"Is that what you're wearing?"
Crap. Here we go again.
"Oh, nothing. I was just wondering, because you know…"
Long, awkward pause.
"No, I don't know. That's why I'm fuckin' asking you 'Why.’ What's up? You got a problem with how I'm dressed?"
Long-suffering sigh on his end. Exasperated grunt on mine.
Ah, the dreaded "Are you wearing that?" conversation. I've had it with ex-girlfriends, sure. And with my wife, on occasion. But with riding buddies? With other dudes? Strangely enough, it happens all the time.
There's a reason for this, of course.
REASON #1: I DRESS LIKE A KOOK
I'm a kook. There, I said it. Admitting that is painful, but you have to be honest with yourself about these things. If one person says you look like a kook, that's on them. When half of the people you pass on the trail every day–the aggro guy with the goggles and full-face helmet, the elderly hippie out picking salmon berries, the 6-year old girl on her My Lil' Pony Signature Edition BMX bike–when everyone gives you that pitying look and mutters "kook", well, it's all on you, buddy. Or, in this case, me.
But in my defense…shit, I don't really have a defense.
My dresser drawer is a 30-year time capsule of all that is good and terrible about cycling fashion. I could, of course, get rid of the worst offenders, but I refuse to toss out perfectly good cycling apparel. And most of it is still perfectly good. After all, when you're doing it right, cycling isn't exactly a contact sport. Jerseys and gloves get sweaty, you wash them, you hang them dry, you repeat. At that rate, they last forever. They're like the Dick Clark of sportswear. That's why I still have the La Vie Claire jersey I bought when I was 14. It's faded and smells of an evil, dark and funky, but it's also still in one piece and it does what it was designed to do: prevent sunburn and keep my chest hair from tangling in my spokes. The only thing the Greg LeMond-era jersey doesn't do, at this point, is look cool to anyone under the age of 60.
The La Vie Claire jersey is there in my drawer, snuggled up against some Primal Wear "Rotten Fish" jerseys, and all sorts of other garish, billboard-style jerseys, such as my Le Coq Sportif-made Schwinn Homegrown jersey. How can I get rid of that one? For starters, it has a full-length zipper (something sorely lacking from 90 percent of today's "cool" jerseys) and since it has the word "Toyota" plastered on almost every square inch of it, this particular jersey is also physical proof that, once upon a time, cross-country mountain bike racing was so sexy that major automobile manufacturers were lining up around the block for the privilege of sponsoring skinny guys in body condoms. If I didn't have that jersey, no one would believe that had ever been true. That jersey is not just a piece of apparel, it's important evidence.
Perhaps it's because I grew up wearing hand-me-downs and am, as an adult, ridiculously tight-fisted, but I have trouble tossing a jersey or pair of shorts into the rubbish bin just because other people think it's lame.
REASON #2: YOU DRESS LIKE A KOOK TOO
I know, I jumped from talking about me to accusing you, but, as cyclists, we're all in this one together. There's a golden rule that applies to the clothes we cyclists love and it can be summed up thusly: Everything that riders think looks cool, will only look cool for approximately X minus 3 years, where “X” represents the date the graphic designer actually dreamed up the design. By the time that bitchin' lime green jersey or pair of plaid knickers reaches your local bike shop's shelves, it's a ticking time bomb of lame. You have, at best, two and a half seasons to wear that thing before children start throwing things at you.
Why is that so? I haven't a clue. I don't make up the rules, I just feel the weight of them. Sure, my latest kit is certified awesome, but I just visited the local retirement home with my mom, and everyone was playing shuffleboard and bingo in pajamas that are basically the same get-up, minus the skull and crossbones motif.
And how about the goggles on half-shell helmets thing? Look, I understand that goggles are great at keeping shit from embedding itself in your eyeball–I wear a set of goggles every time I start up my chainsaw. Goggles are great for that kind of thing, but let's not delude ourselves–riding your bike in the same eyewear that you wore during high school metal shop is one of those things that you're going to look back on and regret…and when I say "look back on", I'm talking about next week. The event horizon on this one is approaching fast.
Am I fashionable or does this simply make me look ridiculous?
When it comes to cycling apparel the answer is "yes"….and “yes”.