That’s not to say that the SSC doesn’t have a casual interest in pro cycling. He does. In fact, during Tour de France season, he even gets to know which of the main GC riders are on which team. But the SSC knows that he’s not actually a member of any of those teams, nor is he likely to get picked up by one of them any time soon.
So, for the SSC, wearing that Sky jersey while out riding a bicycle in public only invites unflattering comparison. It shouts out, “I think I’m fast, like Mark-Cavendish fast.” Or it implies a kind of unselfconscious game of make-believe: “Look at me, I’m pretending to be Chris Froome!” (Admittedly, there’s something naïvely sweet about enacting this kind of cycling, dress-up-in-public fantasy—at least, if you’re twelve.)
But here’s the thing about that analogy. Pro cycling is different than those other sports. The riders don’t wear names and/or numbers on their jerseys. So kitters are wearing a team jersey, not an individual jersey. And few cycling fans have a visceral connection to a particular cycling team the way Red Sox or Leafs fans to do their teams. For one thing, cycling teams are named after sponsors, not cities, and the teams rarely last more than a few years before the sponsors move on. So it’s hard to take seriously the whole devotion-to-a-team argument. Cycling kitters just end up offering free advertising to big corporations—who just happen to sponsor cycling teams for a few years.
Plus, it’s one thing for a Broncos fan to wear that Peyton Manning jersey while swilling beer in the stands and quite another if that same fan heads out to actually play football in that same team tunic. To put it another way, when a dude in a LeBron jersey plays pick-up basketball, he better have game, or else he stands to look like a fool.
Five-time Tour champion Bernard Hinault once said that it drives him crazy to see a fat cyclist wearing a yellow jersey. He thinks it’s disrespectful, that the maillot jaune—any maillot jaune, apparently—is sacred. The privilege of wearing it must be earned. To insert one’s hairy beer gut into the hallowed yellow is to defile that symbol. It’s a travesty, in Hinault’s eyes.
I’m not so sensitive to cyclists wearing plain yellow jerseys (there are good practical reasons for wearing bright colors), but I take Hinault’s point. In the great game of dress up that fans engage in, there are certain costumes that are best donned with caution and discretion.
Fat Cyclist jersey or a Jens Voigt Army cap—anything that signifies the obscure, the ironic, or the absurd. This kind of kit doesn’t seem quite so presumptuous; it doesn’t invite unflattering comparisons. Rather it signals membership in a different kind of community, based on shared interests and a realization that what the Musetteers do on Sunday rides is not in the same category as what Wiggins and Hesjedal do. This kit cheekily announces that this cyclist doesn’t take himself too seriously.
Look, the SSC doesn’t care what other cyclists wear in the saddle. Do your thing—dress up like Lance, adorn yourself in the garb of your favorite superhero. Heck, go naked, if you please.
But the SSC lives by a code. He’d (almost) rather quit than wear pro-team kit.