Defining Pro


“You have to know how to look good when you’re riding. To look good is already to go fast.”
– Paul Fournel

We all want to be pro to some degree. From your socks to your sunglasses, the beauty of road riding comes in many forms. Surely one of the big draws is how close we can get to experiencing the sport the way the professionals do, and demonstrating sartorial science in your choice of apparel.

Whether racing crits in Belgium or riding the very mountains conquered by Coppi and Pantani, we can feel the thrill of flying on two wheels just as the pros do. Granted, the podium girls and champagne might not flow as often as it does for the top-level riders but it’s true, at least theoretically, that you can ride fast using the same kit and components as the pros do. In doing so, you feel you belong to bike racing’s cognoscenti.

Of course, different people have different ideas of what defines ‘pro-ness’, particularly when it comes to what you wear on the bike.

So Rapha would like to ask you the question: What defines pro style?

“Cycling is a lot about aesthetics. It’s a beautiful, stylized sport.”
– David Millar

  • Shaving your legs is perhaps one of the best examples of doing as the pros do. And here are a few reasons why you should. Nice and Smooth
  • Socks might seem a mundane subject but it’s an area of much debate when it comes to modes de la route. Here are two articles on the subject, a matching pair if you will. White Socks / Black Socks
  • Length of shorts. Now, if you pay close attention, you’ll see some ride ‘em high and some opt for the long game. If you are a Colombian climber, tiny shorts are the very essence of pro. If you’re a Scottish time triallist, however, that’s a big no-no. The Wrong Shorts
  • Accessorizing. Whatever your level of vanity/ metrosexuality, road riders need accessories. Arm warmers, oversocks, embrocation, gold necklaces and so forth. What accessories you wear, and how you wear them, defines your level of pro-ness. Or not.

But, everyone has an opinion, whether they like it or not. And we really want you tell us what you think, defines pro. Comment back to us on Twitter and Facebook using pictures, ideally Instagram, for visual evidence of what defines pro.

Former pro and now Rapha writer Tom Southam gives us his professional opinion.

Pro like De Niro

A friend of mine told me that he once saw Robert De Niro walking down the street in L.A. and found it a genuinely profound experience. Not simply for the fact that De Niro reeked of Hollywood but because, or so they claimed, the heavenly aura that radiated from him was so strong he seemed to glow. From his Italian-American eyebrows down to his Sicilian-made loafers, De Niro was luminescent.

I felt the same way when I first saw a professional cyclist.

At the 1996 National Road Race Championships, I watched Jeremy Hunt racing for Banesto and it was like seeing something from another planet. It was the first time I experienced seeing a bike rider who oozed that De Niro aura. And for many years it defined exactly what I considered ‘looking pro’ to be.

I had no idea then what looking ‘pro’ was about; all I knew was Jeremy Hunt’s Banesto kit was immaculate and exotic. But it was more than that; to me, Jez Hunt was Robert De Niro -and he still is. I would spend the next ten years trying to work out how on earth I could look like that, how I could radiate ‘pro-ness’. Moreover, Jeremy Hunt was a British rider, demonstrating the Continental coolness that only came with the experience of racing abroad.

When I was a kid, looking the part was everything but my perceptions of what made a rider look pro changed with experience. Pro cycling kit is a uniform, and professional riders are required to think of it as such. When riding to the start area of Liège-Bastonge-Liège in what seems another lifetime ago, my team manager Claudio Corti stopped me, grabbed hold of my arm and said with genuine consternation, “Tom, what are you doing to me?”

I really had no idea but as it turned out I was wearing my arm warmers in such a fashion that our clothing sponsor’s name was covered up. When I stepped off the bus I thought I looked every inch the young pro in my backwards cap, ready to ride the oldest Classic in the world. But to Corti, for whom nothing was more important than exposure for his sponsors, I looked scandalous.

From that moment, I paid strict attention to my uniform. I realised being a professional wasn’t about choice, or thinking about what I wanted, it was about looking how somebody wanted me to look, all the time. And that’s where the balancing act began. As much as I towed the sponsor’s line, I was desperate to work even the tiniest grain of individuality into my appearance and I greatly admired those about me who did.

Don’t get me wrong, I still wanted the pride that came with people recognising that I was a paid, card-carrying athlete. I wanted the recognisable team jersey, the matching arm warmers and all the cool stuff your average punter couldn’t buy; there was nothing cooler than having all the kit but making those small adjustments to my uniform to let the world know it was me in there became hugely important. I also wanted to write on my kit in Tipp-Ex, like Bob Roll did, and I wanted to cut my skinsuit sleeves to a different length, or make my bib tights into shorts.

My concept of the pro aesthetic changed continually throughout my career; even now my ideas are still evolving. I have fundamental rules that I am always breaking, which is why I like to keep them to myself.

So what makes you look pro? Amateur racers often aspire to be branded, not just by a major corporation but on every single available space on their bodies; many professionals long for the day that they can wear whatever they damn well please.

To me, looking pro is the same as looking cool – it’s about exuding that aura. It is about getting as close as you can to what you aspire to be. When I was a kid this meant buying the pro team kit of my idols’ teams. Now that I’m older and on the other side of a pro career, it is about sticking to the values that I have defined as important after years of refining them.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter one bit what you wear, or how you wear it. There are so many variations, multiple do’s and don’ts. Looking pro, I think, is about attitude and more than anything, confidence. When Martin Scorsese cast De Niro as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, it was the attitude and confidence he brought to the character that the director wanted.

Getting that confidence is what matters. Perhaps you have won twenty pro races, perhaps you have bought all the kit of your favourite team, perhaps you have finally arrived at a sock height that you think accurately reflects your dedication to your metier.

The thing is, if you’ve dressed well and your bike is set up to make you the fastest rider you can be, there will be no room for doubt. No matter how you choose to dress, where your tan lines are and how long (or short) your shorts are, you will be looking pro. Unless of course you have more than 10mm of spacers stacked under your stem. In which case… forget about it.

You’ve read the ex-pro’s opinion, now we want to see yours. Comment back to us on Twitter and Facebook using pictures, ideally Instagram, for visual evidence of what defines pro.

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