Contrary to what many may tell you, looking and riding like you are a professional is important. You look good and you feel good on the bike, it really is as simple as that.
Some follow a code of practice laid down on Facebook in the The Official Rules of the Euro Cyclist but in my book it’s good but no maillot arc-en-ciel.
At the heart of the issue is what it is to be a European Professional: you are paid to wear the name of your sponsors on your kit and ride a bike from the manufacturer supplying the team. If you are not benefiting financially from a sponsors name, then it makes no sense to wear it.
So my take is that if you aspire to the ethic and aesthetic of a European professional, the most pro thing to wear as an amateur is unbranded kit. Failing that, you should wear the kit of your chosen club. But, and this is important, you should avoid mixing club and unbranded kit when out riding.
One of the most common items perceived to be pro are white shoes. Now I’d agree to some extent, what with being the owner of a pair (Specialized S-Works Boa 2005-06 model with the red and black detailing). But they’re a relatively recent development in the European peloton and the result of Italian vanity.
For me, the most pro choice of footwear is simple: plain black shoes in leather. Adidas did a modern take on the classic in 2008 which for me is as close as any modern cycling shoe has come to meeting the aesthetic requirements as well as being functional :
The only qualifier to this is one rule which holds true regardless of what dress code you subscribe to: white socks, and short ones at that. A good cycling sock should come no higher than the point at which the calf muscle starts, essentially covering the Achilles tendon and not much more.
Obviously enough, these rules are made to be broken but it is knowing when to break them that matters. So (Guy Andrews look away now) black socks are acceptable if they are worn with non-black shoes. This rule may also be disregarded if your club kit features black socks, which mine does. It pains me, but that’s the way it is and if we are to observe the no mixing club and plain kit then it must remain so.
I’ve read a lot about how European and stylish white shorts are. Truth be told, they are neither. It’s a simple test: Who looks cooler as World Champion, Eddy Merckx or Paolo Bettini? No contest.
The most pro of shorts is black. Sponsor’s name running parallel to the hem where there is one is the perfect form but along the thigh is also acceptable. To accommodate more modern tastes, side panels bearing branding or corresponding to the jersey, as part of a club kit, are also acceptable. But the key rule here is that that the predominant colour is black.
Just because Mario Cippolini looked good and could rock the look FTW, doesn’t mean anyone else can or should. Comparatively there’s about 90 years worth of riders looking cool in black shorts to 20 years of some of the most ridiculous looks imaginable, the apotheosis of which is either the Carrera denim look or Michael Rasmussen’s cheese string in motion teaming of yellow shorts with the Maillot Jaune.
This is simple: if you didn’t earn it, you shouldn’t wear it. So no World Champion’s stripes, no national champions jerseys, no leader’s jerseys (yellow, pink, green polka dot and so on).
On a basic level, it’s rude to those who have spent a lifetime earning the right to wear them, even if it is for only a day, and who can get fined by the UCI for not doing so. On a more practical level, it avoids having to deal with the torrent of low quality abuse from those around you for choosing to wear the jersey.
Note here: I don’t rule out the wearing of professional team jerseys. Fine on their own for current teams, but defunct or “classic” teams are preferable. There’s days when it’s entirely permissible to pull on a Z-team jersey and dream of being Robert Millar. Heck I’d actively encourage it.
But remember: a jersey is fine but full kit is the equivalent of being the kid who turns up for a kickabout in the park in full Chelsea strip.
If you want the helmet debate, leave now. In my view cycling has been rendered massively less stylish by the introduction of compulsory helmets in races. Pros wear caps, casquette, biretta. Call it what you want, they wear a cap, the style being individual to the rider. Or they wear nothing at all, their hair being all the protection they need.