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Classic fashion items for spring: delving into the niche cycling trends seen during Classics season

VecchioJo looks at the unique fashion of the Spring Classics

There’s something about the Spring Classics that massively appeals to me, and it’s not just the unpredictability of the racing thanks to the capricious weather or a favourite rider being punched by the fickle fist of fate into a ditch, or both.

Roubaix 94-Tchmil-Cobbles-RockShox, Photo - CorVos:PezCyclingNews

It’s not even the stupidity and pointless severity of the hills, bergs and cobbles that racers grunt, wince and bounce over and off, or even the patina of mud and cow shit that often sprinkles and sometimes jet washes the riders (although the aesthetic of a dappling of mud does have a charisma to it). 

This isn’t about the iconography of the Classics of Belgium, the Lion Of Flanders and cobbles that can infuse any item of cycle clothing with a faux ruggedness and decorates a whole cycle jumble of knik-knaks because therein a dissertation lies, especially if a Flanders Lion with black claws and tongue instead of red is casually used as this can be interpreted as a sign of radical Flemish nationalism, a fact that can raise an eyebrow on the Kwaremont if you’re wearing graphically lazy socks.

The early season timing of the races and the roads they pass over has spawned a very particular combination of clothing and tech, to make these short but momentous weeks of racing survivable. Some have quietly disappeared, while others have been absorbed into our cycling lexicon.

3/4 bib tights

Roubaix Jackson Cobbles 3:4.jpeg

There was a time when 3/4 bib knickers didn’t exist, and you either wore tights or toughed it out in just shorts if the weather was just a bit fresh. Knee warmers weren’t really much of a thing either and leg warmers were just something you warmed up in.

I was working in a bike shop way long ago back then when a delivery came in of some new cycling shorts that extended to cover the knees... whoaaaa! I immediately knew these would be the perfect attire for many months of our damp temperate climate and snaffled them up, and now I’m quarter of a century older I appreciate looking after my knees.

I may be misremembering this but I’m sure that for a very very brief time they were called Urbaneks after the cyclist of the same name who chopped off the lowers of his tights to create this hybrid garment for the Classics season, or maybe that was just the brand name. The now ubiquitous 3/4 tight is still a garment that can stir up some debate amongst some who prefer the short and knee warmer combo for a ride, I’m of the argument that a knee warmer should be put on only when you know that you’re going to be taking it off at some point during the ride when things warm up otherwise it’s a 3/4 all the way. And there’s no sausage leg.

White oversocks

P-R White Oversock 1995.jpeg

Something for the in-between seasons where it’s too warm for proper winter overshoes and maybe a bit chilly to go straight to naked shoes, and changing to them was an optimistic sign of the changing of the season, like going from longs to 3/4s. But they’re mainly there because you want to keep the puddle and mud splashes off your posh shoes that cost a week’s wages.

The oversock is a perfect (if frequently ruined on the first ride and then forever a friend to a lengthy Vanish soak) accessory that can add a bit of je ne sais quoi to your ride. Not to be confused with a thin minimal aero overshoe, which had a few years in the style spotlight with variants in multiple colours and patterns and even gained the Belgian Bootie moniker for hardman kudos points.

Van Der Poel Spatz, Photo - GettyImages.png

It seems to have slipped off the pro radar of late - maybe that’s a cycling shoe sponsor thing - but Van de Poel has piqued interest in the concept again with his shiny white Spatz oversocks. These are a cross somewhere between an aero shoe cover and oversock which I covet quite a bit, lot. He knows that white looks best too.

Cycling caps

Andrea Tafi - Photo - CorVos:PezCyclingNews

There is a coffee table book to be written about the cycling cap, casquette if you must: the rakish look of the 'luft', the peak pulled right down to the bridge of the nose for concentrated effort, or to keep rain out the eyes. It can even reversed to keep the sun off the neck, and away from the peloton the tipped to the back of the head style of the courier and/or fixie rider makes it a fashion accessory that has made numerous appearances in popular culture.

Add in the huge array of colours and designs, some of which are just caps and others that have become style icons, that would be a book I’d buy. The mandatory use of a bike helmet in racing has robbed us of all of the poise possibilities of a cycling cap, and the increasingly rare sighting of a peak peeking from underneath a plastic lid just doesn’t offer the same amount of elan. Classics hard man Andrea Tafi had cap style in spades with his trademark cut off cap crown, turning it into a headband with a peak. I’d love this look to come back, but I fear it may not.

Arm warmers

Roubaix Dropped ArmWarmer.jpeg

With the omnipresence of the team car and slavish use of domestiques, pro riders can change their clothing with the weather and not have to worry about carrying it around with them, so rear pockets stuffed with rain jackets and other removable clothing hastily wedged underneath a jersey are a thing of the past (unless you’re a domestique). 

Arm warmers are great for chilly starts and easy to stash when the racing warms up. Riders can pass down the pack to the back of the car, so they’re not such a visible item now. A visual marker of how rattly the roads were was always an arm-warmer leaving a bit of biceps gap, as it annoyingly vibrated its way down an arm, or they were deliberately pulled down to the wrists for a bit of air on the arms whilst keeping the chill off the blood as it runs close to the surface.

Ludwig Willems Arm Warmers - Photo - CorVos:PezCyclingNews

Or it screams: “I’m too busy putting the hurt on to take these off”. I have championed that look on many rides, and yet no one has cared to notice...

The gilet

Paris Roubaix - Gilet 2002 - Photo - Eurosport.jpeg

I don’t think there’s a ride goes by where I don’t shove a gilet in my middle rear pocket just in case, but then I’m a delicate flower. Lighter and easier to carry than a bunch of old newspapers to stop the breeze getting to your chest on a descent (as was the old school way) it’s become an essential part of a changeable weather layering system.

For its current popularity, the gilet hasn’t been around since forever. I remember having a sheet of thin chamois with elastic straps on it designed to be slipped underneath a jersey in my wardrobe; try telling kids today that etc.

The gilet is not without its controversy though. Alex Dowsett proposed that it was the most useless piece of clothing available and Geraint Thomas forgot to take his off for a time trial, but I absolutely love seeing a pro at full chat with an unzipped gilet flapping in the wind, undoing all those aero gains they’ve spent all the time and money slapping everywhere else on the bike.

The Castelli Gabba

Castelli Gabba.jpeg

Although the Gabba had been quietly around for a few years already, this stretchy short-sleeved rain jersey exploded into the public’s consciousness and scored a marketing coup for Castelli during the 2013 Milan–San Remo, when weather conditions were so bad they had to shorten the race. Riders that weren’t sponsored to wear Castelli clothing were seen wearing the Gabba with the logos blacked out to beat the elements and clothing contracts, meaning the jersey instantly gained mythic status.

Castelli punched further in the marketing game later by offering the Gabba in a gift box with a black magic marker to scribble over their logo with. The rest of the clothing manufacturers scrabbled to catch up with something similar, and thus a new genre was born. The ill-fitting, flappy plastic rain jacket’s days were over.

Weird bikes and hacks


The wholesale acceptance of disc brakes, wide comfy tyres and fast but stable bikes has completely snuffed out the inventiveness and mechanic bodges that were conjured up to ease the pain of the cobbles and shitty roads. It used to be a tech highlight of the Classics season, and very much part of its 'look'.

Ridley X-Night Paris-Roubaix .jpeg

Cyclocross bikes with road tyres on or just cyclocross forks lodged in the front of road bikes for tyre and mud clearance, double wrapped bars, extra bar-top brake levers and all sorts of weird and whacky suspension experiments were the bread and butter of photo galleries.

Paris Roubaix Bar Top Brake Levers.jpeg

Some of that tech has sneaked into modern bikes, with a few having suspension elements to them; but while it might be great for bike companies that you can buy exactly the same ride that conquered the bergs and grit of the Spring Classics, it does make for a far less exciting bike nerd browsing...

Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.

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Miller | 1 month ago
1 like

Great funny article and all so true; thanks.

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