Words: Tom Southam
When I was a kid, I saw an advert in a magazine for a bicycle helmet. The advert was very good; so good I can still picture it today. The advert was a photo of the back of a rider's helmeted head, on which you could make out a small sticker bearing the rider's name: ‘GIANETTI'. The tag line read simply: ‘The Professional Attitude'.
It was perfect because it symbolised everything that I wanted as an aspiring bike rider. I wanted someone to give me a helmet; I wanted my name on it; and I wanted people to know that name. It wasn't about having my name in lights so much as it was about having my name in a place that served a purpose and told the world, in a serious and professional tone, just who I was. It was about someone somewhere seeing my name on the back of my helmet – not for identification but for recognition.
The thing that most amateur cyclists, aspiring youths, and anyone else who has to buy their own cycling kit, think about when they think about pro bike riders is often in all honesty not, ‘how great would it be to do that race', or ‘how cool would it be to fly around the world doing what you love' The first thing people think is: ‘how cool would it be to get all that kit?'.
To them the idea of being given a boxful of kit, and brand new bikes to ride is as good as it gets, and this doesn't ever really change. Even World-Tour riders, despite earning enough money to buy as much cycling kit as they could ever want, still feel the need to photograph bags of their new cycling kit at start of the year and share it with the world on social media.
When you first go to a team like Rapha Condor, the moment you actually first pull on a team jersey is one of those really special moments. Yet, although it gives you an identity and makes you part of something, anyone can buy team kit- the real thrill comes from having the bits that the public can't get hold of; and it isn't just the big things that matter either.
Everyone remembers the first bike they discover the sport on. When you're young, you normally start off with just one bike. That bike is, depending on why you choose to ride it, your passport to freedom or the very thing that allows you to begin to dream of being a professional bike rider. As you get older and race more, bikes come and go and there is very little point in having an attachment to something that will take a hammering in the filth of the Spring races, a beating in transportation, and will most likely be replaced in part if not in entirety before summer has even begun. Bikes become a tool, but there is still something redeeming and special about every one that bears your name.
The reason that pro team bikes, as well as helmets, and any kit for that matter have riders' names on is purely functional. In a team, all the kit is the same and mechanics as well as riders need to know which bike is which, and whose helmet has been left in the back of the van. But out of necessity has been born symbolism. It is a symbolism that can mean a great deal to a young rider and also to an experienced one. It is the detail that sets you apart: getting a bike with your name on, no matter how old you are, or how many teams' you've ridden for, is always something special.