Tag Archives: fashion

Embracing My Inner MAMIL

Until only a few years ago I had never worn lycra in my life and indeed would have scoffed at the very idea of my ever doing so. That sort of look just wasn’t ‘me’, not even in my younger, leaner and fitter days, and still less was it ‘me’ as I matured into my fifties. Yet somehow over the past few seasons I seemed to have evolved into a MAMIL – that is to say a Middle Aged Man in Lycra – albeit a seasonal one.

This descent, if I can call it that, started when I moved to England and discovered that if I wanted to continue riding through an English winter I was going to need something a little warmer, snugger and more windproof than the stuff I was used to wearing in Australia. As fate would happen, just when I was deciding whether or not to keep riding through the winter or to take up running instead for those months, I happened to see where one of the big on-line retailers was offering Gore Windstopper bib tights at a very deep discount. I took the plunge and ordered a pair.

To say that I was self conscious trying them on would be an understatement. I was deeply grateful for the concealing mid-winter darkness when I went out for my first bashful ride in them. But within the first mile or so I became a convert. It was the first time I had been truly comfortable on a frosty mid-winter ride. I grew to love them, even if I didn’t exactly want to be seen around town in them. They kept me warm, even when wet; they were windproof, breathable, they never made me sweat and they dried quickly on those not infrequent occasions when I was caught in a cold rain. Magic.

I soon decided that perhaps I needed a second pair and so when I saw a pair of Assos three-quarter length bib-knicks on offer a couple months later, I bought them as well. They seemed perfect for cool damp spring rides, as indeed they were. I came to like them a lot too, even if I remained self-conscious about this whole Lycra thing

Nevertheless on the strength of this liking I went out later that spring and bought myself a pair (nay, two pair) of summer-weight bib shorts, also from Assos (and also on a deep discount!) but with these I came into conflict. The trouble is, daylight comes early in the summer. Although there were not to many strangers around to see me in lycra at four thirty in the morning, I could see me – in the reflections of shop windows and such. It wasn’t a good look. Performance be damned, I didn’t wish to be a Middle Aged Man in Lycra. Happily a solution appeared on the horizon the following summer. The nice folks at Rapha came out with a pair of ‘touring shorts’ – nice, casual, regular looking shorts one could wear over your Lycra bibs. I gather from the marketing bumf they were designed for fashion-savvy city dudes who didn’t want to look overly ‘roadie’ when they spun through the city during office hours.

Being the thrifty sort I am I waited to the end of season and snapped up a pair at a discounted price (had to: they were Rapha after all) They’ve worked a treat, I must say, allowing to me to get at least some use out of my all-too-hastily purchased Assos bib-shorts while still disguising my inner MAMIL. Even so, I have to say, though, for the most part I go for my more dignified plus-four style cycling shorts during the summer in favour of bibs, even with the concealing over shorts. But now with autumn in the air and the mornings getting darker I am thinking it might soon be time once again to did out the bib knicks and the full length bib tights and embrace my inner MAMIL.

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So there you are – you’ve just spent a lot of time and thought, effort and energy, to say nothing of money making over your much-loved old bicycle, or designing a dream new one, so that it looks just the way you want it to look, tasteful, elegant, timeless; a perfect expression of your cycling history, aesthetic ideals and open road aspirations.

You’ve got the colour scheme just right, and fretted for hours over the detailing, debating with yourself whether you should have a contrasting or a complementary colour on the head tube, or whether or not you should have the lugs highlighted. You’ve selected the components with care, striving to obtain just the right effect, shiny bits rather than carbon, say, to achieve a kind of dramatic unity with your classic steel frame, and taken a lot of trouble in finding a saddle and the right shade of bar tape that will go nicely with everything else and complete the look.

And then you go looking for a water bottle to put in those beautiful old retro-styled stainless steel bottle cages you imported from the United States – and suddenly everything goes pear-shaped because despite all your care and hard work, your discerning eye and all your willingness to source just the right bits and pieces, all you can find are garishly coloured plastic things, usually with outsized corporate logos or some other clumsy form of branding on them. Not a one of these things do you want on your beautifully thought-out bicycle, but what choice do you have? They just don’t seem to make them any other way.

It’s not that they can’t, of course – after all, these things are just extruded plastic and on that score they can pretty much be made to any colour, pattern or style anyone could want; all they have to do is hold water. In fact, cycling fashion house Rapha did indeed make some quite tasteful and dare I say it, beautiful-looking water bottles a couple of seasons ago: smoke grey and patterned with a Spitalsfield flower design – pictured above – that could look good on just about any frame, no matter what the colour or style. They sold at a premium and I was happy to buy. Perhaps I was the only one who was.

At any rate these Spitalfields flowers water bottles seem to have gone the way of rumble seats and white tennis balls. The only water bottles Rapha offers now have RAPHA printed on them in large flowing corporate script – still in smoke grey and still more tasteful than most of the other offerings on the market, but nevertheless another exercise in logos and branding I could well do without. Given the amount of money cyclists are happy to spend to their steeds surely there is an opening here for some entrepreneurial genius to make a packet peddling tasteful, decorative, evocative water bottles – sans the logos and clumsy branding.

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The Beauty of Cream Tyres

I generally take my coffee black, no cream, no sugar, no nonsense, and until a few months ago I’d have said pretty much the same thing about the way I take my bicycle tyres too – straight black, double shot. After forty-seven years of riding the same-old, same-old, it wouldn’t even have occurred to me to put cream-coloured treads on a bicycle. Like Henry Ford and his early Model-Ts, my vision for bike tyres extended only to … black.

But there’s nothing like conjuring up your dream bicycle to put you in touch with your inner cyclist and so now here I am sporting a pair of creamy white Panaracer Paselas on my new tourer and liking the look of them very much. They seem to me to strike just the right note on such a retro-classic as mine, calling to mind an era in the springtime of the last century when life was ‘swell’ and gentlemen wore silky fine Montecristi Panamas and white satin spats when they strolled the Boardwalk.

When I see and admire them on the bike now, it seems as though cream tyres must really have been in the back of my mind all along, an unarticulated vision, but the truth of the matter is that I owe a debt of inspiration to a fellow blog writer (I hate that word ‘blogger’) on the other side of the Atlantic, from whom I not only appropriated the idea of putting cream tyres on my new bicycle but the very notion of writing a blog myself.

Being the reclusive Luddite that I am, a man to whom a laptop is more or less a glorified portable typewriter with a built-in liquid-paper feature, and who has assiduously avoided all forms of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, I’d never even heard of a cycling blog until I started trawling the internet earlier this year looking for inspiration for colour schemes and liveries for my soon-to-become-a-reality dream tourer.

It was while stumbling about in the ether that I chanced upon a blog called Lovely Bicycle! It was, and is, an engaging blog written by a lady in Somerville, Massachusetts who by the sounds of her profile on the site is an artist and academic as well as clearly being an enthusiast of classic lugged-framed bicycles. After perusing one of her posts in which lugwork and paint schemes were thoughtfully discussed and deconstructed, I delved a little deeper into the blog’s back catalogue and came across an intriguing post extolling the beauties of cream tyres on classic bicycles. It was a fairly lengthy entry, liberally illustrated with examples of cream-tyred mixtes and tourers and hoop-framed transport bicycles and helpfully included a list of the various brands and models and sizes of bicycle tyre that came in cream for anyone who cared to take the plunge themselves.

I found myself scrolling up and down, secretly coveting this jaunty whitewall retro look and wondering if I’d dare affect such a thing myself. When I noticed that the Panaracer Pasela, one of my favourite touring tyres, just so happened to be on that cream-as-an-option list – in both 700×23 and 700×28 – I took it as a gentle nudge of fate and filed away this intriguing bit of data for future reference.

I bookmarked the site as well, and popped back a few days later to see what might have been discussed in my absence. And so it went. Over the coming weeks and months I found myself returning to Lovely Bicycle! with increasing regularity, even taking to offering my two cents every now and then. I grew to like this novel (to me) concept of blogging, what I could see of it anyway, and the platform it offered for writing about things you enjoyed writing about regardless of whether they fit in with some magazine’s publishing needs.

As time went by, and I could feel my fingers growing ever more fidgety over the keyboard whenever I dropped in, and ideas forming in the back of my mind, I resolved to launch my own blog one day.

That day has now arrived, and as I sit here writing a post in my own blog about the beauty of cream tyres on classic touring bicycles, I feel I ought to give a wave of acknowledgement across the blogosphere to “Velouria’, the author of Lovely Bicycle!

As for my creamy Panaracer Paselas, well, they’re running fine. The 700x28s I settled on seem a little plush for their stated size – I’m betting they are nearer 30mm – but two hundred (mainly dry) miles down the track they are still looking clean and fresh, with just a faint grey stripe along the contact surface. Later on, after they’ve seen some more serious mileage, I’ll post some ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots for the benefit of anyone else who might be thinking of stepping outside the envelope and giving cream-coloured tyres a go themselves. For now, though, enough of cream; I’m off to build myself a double espresso. I still prefer  my coffee black and there ain’t no way that’s going to change!

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