I am contemplating jerseys and what to call the team I'm supposed to be putting together for the London to Brighton Bike Ride, 2013. I'm thinking about the culmination of all that has gone on since I began my search for the appropriate bicycle; the point of it all – the race. Although the British Heart Foundation is keen to point out that the L2B isn't supposed to be race at all: it’s a charity event, to be taken at a pace that feels comfortable – just a bit of fun. Which is fair enough, and if I was really serious about road-racing then I’d be better off joining a cycling club, obtaining BC and/or CTC accreditation, and finding a local sportive in which to partake. That means I’d have to wear whatever jersey my notional club decreed. ‘We naturally like members to wear club kit,’ declares one such institution local to me, but it’s a pretty brutal offering, their kit, and the club’s handle displays little in the way of imagination. So that’s not going to happen.
They can be quite expensive, can cycling jerseys. There are cheap tops on the market as well, but they’re really rather uninspiring. That said, the most visually appealing jerseys aren't necessarily the ones that cost the most. I should probably lay my cards on the table here: I like replica team jerseys and I like jerseys of a bygone era, and, ideally, I’d like a shirt that combines elements of the two. The jerseys occupying the opposing ends of the fiscal spectrum, however, share a utilitarian approach to design that doesn't interest me at all.Primary colours overbear the palette, with black and white getting quite a look in too. Logos and patterns are conspicuous by their absence, which is admirable on one level but quite dull on another.
This ‘camping and outdoor’ attitude towards cycle wear is still a credible alternative to the third strain of tunic on offer to the aspiring cyclist: that of the novelty jersey. A company trading under the name 'Foska' appears to be the leader in this particular field, and they’re responsible for some real abominations: shirts adorned with adverts for various foodstuffs – Spam, Colman’s Mustard, Cornflakes, Marmite; wholesome cartoon characters from old-school comics; tax discs, flags and maps – the cycling equivalent, all, of wearing a wacky tie to the office. These atrocities come in at about £50, which represents the middle of the range with regard to cost. Fortunately, for that price there are far worthier alternatives.
I'm currently unemployed and so would like to exploit the fact that people might want to buy me things for Christmas, and stock up on cycling gear. My first thought had been for my team to be dressed in matching shirts. I have five people down for the L2B and I'm hoping these five people will still be with me when I start asking for money to sort out our accommodation come January. So I consulted the two potential members of my as yet un-named team who had cycled the London to Brighton Bike Ride before, to ask them for their thoughts regarding team attire. I’d started to have my doubts about matching jerseys, figuring it might give off rather arrogant vibes. Ben, who was the first to respond to my line of questioning, agreed that it might not be entirely appropriate, that one might want to consider entering a sportive if one wanted to take the ‘race’ so seriously, but that the L2B couldn't really be bettered for atmosphere. My brother, Simon, followed this up to say that he couldn't justify the expense of another jersey, for he did not cycle enough and owned a few already (Simon’s thing is marathons and the occasional triathlon). And so the way was paved for me to pore over cycling jerseys at my leisure.
I’d already been doing so, in fact, but with an eye to what I thought might be financially acceptable to my fellow riders. I’d identified the Giordana Tech Silverline, reduced from £74.99 to £37.50 on-line, as having solid potential. Available in black, white, lime green, red and blue, all with a white panel covering the chest and black trim around the collar and down the shoulder – and with a small motif perched upon the left breast – it was neutral enough to satisfy a miscellany of sartorial aspirations. At that price I figured I might go for the lime green rendition, if only as a jersey to train in, for as pleasing as the Giordana is there are far prettier shirts out there on the market. For £59.99, for instance, I could buy myself a Morvelo Chasseur de Cols Alpine race jersey, whilst £63 would afford me something from the excellent Solo range, the Moretti probably being the most attractive candidate. This is what I mean when I say that cycling jerseys can be quite dear, although I saw retro-style jerseys from Le Coq Sportif that were more exorbitant still.
So I drew a line under the Giordana – asked my parents for that – and decided that I would wait to see what the new year’s sales might bring with respect to either the Morvelo or the Solo. Besides, there was always Prendas Ciclismo – a small independent firm based in Dorset, apparently in their 17th year – selling retro-inspired jerseys for anything between £30 and £40. (I instinctively like this company and if I wasn't so bloody minded concerning all things aesthetic I’d have probably ordered from them already, and do not rule out doing so in the future.)
Before putting these accoutrements to one side, I thought I’d have a cruise on eBay and was instantly struck by the ineluctable presence of an organisation called eTailBar.com. I’d searched for ‘retro cycling jerseys’, not because that’s what I was specifically after but because I didn't think eBay would have anything out of the ordinary listed under any other category. In fact, eTailBar do not deal exclusively in retro or second-hand goods but in cycling and running wear in general. Their presence on eBay, then, is probably to shift their fine line in second-hand cycling apparel, for the official website makes no reference to their vintage stock.
I saw a 'vintage' jersey that I liked – really liked – manufactured by the Swiss firm Descente, but the chest was measured at 38ʺ to 40ʺ, whereas I think mine measures just over 36ʺ. The guy who modelled it looked pretty buff too, although it did cling slavishly to his torso. The thing was, this top was going for a little over £13, including the postage from… France. They were a French company, and I backed off a little, just because… because I had no experience of that. I continued to run through their stock anyway and came across another shirt, this time in my size, made of a wool and polyamide mix, and coming in at just under £16.
Ah, what the hell…
[POST-SCRIPT: A subsequent measuring of my chest revealed it to be just over 38ʺ – good news in some respects, but I might have saved myself a lot of bother if I’d scaled it from the off.]