PEZ Bookshelf: The Cycling Jersey—Craftsmanship, Speed and Style
Oliver Knight opens his book with the question of what is the continuing allure of the cycling jersey?
“The defining answer seems to be down to them standing as a testament for the riders’ achievements, heroics, trials and tribulations. All of this is encapsulated in the jersey. While the riders may age the jersey remains a timeless physical reminder.” And in the pages of “The Cycling Jersey” we are treated to more than this, an examination of this single piece of apparel from every angle imaginable.
A professional photographer based in Paris, Mr. Knight came upon some wool jerseys during a photoshoot and was intrigued enough to start his own collection. He eventually hit upon the idea of photographing the colourful clothing for a poster and set up an Instagram account in 2014 to promote the concept. This led him to the global community of cycling jersey enthusiasts, allowing him to reach out to other collectors and exchange research and insights. This was the seed that led to the creation of this book.
A publisher approached Mr. Knight with the idea of doing a book and he produced material for it, only to have the publisher back away as the imprint was downsizing and was only considering a less elaborate book. Taking matters into his own hands, he launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2016 that was very successful and Three Back Pockets was launched as a publisher. There was great interest in the community and upscale cycling clothier Rapha assisted in promoting the book with events in London, Paris, New York, Berlin, Amsterdam and Warsaw. The Milan event must have been particularly memorable, with the presence of Antonio Colombo (Columbus Tubing and Cinelli) and the Molteni family with one of Eddy Merckx’s bikes.
“The Cycling Jersey” begins with a survey of some of the most notable team jerseys, whether through racing success or interesting design. Jerseys go through an evolution in appearance as sponsors change, along with materials used. While the author clearly loves wool jerseys, for their quality and appearance, the book features jerseys from the 1960s to the present day. Team jerseys are covered along with national champions, World Champions, and the special jerseys used in the Grand Tours. William Fotheringham has contributed an interesting chapter on the Tour de France’s Maillot Jaune, the iconic Yellow Jersey that may be the most recognizable piece of cycling kit there is. All of the favourites are here, from Peugeot to Raleigh to Mapei to Banesto to Sky. Not all are beautiful, of course. The technology of sublimation introduced to synthetic jerseys in the 1990s allowed for the use of a lot more colour, which was not always a good idea. Overdone examples include the jerseys from Polti (which is about to reenter the cycling world as a sponsor) and Castorama’s weird apron look.
The next chapter, “The Creators,” is particularly informative as it covers the actual manufacturing of the jerseys over time. Starting as tailored wool creations, the jersey was transformed over time and the process for making a modern jersey is here with production explained. Designers from Rapha and Castelli get their own sections for a look behind the scenes, and there is even an essay by Josh Sims on the wider appeal of cycling kit as a fashion item for off the bike. From the historical survey and the use of jerseys as a promotional items for teams and sponsors, the book moves into the latest thrust of jerseys as a technologically focused tool for racing. Aerodynamics are important today and ex-pro racer David Millar writes of the 2007 gamechanger in cycling apparel: the Castelli skinsuit.
From this modern approach, we are taken back in time again as there is a section that deals with specific riders and the jerseys that were so strongly identified with them. Think of Roger de Vlaeminck and the Brooklyn Chewing Gum stars-and-stripes jersey, or Fausto Coppi’s sky blue Bianchi one, Merckx’s various Molteni jerseys, or the Mondriaan-styled La Vie Claire kit worn by Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond. The riders were with these teams when they achieved their greatest successes and the image is so strong it remains powerfully in memory. For example, one cannot imagine Tom Simpson in anything other than that classic Peugeot jersey although he rode for other professional teams for four years before coming to Peugeot in 1963.
The final chapter in “The Cycling Jersey” is about collecting. Through his Instagram account, the author came to know jersey collectors around the world and had the opportunity to meet with some of them and photograph their collections. The scope and scale of some of these are mind-boggling—one younger Belgian collector has assembled more than 400 jerseys!–but are arrived at in different ways. In one case there is a family bicycle shop that has gone through generations, while another has focused on Paris-Roubaix memorabilia. But what looks like the ultimate collection has been assembled over thirty years by a Belgian who was a promising junior racer but decided not to pursue a professional career. Fascinating stuff, to be worshipped like the holy relics of medieval saints, that will fan the flames of envy in most cycling enthusiasts.
One’s experience with self-published books has not always been encouraging and on first learning that “The Cycling Jersey” was financed by a crowdfunding project, we had some doubts. These were completely dispelled by the arrival of this beautiful book. A professional photographer is comfortable handling images and the photography on display here is simply superb. The book has the quality of a high-end coffee table book but is so full of excellent writing and pictures that it is hard to set down, whether simply browsing through it or focused on gaining the most from the information so passionately shared. For those looking for a brilliant gift for a cyclist, or someone interested in fashion and sports, or someone who just likes beautiful books, “The Cycling Jersey—Craftsmanship, Speed and Style” checks every box.
“The Cycling Jersey—Craftsmanship, Speed and Style” by Oliver Knight
with contributions by William Fotheringham, David Millar and Josh Sims
198 pp., illustrated profusely, hardbound
Three Back Pockets, Paris, 2017
Available from the publisher at: threebackpockets.com
Price: £37.99 GBP, $46.00 USD, C$64.00 CAN plus s&h
(“The Cycling Jersey” and its follow-on book, “Pro Cycling Style,” are available at a 10% reduced price when bought together for ₤66.59. A review of “Pro Cycling Style” will appear shortly here on Pezcyclingnews).