Equipment Nostalgia – The Clothes We Would Rather Forget!
Retro Clothing Feature: After taking a close look at the bike equipment of the past, Ed Hood turns his eye on the clothing we tolerated back in the day. The Continental riders could turn just about anything into sartorial elegance – the rest of us looked and felt terrible. Don’t live in the past.
Check out Ed’s equipment rant HERE.
The Italians can look cool even during winter training
The Oxford dictionary describes ‘masochism’ thus: ‘the enjoyment of something that most people would find unpleasant or painful.’ That’s them Eroica-istas; not content with riding bicycles which even in their hey-day were terrible they dress up in clothing which even at the time we knew; ‘there has to be a better way.’ The bikes were different, we didn’t realize you could have brakes that worked, more than five sprockets and spokes that didn’t break all the time.
Let’s start at the ground and work up.
Order your new shoes and plates through ‘Bike Riders Aids’
Shoe plates, remember them?
These were metal plates with ridges which fitted into the back plate of your pedal; they had to be nailed on – invariably in the wrong place so you had to rip them off and re-nail them. This could happen several times with the soles of your brand new shoes looking like John Wayne had used them for target practice with his Gatling gun.
A range of TA cleats
The shoes themselves were a mixed bag; ‘real’ leather was the thing back then albeit I suspect that the bulk of it was the stuff Italian handbag makers threw away.
Sidi shoes – Still amongst the best
Crodoni and Detto Pietro were the big brands – but as the Dave said; ‘the best thing that happened to my Crodonis was when the dog ate them!’
Detto Pietro were all the rage
Then Adidas came along with the ‘Merckx’ shoe, which looked the biz but had horrible flexible nylon soles which transmitted the pressure from the shoe plates up into the soles of your feet. You could go to a local cobbler and get him to put on thick real leather soles but this played havoc with your position. Puma shoes were the start of things getting better with a moulded nylon sole and integral adjustable shoe plate.
The Adidas shoes were an improvement
I was the first kid on the block with these; I wandered into the Puma dealer on Kirkcaldy Promenade and asked hopefully but with no real conviction if he could get me Puma cycling shoes, to my surprise he answered; ‘shouldn’t be a problem,’ a day or two later I had a pair in my hands – I was in a state of joyous shock. I remember Scottish time trial king Dave Hannah asking ME about MY shoes – wow!
Puma had a moulded sole
But what we could never figure out was why Eddy’s ‘Merckx’ shoes and Freddy Maertens’ Pumas never looked quite like ours – until we discovered they were made by an old Belgian shoe maker in Roselare who sewed on his version of the trademark flashes/bands.
The shoes of Merckx and Maertens looked different
The cult shoes though were made by Zadrozny from Poland, with lovely over-size tongues, big vent holes and little Polska red and white flashes; beautiful things but hard to get in those Iron Curtain days – I was never fortunate enough to get a pair, sadly.
Zadrozny shoes – Made to look like Adidas
Right – we’ve got our shoe plates on our shoes, let’s go!
No race jackets or gillets back in Ed’s day
But what about the rain?
Good point – dry days in Scotland were, and still are, rare. Plastic bags taped over your shoes seemed like a good idea but if anything worked loose and caught in the chain and you were on a fixed gear then self inflicted foot amputation was a real danger.
Hard men in Belgium, but those overshoes didn’t help with the tram lines
‘Booteks’ to the rescue, plastic over shoes with elasticized cuffs and Velcro fastening – they’d look stupid nowadays but were a Quantum Leap back then in avoiding frostbite and foot rot. Of course the hard core road boys wore wet suit over-bootees just like harder than hard Frans Verbeeck did in Belgium.
Overshoes have come a long way from carrier bags
There were down sides though, when you bought your first pair you always forget how much the damn things stretched and consequently cut holes for the shoe plates which were way too big when you pulled them on over your soles. The other problem was that there’s a clue in the name ‘wet’ suit – the principle is that it’s the thin layer of water which retains the heat. Warm dampness and shoe stitching aren’t a good pairing and eventually your shoes quietly fell to pieces as the stitching rotted.
Should this look be allowed to return?
Socks; Swiss technological clothing company Assos have the temperature range for all their socks clearly defined – they even have a super cool boutique on Regent Street in London. Back in the 70’s we had our own ‘technological clothing boutique’ in the Olympia Arcade in Kirkcaldy – ‘Frank’s Army Stores,’ just up from the surgical appliance shop.
Get your sport socks – three pairs for a pound!
Frank was an uncommunicative Polish guy who was nevertheless well connected in the milieu of army surplus gear; especially cult old Wehrmacht kit, I loved the camouflage jackets but my mum and dad would never let me buy it – I digress, sorry.
Anquetil could get away with that look
Frank’s ‘sea boot hose’ – green knee length, thick woolen socks as favored by fishermen under their rubber boots were cosy but the beggars were so thick that your shoes had to be a size bigger than you needed. Moving on up the leg; some favored ‘plusses’ a la golfers, these came in just below the knee with your calves clad with colorful socks. Fausto Coppi and Jacques Anquetil looked beyond cool when clothed in this fashion – but us Fife boys, in our ‘cut off’ ex-school moleskin cords and aforementioned ‘sea boot hose’ never quite managed to get that Fausto/Jacques vibe working for us.
Tweed plus ones
Or – you could buy Lutz tracksuit bottoms, available in black (sensible), blue (less sensible) or red (positively crazy – they showed up every chainring mark and nose evacuation and even we knew they were just ‘wrong!’). These looked OK when new but would soon develop lumps at the knee and the material would rival the best kitchen towels in water absorbency – go out in the rain in these babies and all those drill holes in your equipment were negated by the fact that your tracksuit bottoms weighed 10 kilograms.
Braces were good enough for ‘Big Ted’
You could of course wear ‘braces’ – ‘galluses’ to Fifers or ‘suspenders’ if you’re from the USA. Getting the correct tension on these was vital, too little and your bottoms slumped and too much and you’d spend the entire club run trying to ease the pressure on your crotch.
If it was cold you’d wear ‘long johns’ under your track suit bottoms or plusses, this had the effect of making the area under your crotch feel like a ploughed field – god knows how we weren’t all crippled with saddle sores.
Which brings us onto shorts – and ‘real’ chamois inserts.
No matter what you said to your mum about how to wash them she’d soon have the chamois converted to crisp bread which you somehow had to coax back to flexibility with lanolin/Vaseline/any damn thing. . .
Assos chamois cream (others were available)
North East England company, Been Bag had the answer – ‘Polartex’ inserts instead of chamois – this was white synthetic fur (no, I’m not making this up) and could be machine washed. But somehow it never caught on. . .
Top class chamois insert
I remember pulling on my first pair of Castelli ‘skin’ shorts with their lovely fit, high back and padded chamois – tears of joys were close.
Castelli – Still a pleasure to wear!
OK, we’re at the waist and Assos and Craft will supply you with ‘base layers’ for your trunk to suit every climatic eventuality. We looked East, to Frank the Pole again and his Army Stores where we purchased ‘Wolf’ 100% wool under vests – these may have come from the Polish coal mines; but we never got chatty enough with Old Frank to discuss the provenance of his wares. They were damn cosy if a tad itchy – but when those January North Easters sweep down into Fife from Scandinavia what’s a scratch or two between friends? And their capacity to absorb sweat was amazing; they hit the bedroom floor like a slab of tripe when you peeled them off at the end of another night of torture at the hands of Scottish Junior Champion Colin Carmichael. I don’t know who framed Colin’s training plan but there were basically ‘hard’ nights and ‘easy’ nights – the trouble was, they all felt the same to Dave and I. . .
No, not Ed and Dave training, but Bernard Hinault on his way to Liege
Now, if you get your product pairings right you can venture out with three or even two upper body layers in the coldest, wettest of weather – on a bad night in Fife we’d be up to six or seven upper body garments. We could hardly move – however, the upside was that when you came down on the black ice you rarely hurt yourself.
String-back gloves for those summer days and racing
Gloves were a problem, there were no Assos three layer glove systems back then and I suffered agonies until I discovered Helly Hansen climbers’ mittens. I didn’t care if I looked like Mickey Mouse and that my hands were so hot that they steamed when you took the mitts off – I was COSY and never again had to roll about my bed in pain as the circulation came back to my hands 30 minutes after we’d finished our death ride.
Hats weren’t so bad; we soon learned to wear our continental training woolly hats with the peaks at the back not to the front – that was for English clubmen, our loyalties lay with Verbeeck and Co. And if it was really cold Old Frank did woolen balaclavas which would have done a destroyer gunner on the Murmansk convoys proud.
How to wear a hat
Get real, Dude!
So just like you’ll never hear Dave and I wax lyrical about Benelux gears, Regina chains and Lyotard pedals; likewise Crodonis, Lutz bottoms and Polartex inserts.
Sun glasses – Not till the 80s
# As in the equipment article, many of the photos were found on Ebay, so the retro guys want this stuff. Thanks to all the photographers. #
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,500 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.