All things bright and beautiful
Frank Strack contemplates the place of fluoro colours in the elegant cyclist’s attire
I understand the safety aspects, but is bright fluorescent yellow and green really acceptable for road cycling kit? We’re not commuters. Phil, Cardiff
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.
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