By Vernon Felton
Original Photo by Dan Barham
"Whoa. Whoa, mate!"
The note of panic in Seb's voice rings out loud and clear. I drop the bike I'm working on and jump back in shock. Are there copperheads out here? Am I stepping on one? Is there a lunatic in a hockey mask creeping up behind me with a chainsaw in his hand? I'm expecting the worst. Seb Kemp is one of the most even-keeled people I've ever met. He doesn't panic. If he's freaking out right now, the apocalypse is nigh. I'm certain of this.
He's pointing, however, at my kneepads.
"Whaa?" is about all I can manage.
"Look," Seb says this in a tone that suggests that I'm juggling nuclear warheads while standing in a bathtub full of vaseline and angry piranhas, "You've got a…a gorby gap. Quick, fix it. Now."
His eyes flick back and forth, nervously scanning the trailhead parking lot, and I suddenly realize that he's not just alarmed; he's embarrassed…embarrassed by the half-inch gap of skin between the hem of my baggy shorts and the tops of my knee pads.
The dreaded gorby gap. The height of uncool.
I reach down to adjust the pads, which must have slipped down during the last hour of riding. Feeling a bit stupid, I silently berate myself. Dammit, I forgot these old shorts were, you know, so short. And these dang pads are always slipping down. Crap, I really do have a gorby gap going on! How the hell did I let this happen?
Then I stop.
Wait—who exactly is going to even notice that I'm wearing my kneepads like a rookie? I stop and look around. There is no one at the trailhead except for me, Seb, a couple of crumpled Budweiser cans and a dead raccoon. We are in the absolute middle of nowhere, North Carolina and, besides, I'm pretty damn sure that my fashion faux pas fails to qualify as some serious DEFCON 2 type shit.
And then, right about then, my own sense of shame turns to indignation. Wait a second—who the f*ck is Seb to give me shit about my gorby gap? The guy is wearing a fanny pack! You can't wear a fanny pack and give anybody shit about anything. That's practically against the law. Hell, my grandma thinks fanny packs are uncool and she's 90.
I tell him as much.
Seb looks shocked. It's as if he's been living in some parallel universe in which fanny packs are actually the embodiment of awesome.
"No way," he says. "Bum bags make complete sense. I'd never wear a hydration pack—they screw up your center of gravity, they're hot, they're…."
Seb keeps on justifying his fanny pack, but I'm not even listening any longer. And it’s not as if he is talking rubbish. A big load of gear and a gallon water strapped to your shoulder blades does kind of make you top heavy. And, yeah, some hydration packs are hot and uncomfortable. These are sensible arguments. But that's beside the point. We're talking about fanny packs here—there's just no way you can defend fanny packs and retain your dignity. Sorry, can't be done.
THE BIG—DORKY— PICTURE
But there's a larger reason that I don't argue with Seb about his love of fanny packs: as a cyclist, you're always living in a glass house when you get into a debate about what does and doesn't look cool. Mountain bikers are terminally handicapped in the fashion department. Everything we wear seems to come in some flavor of lame.
Lime green baggy shorts. Baby blue helmets. Mustard yellow shoes. These things sound ludicrous on paper, yet they are commonplace on trails. They're even considered hip. Fashionable. Somehow, when you get enough of us out there in the woods wearing the same idiotic garb, we stop looking ridiculous to one another.
But this is just an illusion. No one else is buying it. Walk into a bar wearing the latest cool-guy cycling kit and you’re likely to get yourself an ass-whuppin'. I think that says a lot right there.
CHICKEN & EGG KIND OF THING
So, here's the real question: are cycling clothes lame because we cyclists are genetically predisposed to god-awful fashion (which would lead manufacturers to make clothes that match our terrible tastes) or do we like lame cycling fashions because the manufacturers make nothing but lame clothes, for which we've simply acquired a taste?
I haven't a clue. Did the chicken come first or did the egg? I guess it doesn't matter, really, because I'm largely at peace with the fact that tomorrow I will don the latest "all-mountain" or "enduro" kit and that my 3/4 –length jersey and below-the-knee baggies will look less like high-performance athletic apparel and more like leisure wear from a hipster retirement home.
When I consider the big picture—just how lame we cyclists appear to the rest of the world—I have a hard time saying which is worse: Is it the fanny pack or the gorby gap? The purple baggies or the Team Sky sausage suit? The tri-geek's banana hammock or the dirt jumper's skinny jeans?
We are all cyclists. We all look lame. We are united by our lack of cool.