the italians are legendary purveyors of style. perhaps something of a sweeping generalisation, but those of us besotted with italiana will cast aside any flies in the ointment and accept my opening statement as gospel. the italian campionissimo fausto coppi, expressed such flair on and off the bike that i feel we need not concern ourselves so closely with his perennial opponent, gino bartali who, though a gutsy adversary, could hardly be described as svelte.
there are other hints as to the sartorial flamboyance of a nation, a stylishness that carried through into many other aspects of italian life. ferrari, colnago, gios, vespa, lambretta and even the original fiat cinquecento, recently revived in slightly larger proportions. none of this is to idolise italy and place it on an unattainable platform, but of all the southern european nations, you'd be hard presed to find one through which an integrated sense of design and flair flows like water through the grand canyon.
this is perhaps something of an anomaly, for after 1945, italy was pretty much in tatters, with a decimated road system that made day to day travel well nigh impossible, let alone the prospect of cycle racing. in fact, the bicycle prospered because of this very state of affairs; the roads were in such a state of decrepitude, that the motor car, such as it was in the mid 1940s had a great deal of difficulty traversing what was left of the tarmac. bicycles pretty much saved the day, accounting for its lasting favour even in these modern times of the serie a soccer league and formula one motor racing.
with a year-round climate that attracts many a visiting cyclist, it's not too much of a stretch to consider that this may be the very factor that has fostered such a healthy sense of style. consider the weather that features in more northerly european climes. granted, spain and southern france can be particularly temperate at times, but northern france, belgium and conceivably the netherlands are altogether different. though italy had need of rebuilding a national road network in the 1940s, i doubt it even crossed their minds to do so with cobbles rather than the strade bianche and tougher, more durable substances.
when the average member of the pelotonese thinks of races such as paris-roubaix, ronde van vlaanderen, the scheldeprijs and their brethren, uppermost in their minds will usually be those cobbles. for in the colder, windier and wetter climate that pervades this part of europe, the soft, strade bianche would likely fare less than well. the inherent style in such climes revolves mostly around survival; life can be brutal, influencing northern design in a more pragmatic and, if you'll excuse the tautology, brutal fashion.
however, such endemic features can produce pure gold. cyclocross is a way of life in belgium and holland, with its attendant strong beers and lagers in place of a cheeky little chianti, and paper cones of frites make the british chip seem slovenly by comparison. not forgetting the spring classics. there is comparable joie de vivre that can be shared with those of us on scotland's west coast. our wind and rain may often be a tad fiercer, but released from the violence of the atlantic ocean rather than the north sea, we find ourselves drenched with arguably milder precipitation than our north european counterparts. i have more often than once stated that i consider hebrideans to be the flandrians of the west, equally at home in thermal overshoes, bib threequarters, long-sleeve jerseys and breathable waterproof jackets.
and that's in the summer months.
but when mid autumn brings those atlantic gales, foretelling of more to come when winter strikes, when headwinds become habit and unremarkable, and when badass is a way of life, that's when i'm glad that rapha sell deep winter caps with ear flaps.
rapha's deep winter hat features an internal layer of merino, in one-size-fits-all, either pink or black ear warmer at a cost of £60.
tuesday 7 october 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................