There are a number of sartorial dilemmas that can cause the style-conscious cyclist a good deal of head-scratching. Issues such as short length and sock colour are amongst the most hotly contested. Then there are philosophical conundrums, such as the Armwarmer-Tights Paradox. (You are wearing armwarmers and full length tights. You get hot. You can only remove your armwarmers if you are wearing shorts, but you are not wearing shorts, so your removable armwarmers are no longer removable, but instead have become temporarily fixed to your jersey sleeves by incontestable sartorial logic.
Just as with the bicycle itself, less is usually more, though there are various adornments that can add a bit of style – a well-chosen cap, or a pair of sparkling white oversocks. Accoutrements beyond this point (especially eccentric flourishes like silk ‘kerchiefs, or garbadine capes) are best left to the urban dandy.
The question of eyewear is one that poses a number of questions. As we all should know, the foremost and vital function of a pair of sunglasses is looking good. As far as cycling is concerned, their secondary purpose is to help one see where one is going. Regarding the latter, it is useful if the eyewear in question is capable of blocking out a healthy proportion of the sun’s rays, though not so much that, on entering a wooded area, you are rendered temporarily blind. As far as the former is concerned, rather like a cheap pair of shoes with a decent suit, glasses that look shit will drag down the overall aesthetic of even the very best turned out rider, so if you don’t make the effort you may as well give up with the rest of the outfit.
Of course, if like Alan Sugar you look like a hairy little troll with no discernible vestige of elegance, sartorial or otherwise, it doesn’t really matter what you use to keep the sun out of your eyes.
In the good old days, chaps such as Ottavio Bottecchia (below) sported natty little goggles – these kept both sunlight and dust at bay, often causing an amusing panda-eye effect by the end of the race that apparently went down very well with the ladies.
In the post-war period, Fausto Coppi apparently favoured Persol sunglasses (modelled below by Coppi’s legendary domestique Chris Brown, as well as team car driver Steve McQueen – top). Persol eyewear seems to be currently making a comeback, and I will revisit it later on.
The golden era of cycling eyewear ran from the late 80s through to the late 90s, and was characterised by the crazy, space-aged lunacy of Oakley and Briko. Oakley were originally a little Californian company run by a madman (as so many are) on a mission to flog amazing, freaky alien invasion type glasses. Modelling original Oakley Eyeshades below are Andy Hampsten and Adrian Timmis.
Then there was the M-frame (modelled here by Sean Yates), slightly less crazy, and still in production today.
The apogee of the crazy-tech coolness curve of Oakley’s product development was the Sub Zero (below). One of my schoolmates had a pair of these. They looked very cool, until he put them on. Then he just looked like a cock. Herein lies the problem of spaceman glasses. Unless you have the visual personality of an MDMA-soaked rocket scientist (i.e. you’re Mario Cipollini), they are quite hard to pull off.
Oakley seemed to tone things down a bit after the Sub Zero, but during that retreat they did fire a Parthian shot in the form of the Overthetop. These ludicrous specs were absolutely fucking crazy, but this incontrovertible fact didn’t stop a number of celebrity sportsmen from fielding a pair, most notably (in cycling) David Millar in the 2001 Vuelta prologue. Civilians would never be able to pull off such a look, but Mr Millar at least proves that the professionals are able to push the boundaries a little further and (vaguely) get away with it – in this case, aided by the aero helmet. Still, I would heartily suggest that you don’t try them on the Sunday cafe run.
These days, Oakley are a huge company, with a massive range of glasses as well as a load of other stuff too. I bought some Jawbones last year – they do seem to work very well, and the hinged frame that allows lens swapping is nicely designed. Unfortunately, it is still hard to not look like a bit of a cock when wearing Oakleys. I think one has to approach their use with a fair degree of forward thinking. If you are riding long hard miles, in the sun, with lots of bugs in the air, or you’re riding in a forest when you might get crap in your eyes, wear the Oakleys. If you are wearing your fancy kit, riding your fancy bike, and are hoping to catch the eye of that millionaire widow in the droptop Mercedes, perhaps some other eyewear might be more appropriate. The exception to this Rule of Oakley is the Frogksin.
Backtracking a bit, the other eyewear company worthy of serious adulation is Briko. Briko was the choice of the badass Euros back in the 90s. Mario wore Briko, which gives me another excuse to publish the photos below.
Marco wore Brikos too. If Marco and Mario both did something, it is probably worth doing. Coke and hookers, for example…
Briko glasses were ace. Zen, Shot, Stinger – I’ve had them all. But again, whilst I thought I looked pretty cool wearing them, it’s fairly safe to say that the majority of people outside the cycling fraternity probably assumed that I was a cock.
So, what glasses should you wear if you don’t want to look like a cock. First up, the Oakley Frogskin, as previously mentioned.
Next, the Steve McQueen Persol.
Lastly, may I suggest the Oliver Peoples Altman.
(I completely failed to find any examples of mid 20th century cycling eyewear that was in any way interesting, unusual or downright horrid. If anyone has any suggestions then let me know!)