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Road Gear

Kit Critic: Breaking the rules of cycling clothing

Thou shall do this; thou shall not do that... blah, blah, blah. Here's what I do with clothing, and why.

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Editor’s note: Kit Critic is a new biweekly column on cycling style by Aliya Barnwell, the founder of Ride Up Grades, a cycling instructor, and a longtime rider. Barnwell will also be doing clothing reviews here on You can follow her on Instagram at KitAddiction.

One of the earliest blogs to mock roadie elitism was the Velominati, Keepers of the Cog. They recorded The Rules. It was a tongue in cheek — but at times accurate — style guide to road cycling. At the risk of complaining about “kids these days,” fewer people have heard of the joke these days to be in on it.

And a joke it truly is: I, like most of us, have broken the vast majority of these rules. Many cyclists take great pleasure in ridiculing them, while secretly adhering to a fair number. I do a bit of the former, and here I will publicly admit which ones I follow, and which ones I ignore.

Rules #14 and 15 state shorts should be “black with the exception of side panels,” and that only black or original team shorts should be worn with leaders jerseys. It reads, and I quote: “Don’t overmatch your kit, or accept that you will look like a douche.”

That was the first kit rule I sought to break — not the looking like a douche part, the black shorts part. I don’t overmatch, I mix ‘n’ match with colorful shorts.

Limiting the design to the panels is old school. Colorful and patterned shorts are common among independent kit companies now; that rule is regularly flouted by even the staid big brands, like when Rapha dares produce navy bibs.

The other rule about shorts (and socks), #27, limits their length by a vague Goldilocks formula. My opinion: “Goldilocks” is not a unit of measurement, and bib leg length has evolved to reflect that. That said, different lengths each have their place, which I will get to another time.

As far as socks: road cyclists routinely break the sock rule to avoid tan lines, at the risk of being thought triathletes, and I myself am partial to a tall sock for my fall and spring cycling wardrobes. At least #28 is accepting: “socks can be any damn color you like.” Damn right.

I have long legs and I like tall socks. You do what you like.

Rules #16 and 17 are two hotly contested points, being “respect the jersey” (only wear a winner’s jersey if you won the race) and “team kit is for members of the team.” I agree with both.

Some make the argument that wearing pro kit is like supporting your favorite football team, but road cycling teams change design, name, and sponsorship frequently compared to the legacy of other sports franchises so the visual support seems misplaced on teams, as opposed to supporting individual riders. The Velominati’s reasoning is “wearing pro team kit is questionable if you’re not paid to wear it,” which is fair. As far as local team kit, if people wearing it are not on the team it’s just confusing.

Rule #53 is also brutally accurate, yet hones the tone of elitist consumers to a fine edge: “Keep your kit clean and new. As a courtesy to those around you…under no circumstances should the crackal region of your shorts be worn out or see-through.” If money is no object kit can be new, but money is by definition an object, so it is shallow to judge someone because of worn kit. But clean kit is a must, not just for everyone in your draft, but to ward off skin infections and chafing.

Then #18 veers back to outright snobbery: “Know what to wear, don’t suffer kit confusion.” Meaning baggies are for the mountain bike; skinsuits for the track bike, etc. I say wear whatever, be a competent rider, and come prepared even without pockets.

Rules #34 and 35 also differentiate roadies from mountain bikers: “Mountain bike shoes and pedals have their place: on a mountain bike,” and “No visors on the road.” Pedals are a personal choice, fit to the foot and the use. Two-bolt shoes allow for a recessed cleat and a more walkable shoe. I started on Shimano SPDs. Chrome used to make awesome SPD compatible sneakers that looked like Chucks, but once my pair died I switched to Keos (a road-specific pedal) and never looked back. The visor rule… well. I can’t understand visors that are not on a full-face helmet. If I want shade a cycling cap will do; it absorbs sweat.

“The Rules” do not specifically address rainbow unicorn socks. Do I look concerned?

Rule #21 is obvious: “Cold weather gear is for cold weather.” If we break this rule, we risk being a sweaty mess or stopping to shed our clothes in dramatic reenactment of Magic Mike.

I have ignored #22, which limits our use of caps to only when riding, but I don’t ignore it often. There are more subtle visual cues to “Ask me about bikes,” when in normal company. We owe it to ourselves to enjoy a variety of headwear, and since I spend so much time on the bike I look forward to times I can wear a knit hat.

Rules #36 and 37 limit eyewear to cycling-specific styles with the arms over the helmet straps, like the pros. Rumor has it arms were placed over because straps obscured the logos, and what are sponsors paying for if their logos are obscured? I place arms over because I hate the flapping sound helmet straps can make. But if I know I’ll take my helmet off frequently, I’ll wear the arms under the straps to avoid pulling my glasses off by accident.

At first glance, the last kit rule “close the gap,” looks like a Zwift command, but it’s about arm and leg warmers. Personal discomfort tells me there isn’t supposed to be a gap between the top of my arm or leg warmer and my sleeve or shorts. I loathe that gap, so the evolution of longer “pro” and “aero” sleeve variants is good for me, as are wider grippers on warmers and bibs.

I will say, the Rules gave me a helpful tip if temps rise: roll my arm warmers down to my wrists. Their pronouncement not to wear leg warmers without arm warmers seems arbitrary, but every time I wear leg warmers in a situation where it’s warm enough to take off arm warmers, I end up overheating. But this, like 99.9 percent of this list, is a personal choice. This is why The Rules get mocked so often. The only actual rules that apply to cycling that everyone should follow are about safe riding to keep the rubber side down. That is my take.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.