I often write about how cycling is more than racing. It is about having fun with your friends. It’s about going out and seeing the world around you. It is about your goals and your passions. It is mostly not about racing. The problem is, I used to race, and I used to work in both bike retail and bike marketing, and this has left me with a split personality.
Marketing our lives away
Marketing and adverts are all around us, and we’re constantly bombarded with them. We have officially moved into a Philip K. Dick universe, and no one seems to care too much. We by now are all undoubtedly aware of the damage our consumerist lifestyles are doing not only to the planet but to our own mental health? If not, click here and follow the link to get caught up.
I’ve been caught up on this, no matter how much I protest that I can see through advertising, and how many others are like me? “I don’t fall for it, I’m too clever, me.” Sometimes, we just can’t see the wood from the trees. Cycle clothing, for instance, do I really need it? Do I really need padded shorts? Do I need clothes that fit ever so tightly?
We’re told cycle jerseys make cycling more comfortable, but do they? I get that cycle jerseys being tightly fitted can provide marginal gains for professional athletes, but how many of us are professional athletes? Do we really need tightly fitted and expensive garments, or are they merely an extension of cycling’s preoccupation with Veblen goods?
The tightly fitted jersey will bring you comfort as they are designed, not rub. Great, but as a cyclist, I shouldn’t be moving my upper body. Is that not one of those fundamental rules? My top half should be sitting there like a statue as my lower half whirs away on the pedals. Why, then, would I need clothes that remove chaffing?
“Jerseys wick moisture away from your body!” I hear you scream at me. Do they though? Have you thought about how this fabric works? I’m sure you’ll tell me its breathable. Breathable is just a marketing term; what really happens is a form of osmosis.
High school biology tells us that osmosis is movement from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration. What this means if that you’re out cycling and if it’s humid or pretty wet, then that osmosis is not going to happen. “Breathable” clothing works best in frozen and snowy landscapes. You’re just as well riding in a linen shirt.
The tighter clothing also causes you to heat up. How many folks do you see ultimately unzipping the front of their jersey in summer? Its to make them flap a bit more and guide air through. Tighter clothing stops that from happening. Look at people crossing deserts or living in deserts, do they wear tight or baggy clothing. Baggier clothing cools you merely by being baggy, but that ruins expensive marketing campaigns.
“What about cycling shorts?”
Cycling shorts keep you comfortable. They have their place, and that is in ultra-endurance. I regularly do between 3 and 6-hour rides. I’ve never felt the need for cycle shorts on these rides. I’ve never had saddle sores. I’ve never had issues down there with chaffing. (Touchwood on this idea)
I simply get on my bike and ride. What I do have, though, is a bike that fits me. I’ve found a saddle design I like. I don’t set my saddle up to be parallel to the ground. Mainly because I’d rather my saddle position suited me rather than the ground, call me crazy if you must.
Clothing is designed for pros
Cycle clothing is designed for pros, and this is where marketing comes in. Marketing in the bike media is mainly geared to making you view yourself as a racer, whether you’re a weekend warrior, a club member, or just someone getting KOMs on Strava.
The marketing is predicated on the belief that you want to be better or can be made to be better. Better here does not mean become the best person you can be; it means become faster. More importantly, be faster than other people, and you can only do it with what we’re selling.
We can apply the same arguments to bikes, and many sites have done, and I’ll probably rehash the argument in the future. “You need to buy x, as without x you’ll be 5 watts slower.” We’ve all seen it. We all know it isn’t really the truth, but we let it slide when really we shouldn’t.
We’re all being sold an unattainable goal.
You’re sold on attributes that don’t really work or make a difference in the real world. You’re sold on them emotionally, but we wrap that emotion up with a tidbit of “objective” science. “It looks pretty, and you’ll be 2 watts faster.” Allowing us to justify the purchase.
Cycling marketing wants you to see yourself as a racer, even if you don’t classify yourself that way. It wants you to see friends as rivals to beat and intimidate with your use of new tech. It wants you to treat each ride as a serious of races (segments), and these races can only be won if you have the newest performance upgrade.
Cycling doesn’t need to be this way.