All things bright and beau­ti­ful

Frank Strack con­tem­plates the place of flu­oro colours in the el­e­gant cy­clist’s at­tire

Cyclist - - Lead Out | The Rules -

Dear Frank

I un­der­stand the safety as­pects, but is bright flu­o­res­cent yel­low and green re­ally ac­cept­able for road cy­cling kit? We’re not com­muters. Phil, Cardiff

Dear Phil

My step­son spent most of last year wear­ing flu­o­res­cent cam­ou­flage cloth­ing, which led me to pon­der the not un­rea­son­able ques­tion – which en­vi­ron­ment, pre­cisely, was he at­tempt­ing to blend in to?

One af­ter­noon, when I went to pick him up from school, it be­came ob­vi­ous that what he was blend­ing into was an en­tire foot­ball field full of sim­i­larly clad 11-year-old boys.

When I was grow­ing up, my dad al­ways had us wear­ing flu­o­res­cent colours while cy­cling – it was an im­mutable law: if we were go­ing out on the road, we were go­ing to be vis­i­ble. As it hap­pened, neon yel­low was the in-fash­ion colour at the time, be­ing as it was the late 80s and early 90s. So, while I didn’t love the colour pal­ette, at least it didn’t feel en­tirely out of place. Greg Le­mond’s ADR team kit from 1989 was up to the eye­lids in flu­oro yel­low and so was his per­son­ally branded 1990 Le­mond bike frame. But, I hated be­ing re­stricted to so few colour choices. So, as soon as I moved away from home, I bought my­self sen­si­ble jer­seys, in sen­si­ble colours and with sen­si­ble de­signs.

My dad still wears bright yel­low out on the bike (he is now in his late 70s, but still kills the odd 14-hour ‘train­ing’ ride) and it still bugs me to see it. He also rides with no fewer than two com­put­ers on his han­dle­bars at any given time – some­times three, just to val­i­date the data that’s com­ing in. Never can be too sure, you know. I’m the op­po­site – I wear dark colours and ride with no com­puter what­so­ever… af­ter all, a man with one num­ber is al­ways sure; a man with two num­bers al­ways won­ders; a man with no num­bers is su­per­hu­man.

I of­ten won­der the ex­tent to which my dad’s res­o­lute ad­her­ence to the prin­ci­ple of Form Fol­lows Func­tion helped set me on the path of the aes­thete. At the time I was de­vel­op­ing into a young man, he was a devo­tee of Ayn Rand and her stoic world view. Ra­tio­nal­ity was ev­ery­thing; emo­tion was noth­ing. Fact over opin­ion; whimsy had no place in the world.

I re­alise, with a cer­tain re­lief, that his lessons still hold, but equally that it is in the grey ar­eas where fact and rea­son are not clearly de­fined where I find the most in­ter­est­ing puz­zles.

The re­search is in­con­clu­sive on whether bright colours make a cy­clist more vis­i­ble or not. Flash­ing lights – es­pe­cially in ir­reg­u­lar pat­terns – seem to be uni­ver­sally ac­cepted as be­ing the most vis­i­ble ac­ces­sory. Scar­ily though, it seems that the flashy pat­terns of our lights tend to be at­trac­tive to drunk driv­ers, caus­ing them to fix­ate on them and drive to­ward the un­wary rider go­ing about their train­ing.

As an aside, I’ve also been told by mil­i­tary per­son­nel that none of their cam­ou­flage – even night camo – fea­tures pure black be­cause it is a colour never present in the nat­u­ral land­scape.

Get­ting back to your ques­tion, are flu­oro colours ac­cept­able for road kit? The ques­tion is im­pos­si­ble to answer be­cause the best colours to wear out rid­ing are those that make you feel most com­fort­able about be­ing out on a bike. Given my early 90s his­tory, I’m not op­posed to flu­oro colours in a kit, if it hap­pens to be well de­signed and beau­ti­ful. It can even push the lim­its of kit design, if it is done in good taste, with style. Af­ter all, even Mario Cipollini’s Ze­bra Kit was a fash­ion abom­i­na­tion that started to look Mighty Fan­tas­tic af­ter enough classy wins, start­ing with Mi­lan San-remo.

Com­muters are peo­ple who ride their bikes to work for util­ity, of­ten in bad weather. For that they have my re­spect. But they are not in­clined to the aes­thet­ics of the Velom­i­na­tus. Flu­oro, done taste­fully, is wel­come in road cy­cling kit. But, to para­phrase the time­less ad­vice of Ron Bur­gundy: Stay Classy.

(£12.99, Pro­file Books)

Frank Strack is the co-cre­ator and cu­ra­tor of The Rules, and a high priest of the Velom­i­nati (for il­lu­mi­na­tion, see velom­i­nati. com). He is also co-au­thor of The Hard­men: Le­gends Of The Cy­cling Gods

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