Enthused with my new Look 566, and the prospect of some heavy cycling these coming months, I considered it appropriate to invest in new cycling apparatus. The need wasn't pressing; I behaved as if it was. Three items, essentially: cycling shorts, a base layer, socks. (I bought a set of cleated pedals too, but until I acquire compatible shoes this doesn't really bear my attention.)
I decided which jersey I would wear for this year's London to Brighton some time ago: my Etxeondo (pronounced Etchayondo, so I'm told – it’s a Spanish/Basque marque) Team ONCE shirt, a habiliment of consummate fit. Last year I wore a La Vie Claire jersey – a contemporary version of a 28-odd year old design reissued by its original manufacturer, Santini. The ONCE top, however, is the real deal. A garment of approximately 19 years, but looking good with it, I purchased it off of eBay.
I needed new white socks to replace my Mavic editions, which have a hole in one of them, and another pair of cycling shorts followed. I also felt I could do with a sleeveless summer base-layer, because they’re quite useful things and my short-sleeved, almost silver, Mavic base layer is not fitted enough to wear with the ONCE jersey.
My motives are probably of little interest, but to explain them helps convey an element of indulgence on which this introductory passage depends. It reads better if you think that I've been seduced into extravagance by something as essentially trivial as cycling apparel.
My cycling outfit at last year’s London to Brighton – Santini La Vie Claire top, Santini cycling shorts and Mavic socks – was never consciously coordinated, and was only slightly coordinated at all. This year shall be different. I have purposely targeted Etxeondo gear to match my ONCE jersey. The unifying thing is the Etxeondo logo, which is a strange looking motif. It fairly resembles an upturned acorn's cupule, painted in black and white like some disfigured yin-yang. This symbol features on the left breast of my cycling jersey, on the left haunch of the Etxeondo Bira cycling shorts I've just purchased, on the inside of the ankles on my new pair of Etxeondo Tarte socks – and it presents a pleasingly subtle cohesion to the whole ensemble. I like that – motif aside – the Bira shorts are totally black (as my Santini shorts also are). My white socks, however, aren't completely white: there’s a mysterious rectangular light grey stripe on the back of each ankle, which I find strangely satisfying as a visual aberration but can't fathom quite what it’s doing there. According to the pictures of the sock on the various websites that sell them, it shouldn't even be.
My latest base layer is not made by Etxeondo but an Italian company called De Marchi. I was looking for a discount on a sleeveless layer, couldn't find one on Etxeondo, did on Santini, and then again on De Marchi. Santini's offering resembled a string vest, which I didn't care for, so I went with De Marchi. This is my first De Marchi purchase and the early signs are good. Summer base layers are designed to 'wick' sweat away from the body, and they need to be tight to succeed in this. The material is as thin as it needs to be and all-white. There is, however, De Marchi's name italicized just above the chest in black cotton, which is almost as pleasing as those grey rectangles. A few years ago this Roman script didn't feature. Instead, there would have been De Marchi's cockerel emblem on a small, red rubber square, but they seem now to have eschewed this particular brand representation in favour of something less oblique.
I wore all of this on a recent ride out to Box Hill. I cycled through Kingston, Surbiton, and then Chessington (South), getting lost along the way, before arriving to meet a fellow cyclist in Epsom. On towards Box Hill, we passed Ashstead and Leatherhead, where I observed the preponderance of trees. Along country lanes and down penumbrous glades, I considered the insouciance of cows, the texture of tarmac and the peril of potholes. I thought about the stiffness of carbon as a material, the arbitrary nature of country roads, and the folly of a winged descent. I pondered the suspended drama of hills, the stoicism of muscle, the perseverance of the sun.
It took it out of me – again. My life is nothing if not inconsistent, and my vigour fluctuates as much as anything else in it. Less than a month to go until the London to Brighton, and still a bit of work to do. This 45 mile round trip to Box Hill is a start.