The idea of cool is shallow and arbitrary, and has no place in adult life — all that matters is what works, so who cares what you look like? So goes the common argument of iconoclasts and rebels everywhere, and Angela Merkel. Unfortunately, the answer is: humans. Humans care. Are you a human? Well, I wrote this for you!
You might argue that ‘cool’ died the second Top Gear did a Cool Wall curated by the three least-cool people ever to exist: Jeremy Clarkson, Jeremy Clarkson 2 and Richard ‘No No Claims’ Hammond. But you’d be wrong. Do an image search for ultra-hip designer John Galliano, for instance, and tell me coolness does not exist way, way beyond irony.
So these, if not the Deplorables of cycling, are The Irredeemables.
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1. Off-road unicycles
The skill, commitment and bravery of riding a unicycle on dirt trails is obvious. I can’t help but admire it. Yet at the same time, I find myself drawn to the inexorable conclusion that it just looks a bit silly.
The necessary lack of a freehub means forced bouts of comedy-fast pedalling; the constant crotch-grab makes riders look desperate for a wee; and all the arm-waving is less rodeo cowboy and more a traffic argument in Rome. It’s just all a bit… clownish. And clowns are not rad.
It’s no coincidence that unicycles are a gateway drug to ‘circus skills', which in serious cases can lead to juggling, plate spinning — an activity so pointless it’s a metaphor for it — and waistcoats. Even successful unicycle tricks just look like somebody landing bum-first on a pole. So I’m afraid it’s a no from me.
2. The Lycra and loose jersey look
Did you forget your trousers? None of these stunned witnesses will ever be sure.
Sure, that loose off-road jersey is doing an excellent job of keeping your beer gut totally secret, but in conjunction with the pallid Lycra legs peeking beneath that considerable overhang, you look like an open umbrella.
Combine it with waterproof SPD boots, fingerless gloves and bar-ends and I’ll have no choice but to burn down this forest and everything alive in it.
3. Water bottles
Look at what designers do with bottle holders, in comparison to bottles themselves. Holders can be unfeasibly cool: angular, minimalist sculptures in carbon fibre, titanium or exotic alloy. They’re the sort of thing you impulse buy when the bit of your hippocampus reserved for ray guns when you were ten accidentally fires back up.
Meanwhile, bottles remain the dundering, winter-sky coloured lumps of cheap 1970's plastic they’ve always been, giving off all the futuristic sex of a milk churn.
When will we see aero-smoothing drinks humps for road cycling, as you do in MotoGP? And when will the backpack deniers of mountain biking — truly the anti-vaxxers of our sport — finally accept that a heavy bottle loosely attached to a rattling frame is a bad idea?
Even if your electrolytically-balanced gin container doesn’t leap under your wheel at the worst possible moment, flicking you like a tiddlywink into the sort of flat spin that killed Goose in Top Gun, then drinking from its cowpat-slathered teat involves relinquishing a lot of control and — probably — several teeth as you fight to wrench open the valve. Spearing into a thorn bush with the rich tang of mad cow disease spreading across your lips is not cool, people. For off-road, they’re just a bad design.
Watch Le Tour and you can see even roadies don’t like ‘bidons’ stinking up the lines of their bikes. That’s why they’re always throwing them over the crowds, to where nobody can see. Though their wretched teams just keep bringing more. Probably sponsor pressure.
You know as well as I do that, in 2017, these are simple alternative facts.
4. Running red lights
You’re just annoying. Next.
5. Full-length mudguards
Like many uncool things, these are incredibly useful. High-end designs use materials like carbon fibre and titanium, yet you could make them out of graphene nanotubes, quantum tunnelling and the ghost of Steve Jobs and they’d still just look a bit naff.
Especially if you put a reflector on them anywhere. This is a shame as having a long brown line up your shorts/back is known as the ‘Fear Made Me Soil Myself Look’, which is not cool.
Confusingly, neither are mudguards, and for this I present two pieces of evidence:
Exhibit one: whenever I mention a new test bike to my septuagenarian father, the first and in all honesty only question he will ask is, ‘Does it have mudguards?’
Exhibit two: physics. In 1653, Isaac Newton wrote: It is a truth undeniable to man that if you divide X ('unmarried chorister’s haircuts') by Y ('Jeremy Clarkson’s jeans') and multiply it by Z ('tasselled moccasins'), the answer is O-n0 (‘bicycle mudguard with reflector’). Newton, a respected mathematician, cannot be argued with.
This is a shame because a reflector could save your life and mudguards work well, but death under a texting SUV driver is a small price to pay for fashion.
The answer to a question no-one asked? Yes.
7. Weird handlebars
Desperate for people to look at you, but can’t ride a unicycle? How about a set of bars with a backsweep like a darts score?
They’ll make your mountain bike look really, let’s say unique, and you can insist to anyone that asks — which will be everyone, as you damn well know — that they absolutely transform your riding in (haha!) a good way, while tutting at their sheep-like devotion to control.
8. Fingerless gloves
So… your palms are soft like babies’ bums and need protecting, but your fingers are so chunky they’re immune to cold? You can’t feel a brake lever through 0.5mm of fabric? You just like dressing like Ahhnold in Terminator and hope nobody associates it with teenage goths instead?
I don’t know which one is driving your particular id, but fingerless gloves take the thinking behind mullet hairdos (business up front, party in the back) and apply it to hands. Hands that should know better. Hands that should feature just two big stiff middle fingers of no.
9. Walking in road shoes
Clipless road shoes come in superb materials, fantastic colours and a clever range of dimensions I shall call ‘shoe sizes.’ They make you look very cool, sexually attractive and rapid.
Sadly, all that comes slithering and clacking to a halt once you get off and try to cross the pavement to pay for your coffee/cake/impending medical treatment, because now you just look like this poor Russian girl on ice in high heels. Actually, that’s not fair; she still looks better than all of us.
10. Hub gears