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HomeNuggetsThe VV View: Half a Century - How Did That Happen?

The VV View: Half a Century – How Did That Happen?


Recently someone posted some Scottish race results from 1973 on social media; and there I was in some 25 mile time trial on the Kippen Flats course at Stirling. Then it struck me, 1973 – 50 years ago, that’s half a century. 

How did that happen?

I thought it might be good to look at what those 50 years have meant to our sport, let’s start with what a rider wears, we’ll deal with the bicycles in a piece yet to come:   

* * *


Always black leather, no logos, it was later in the 70’s before we got Colnago shamrocks but we did have Adidas stripes – and it was much later before we got the orange, pink, yellow jobs we do now.


Shoe plates – ‘cleats’ our North American friends call them were nailed on, they fitted into the rear pedal plate in those days of toe clips and straps – it was the 80’s before clipless came along. 

Amateurs like me often got the positioning wrong and ended up with soles which looked like they’d been hit with a shotgun after we’d re-nailed the cleats three or four times.

And if it rained look forward to stuffing then with newspaper a time or two to dry them out. 

* * *


Always white – unless you were a Russian, they favoured black – and the correct length was just above the ankle joint – now, they’re rarely white and some of the colour combinations are horrible. 


And we know that some materials are more aero than skin so the UCI have to measure them to prevent them reaching the knee in order to save those precious watts.

* * *


Lycra was a few years away so wool was the material of choice and the chamois was actually that, the skin of some poor goat.


Busy mums had no time to dry your shorts slowly so they handed you back shorts after washing with a chamois which resembled a poppadum from an Indian restaurant.

You had to sit for an age massaging baby’s nappy cream into the thing to get it soft enough to sit on.

Bib shorts were still to come so if you didn’t wear braces (suspenders I think they’re called across the Atlantic) and it rained there was a real risk of your shorts falling down when you got out of the saddle.

* * *

Under vests

Call me a ‘dinosaur’ but I still wear my cotton ‘Belgian’ undervests from back then, bought in Dossche Sport in Gent – they still do a job.


But in these technological days you can even get undervests which will enhance the aerodynamic qualities of your speedsuit.

Skinsuits only came along in the late 70’s, before that if you were looking for the ‘edge,’ in a chrono then silk shorts and jersey was the way to go.

* * *


‘Maillots’ as they call them in France; even the early 70’s stars had jerseys which flapped in the breeze and we’d only dispensed with those horrible chest pockets in the late 60’s.


Materials weren’t nearly as sophisticated as they are now and if it rained you could literally wring your jersey out at the finish, there was so much water in it. 

Talking of the late 60’s, some of the French teams were so conscious of saving a few Francs that the team jerseys had no zippers, unlike today’s full zipper jerseys.

But whilst the materials and cut have progressed over the decades the designs have not, when one looks back at the likes of Peugeot, Ti Raleigh and Bianchi jersey there are very few current maillots which match their classic purity of colour and format (we like to think our VeloVeritas maillots are smart though!).

* * *

Crash hats

Belgium was the only country where crash hats were mandatory, the old ‘hair nets’ which stopped your fractured skull getting cuts and abrasions.

The coolest were the Danish ‘Banani’ lids, set at the correct jaunty angle.


The Bell ‘hard shell’ helmets first surfaced in the USA and had us shaking our heads – ‘they’ll never catch on’

* * *


‘Casquettes’ the French call them, in the UK we called them ‘Oppy Caps’ after the legendary Australian cyclist, Sir Hubert Opperman who was a devotee.

Nowadays they really only get worn on the way to the sign-on or under a helmet but back in the 70’s everyone wore them.


Aussie ‘podcaster’ Mitch Docker has made a science of ‘talking luft’ – that’s the amount of air you have between the top of your head and inside of your cap.

You NEVER pull them down tight – Miguel Indurain is the undisputed ‘casquette King’, albeit the rumour mill alleges that those with the best ‘luft’ back then used to spray their casquettes with hairspray to maintain the ‘luft.’

* * *


Back then it was elegant crochet backs with contrasting stripes or some of the stars, like Eddy Merckx would have perforated all-chamois mitts with their names printed on.


But once it was discovered that certain fabrics are more aero than skin we’ve seen mitts creep depressingly further up rider’s wrists.

* * *


Back then only those who needed glasses – like super cool Jan Janssen – or in certain conditions, snow for instance you would see Eddy Merckx in shades.


Greg Lemond and Phil Anderson revolutionised things in the 80’s with their Oakleys and now it’s unusual to see a bare-faced rider.

There’s also the worrying trend toward ever bigger lenses, veering towards images from 60’s science fiction comics.

* * *


Some of the leg warmers from back then were actually good, I still have my Jacques Esclassan jobs, from that era.

But many of the ‘bottoms’ suffered from the same malaise as the shorts, they soaked up water like a sponge and weighed a ton – braces were a must if you didn’t want them to head south.

* * *

Track tops

As with maillots, technological fabrics have made us all so much cosier but when one looks back at a Merckx or Gimondi in their Molteni and Bianchi track tops their simple elegance is in marked contrast to some of the horrors of the fades/blends/splashes of today.