swiss rider; Hugo Koblet was well known for his long solo break-aways. He earned the nick-name "Pédaleur de Charme" for his smooth pedaling style, and his ability to maintain a high rate of speed over a distance.
There is some great footage of the two working together as they dash towards the finish. Coppi easily out sprints Koblet to win the stage.
On later stages, Coppi would take the lead from Koblet to win the 1953 Giro d’Italia by 1 min. 29 sec. Pasquale Fornara was third, and King of the Mountains. Gino Bartali was forth that year.
Probably one of the main causes of problems between the nations of the world is a failure to understand the difference in each other’s beliefs, customs, and general way of life.
When I wrote an article last September called “Womankind,” linking to a blog from Denmark called “Copenhagen Girls on Bikes,” I received a lot of criticism by way of comments.
In fact, the criticism is ongoing both for me and the Copenhagen blog.
Most of the critics are from America and label the site as sexist, voyeuristic, and demeaning to women. I have looked for, and not found complaints from Danish women. One would think if the women pictured on the Girls on Bikes blog found it offensive, they would at least protest by way of a comment or two.
On the other side of the coin, Mikael Colville-Andersen, one of the people responsible for Copenhagen Girls, in his effort to spread bicycle culture is often critical of American cyclists.
Known to speak out against the wearing of helmets and Lycra, he posted a comment on my recent post that highlighted a “California Cycling League Safety Video.”
This was his comment”
“That video is the work of the 'Vehics'. The Vehicular Cyclists are the Flat Earth Society of the cycling world. Strange, outdated beliefs with little science to back them up. I thought it was satire when I first saw it.”
I feel obliged to respond, and my reply is too long for a simple counter comment. Mikael, you are living in a country that has a definite bicycle culture; cyclists in America are riding their bikes, and doing the best they can, in a definite automobile culture.
This is a left turn signal in Copenhagen. (Picture left.) In the US, it is entirely possible that the cyclist is not even seen, (We are invisible.) let alone such a nonchalant hand gesture.
The cyclist must place themself in the center of the lane, forcing drivers to slow then give a clear signal and move over when it is safe to do so.
On my ride last weekend, I did this maneuver on a three-lane highway, taking one lane at a time, to get to the fourth left turn lane.
I doubt there are many such roads in Denmark, and if there are, I am sure there is special provision made for cyclists to turn safely.
I wore Lycra and my helmet. Bright colored Lycra because in the interest of my own safety, I want to be seen. A helmet because it is my choice; I view it, as a very last line of protection should all else fail. In addition, it keeps my head cool in the very hot climate here. The temperature in South Carolina where I live was 85 F. (29.4 C.) on Saturday, to ride in street clothes would not have been practical.
The picture at the top of this piece is of a woman riding at night in Copenhagen. Even though she is dressed entirely in black, she is safe and obviously feels she is safe. This would not be the case in any large American city, even on a bike equipped with good lighting.
Mikael, I admire what you are doing; spreading the word of a bicycle culture. However, I doubt your message is reaching mainstream America, and those it is reaching think your site is sexist, voyeuristic, etc. etc. (Probably in part because of mainstream America’s puritan culture.)
My advice would be, not to alienate the few fans you have in the US, namely the bicycle enthusiasts. I would love to see more people riding bikes to work than driving cars, but realistically this is not going to happen anytime soon in the US.
People ride bikes in Demark because it is the normal thing to do. The country is tiny compared to the US; distances traveled are much shorter. Riding a bicycle in America is not considered normal by the majority of the population, and the people riding bicycles in the USA are mostly enthusiasts, doing so for the love of riding a bicycle.
Let us all try to understand the differences in our separate cultures, and realize what works and is acceptable in one country, will not necessarily be the same in the other. I suspect the Danes do not view Copenhagen Girls on Bikes as sexist.
In the Scandinavian countries, there is more equality and tolerance for differences, not just between the sexes, but in all walks of life. Whereas, in the US there is a constant ongoing battle of the sexes, as well as intolerance for anyone seen as a little different and outside the mainstream.
And so Mikael, try to understand what it is like to be a bike rider in a car culture country. Vehicular cycling, far from being some weird science, is for the most part following the rules of the road. Ease up on the criticism; we are doing the best we can under very difficult conditions.
Taking the lane is one thing, but taking the whole lane for no reason other than you can if there is enough of you in the group, as I see it is just plain wrong.
After complaints from motorists, police in Winter Park, Florida were out with video cameras. What they filmed made to the news on an Orlando station.
At the start of the piece, I saw cyclists three or four abreast; at least one rider completely over the double yellow line. About twenty cars backed up behind the riders.
Then I saw the entire pack blow through a stop sign, and make a right, at a very high rate of speed even though there was other traffic passing.
It looked to me that this was an unofficial race, rather than a group-training ride. Here is the link, view for yourself and be your own judge.
Actually, in a large group like this it is often safer to ride two abreast. They can do so taking up half the lane, which gives motorists a chance to see around the group to determine if it is safe to pass.
Riding single file a group is twice as long, and takes twice as long to pass.
Stronger riders can stay at the front if they wish and change off by having one line constantly moving forward, and the other dropping back. Wind direction usually decides which line moves forward. (Picture left.)
Going through stop signs and lights, the whole group stops, and then moves off as a group, as if they were one vehicle.