When Style Was King

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in the Bridgestone Owners Bunch Gazette, Issue #1, February 1993, then in Mason St. Clair's Wire Donkey Bike 'Zine, Vol.11, No.128, October 30, 1998.

In the not so distant past, it was relatively easy to spot a good cyclist. Simply put, good bikes went with good riders. Sometimes good riders went with so-so bikes, but the opposite was almost never true. Unfortunately, that's not the scene today. No news to any of you, but cycling has become trendy, hip, and stylish. (And note that stylishness is, of course, the absolute antithesis of style.) Cycling has also become a status related activity, so much so that when one sees a really fine machine humming down the road or trail, it is almost invariably being ridden by someone whose ability doesn't come close to matching his or her checking account.

In those good old days, besides spotting the good bikes and their good riders, the trained eye could note the far more subtle clues that revealed a rider's level of experience and movement up the ladder from novice to veteran. Clues like white bar tape, for many years the cheap but good plastic Benotto, then after that the padded Bike Ribbon. Or dual toe straps, nor just for track sprinting, but for use on the road, too. Speaking of the boards, track pedals on a road bike were also a good sign. And tubulars were a good tip-off, especially if the preglued and slightly used spare was encased in an old grey gym sock and held under the seat with a worn out toe strap. Retrofriction levers marked a member of the illuminati, especially on an otherwise all Campy bike. (I caught onto this well kept secret after noticing that Lon Haldeman, Mike Shermer, John Marino, and Greg LeMond -my heroes of a decade ago- all used the very svelte looking and smooth shifting retro levers from Simplex.) Another subtle clue was whether the brake housings (emanating from non-aero levers) passed over, or under, the handlebars en route to their respective calipers. Over the bars meant a good rider, under the bars meant someone used to department store bikes. Bike size was also a blatant giveaway. Was the rider fitted just so, with a handful of post showing? Must have been a good rider, for only those in the know would have realized the advantages of a properly proportioned frame. Plus, they looked just right on that beautifully fitting steed.

Other clues were less a question of equipment, and more a manner of riding. If the rider had loose shoulders, a light grip on the drops, a flattened back, and butt slid back on the seat, then there was no doubt that they could ride. (That type would have looked fine on a Sears Free Spirit, of course.) Chances are, the riders who looked like that also moved on down the road quickly and seemingly without effort. And of course, it was effortless.

Their etiquette was unmistakable as well: they had a sense of grace about them, an air, even what some would mistake for an aloofness. Yet it was only the calm that comes with knowing how to signal one's intentions or road hazards to other riders, how to trim the derailleurs so they purred just so, how to track stand without a bead of sweat in sight, how to preshift when entering a hilly curve, how and why to shift up or down when getting in or out of the saddle, how to ride smack down the center of the white painted stripe on the edge of the bike lane without a waver onto the coarse blacktop, how to, how to, how to ride...

Yep, those were the days. When people rode bikes for the sake of cycling and for nothing else. Style and etiquette were king, status was measured by technique instead of by component or tubing choice, and the good riders were just plain simple to spot.