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Rock Music and Cycle Clothing:
A Technical Meditation

by Steve Laner

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I've known author Steve Laner for decades. He's been involved in all aspects of the the bicycle industry, retail, wholesale, manufacturing, and is one of the most deeply knowledgeable people in the trade.

Story of the Giro d'Italia volume 2

Bill and Carol McGann's book The Story of the Giro d'Italia, A Year-by-Year History of the Tour of Italy, Vol 2: 1971 - 2011 is available as an audiobook here. For the print and Kindle eBook versions, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

Steve Laner writes:

Getting on a bike for many of us is a chance to plug into our favorite music and ride. From the days of walkmans to now-ubiquitous smart-phones, a lot of us have been riding to music for a while now. And all this got me thinking of the parallels between our musical culture and the pro bicycling scene.

We can align a pro bike rider to a variety of musical tastes or artists. Fausto Coppi was the “Champion of Champions” in his day, while Frank Sinatra was the “Chairman of the Board”. Coppi’s elegant style could evoke Sinatra’s smooth vocals on Count Basie tracks. Also, both were involved in scandals throughout their careers, with Coppi’s “Woman in White” and Sinatra’s rumored mob connections.

Coppi and Sinatra

Fausto Coppi and Frank Sinatra: Both smooth and elegant sylists

Jacques Anquetil’s strong smooth pedaling might make one recall Chuck Berry’s electric guitar solos that scaled musical heights and inspired so many others after him. The one and only Cannibal, Eddy Merckx, can only be described by another name, the King. And with charm and good looks accentuated by long sideburns, Elvis ruled the musical world with a hammering rock and roll sound that offended the older crowd, much like Eddy riding in such a brutal style that he wasn’t considered of this world by many of the cycling press at the time.

Eddy ushered a new era of cycling that captured additional fans across the Atlantic in North America, as Elvis ushered rock and roll into the cultural landscape. Both were groundbreaking, revolutionary artists of their craft.

And when I consider different popular rock and roll bands of the past, I can’t help but see connections to groups of riders and teams in pro cycling. Couldn’t La Vie Claire with Hinault, LeMond, Hampsten, Bauer, et al., be considered the Beatles of their time? Broken up too soon with star power abounding. Even the Mondrian-inspired look of the team jersey was at once familiar and yet strikingly different than anything else in the peloton. The Beatles became household names as they delved into musical genres of other cultures. They created a kaleidoscope of sound much as La Vie Claire pioneered the signing of American and Canadian riders, creating one of the first truly multi-national cycling teams. The dominant TI-Raleigh team of the 70s and 80s, continued on by the Panasonic team, could well be renamed the “Rolling Stones”.

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Jan Raas and the Rolling Stones

TI-Raleigh super rider Jan Raas and the Rolling Stones: winners over the long haul

Led by a shrewd tactician, Peter Post, TI-Raleigh’s classic look and strong teamwork evokes a Mick Jagger-led group that spanned decades and cranked out hit after hit with straight-ahead rock and roll. 7-Eleven could clearly be considered the Van Halen of its time—strong classic rock with more personality than, say, Journey. Or consider the “supergroups” of rock, bands like Asia, Power Station, Traveling Wilburys, or Crosby, Nash, Stills and Young. For me, I think of that once-great superteam, PDM, with the likes of LeMond, Kelly, Delgado, Theunisse, Rooks, Alcala, riding the white with color-striped jersey at one time. With the advent of Lycra shorts and polyester fabrics in the 80s, we welcomed New Wave music with synthesized sound along with neon colors. And, seeing LeMond complete his famous comeback in a neon ADR jersey in 1989, I think of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” departure sound that capped his comeback to the top of the musical world in the 80s. And let’s not forget the entirely forgettable Carrera “Blue Jean” team kit that came and went like one-hit wonders such as Modern English, Bonnie Tyler and Flock of Seagulls.

When we entered cycling in the 90s and beyond, we were faced with the serious ethical issue of PEDs. With hindsight being what it is, we know now the lengths that riders and teams would go to for success. Cycling had become more of a BUSINESS when we added large multi-national sponsorships such as 7-Eleven, Motorola, Panasonic, WordPerfect/Novell, and Festina. With big companies spending large amounts of money, and only nine spots on Grand Tour teams, the pressure to perform and win is quite high. Modern music has also dealt with its own scandals. There’s always the whispers of lip-synching and plagiarizing others’ work. Remember when Milli Vanilli were stripped of their Grammies amid the controversy of their lip-synching? And, with software such as Auto-Tune and Melodyne, musical artists are able to digitally tune their singing voices to enhance their sound and sell more records. This software which is run in the studio or through a mixing board at a concert will allow an artist to hit the right notes every time. It’s generically called pitch correction software.

And what was once considered blasphemous or cheating your audience, musical artists such as Faith Hill, Madonna, Maroon Five, Avril Lavigne, and Rascal Flatts are rumored to have used it to “clean up their vocals”. Auto-Tune was abused in the Cher song, “Believe” which gave her that tinny, robotic sound. Some recording engineers say that over 90% of all recorded music is being “auto-tuned”. Hmm, sounds like a recent UCI report that has a professional cyclist stating that over 90% of pro cyclists are still using PEDs. Not feeling up to par today and climbing Col de la Madone, “a little micro-dose of EPO will do the trick”. Up too late last night drinking and you’re on in fifteen, “no worries, mate, we’ve got this little box here to clean up your raspy vocals”.

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And the look on the pro cycling kits of today is a mash up of styles and genres like today’s modern music. Garmin’s straight lines with argyle accents reminds one of Hozier’s elegant rhythm and blues inspired music or Mumford and Sons folksy anthem rock that could be mistaken for Simon and Garfunkel. Or consider the modern but James Brown-inspired music of Bruno Mars compared to the almost classic-lined but updated BMC team jersey. Everything old is new again in the peloton and on the radio.


BMC in their classically designed kit

Much of today’s pro bike team kits pay homage to yesteryear’s pro teams, and what we see as modern still has style elements from days past. Music is no different when we hear bands “covering” old classics from the past or sampling parts of old songs into their new singles. Which brings to mind U2’s verse in the song, “The Fly”—“every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief…” Even still, the simply classic Molteni jersey has no equal, much like the Stone’s “Satisfaction” or Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” are one-of-a-kinds. We’ll never see the whimsical “Z” jersey again in the peloton as its cartoon-like quality would be hard to imitate. Much like Phish, Meatloaf, or Frank Zappa whose music is “out there” and has its own audience, the “Z” jersey couldn’t be replicated. Give me the classically structured Renault-Elf jersey along with a fine dose of The Who or Electric Light Orchestra to get in a metric century. The elegant look of the Renault-Elf jersey is often imitated but never captured like the original.

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Functionally, your bike jersey should not only give you a sense of style, it should also provide some technical benefits, too. A bike jersey is cut longer in the back to not ride up when you’re on the drops of the handlebars, and with pockets in the rear for storage you can bring extra food, an inner tube and wallet. If you need to organize your small items such as a phone, tire levels, allen wrenches or CO2 dispenser, grab a zip lock bag and store your items in it. This will make it easier to locate these items if needed, and the baggie will protect the fabric of your jersey from the tools or sharp edges of items along with protecting any valuables from moisture.


Cofidis in jerseys (and Jackets) cut correctly, longer in the back with pockets for food and other necessities.

When folding small clothing items such as arm warmers or gloves, try to fold them flat rather than in a ball or wad in your jersey pockets as this will allow you more space for other items. Last, put your heaviest items in the center pocket with the lighter items in the outside pockets. A bike jersey should have a front zipper with most modern styles having a full length zipper. The fabric of your jersey is designed to wick perspiration from your skin and disperse it onto the surface of the jersey, using the natural air flow created from your cycling. A jersey is designed to be form fitting so it won’t flap in the breeze, be aerodynamic, and more importantly to pull the moisture away from your body. Stylistically, your jersey can signal to another rider what you’re interested in and start a conversation. Maybe you can talk about your favorite music…

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