Kit Critic: How Black styling is transforming cycling

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Kit Critic is a chronicle on the cycling style of Aliya Barnwell, the founder of Turn up the notes. You can follow her on Instagram at Addiction kit.

Imagine a cyclist going up a hill so steep that he has to stand up. They dance around the lace of a snow-dusted collar, later descending gracefully, knees slightly pointed in the corner. At the bottom of the descent, the distinguished cyclist sits at the outdoor table of a small cafe, bike slammed into their line of sight, aero kit, white helmet and shoes, legs crossed, and coffee in hand.

This is the language of many idealized cycling advertisements. Now, what color was that cyclist in your mind? Even in America, the ideal is based on the sport’s European origins. It’s only in recent years that the rider has been portrayed in the cycling imagination as dark-skinned: we’ve only just moved slightly past the days when black and brown riders were seen as a novelty in cycling advertising.

Today, cycling echoes the music industry; realize the value of different perspectives, voices and styles. The Williams brothers and the Black Foxes are examples of black people positively influencing the style of cycling. They present a joy of living with bluster.

The same swagger came to music with jazz, fashion with flappers, and basketball with Wilt Chamberlain (and Bill Russel and Charles Cooper). The black American influence in music and food is also undeniable; I’m not the first to do these statements. Now that same influence is finally, finally, coming to cycling.

When a group of black progressives are sought-after role models for the alternative road, and a black man is a pioneer in road cycling, but big organizations are still slow to heed his words, the commodification of black style has reached its peak. The final step is for the sport’s governing bodies to consider and support the grassroots changes that black people are making for the betterment of cycling.

black foxes are an international group of cyclists led by Ayesha McGowan. I was amused when bike magazine hailed Justin Williams as “the most important racing cyclist in the world”, while Ayesha formed an all-women-of-color race team in addition to the Black Foxes, hosted Thee Abundance Summit (a virtual event about diversity in cycling), and was racing in Europe on a pro contract at the time. To be fair, it is very important for the reasons described in the article, but I would argue that it is just as important. Nothing is more elegant than encouraging positive change.

Ayesha races for Liv Racing and founded The Black Foxes. (Photo: Courtesy of Black Foxes)

His style on the bike makes sense. Here’s his defense of insulating hand warmers that look like bicycle elephant ears called pogies or bar mitts: “Bar mitts are lifesavers for cold weather training. They look absolutely goofy, especially when they don’t this cold, but they greatly improve my quality of life for winter training.

In recent years, McGowan was among the loudest voices calling for black and brown representation in cycling. She was already a mainstay of the DEI movement when the pandemic gave the American conscience time to react to the power imbalances of our social structures. She was talking about black issues before the latest civil rights headlines and the series of marches. She set herself the goal of becoming the first African American professional woman in the WorldTour, and she achieved that goal by joining Liv Racing in 2021. In doing so, she also set new precedents for professional cycling, proving that space can be created in sport. When we want we can.

Raequan Wilson and Martin Ho of the Black Foxes. (Photo: Courtesy of Black Foxes)

The Black Foxes have been organized to support and encourage riders of all shades and styles of cycling, and to encourage companies in the industry to do the same. From a publicity standpoint, the Black Foxes are flannel, gravel, and alternate road like the Williams brothers are to Rapha, critical racing, and gold chains with Lycra.

Ayesha rides for Liv in their purple floral (which is the next level for a pro kit), but the other members are ambassadors for different brands like Velocio and have their own sense of style. Some of their riders are more traditional like Martin Ho, others mix and match a collection of kits to rival mine, like Shequaya Baileywhile others prefer MTB bags, like Shanika Nicole. The fact is that it is their values ​​and their pride in being themselves in the face of an indifferent and sometimes hostile majority that is the unifying style here: trust. Confidence never goes out of style.

The Williams brothers can seem more than confident — call it cocky if you will. But if they are, it’s for a good reason. They have been running since they were children. And yes, the success of Legion is of course due to the hard work of a multicultural group of riders and staff, but the stars of American cycling style on the team are Justin and Corey Williams. Their high charisma is a big part of what people love about them; they have the personality of the stars.

Justin and Cory Williams. (Photo: Kit Karzen)

The Williams brothers have athleticism and charisma which are the two main ingredients of sporty style. They are mostly traditional when it comes to their road gear, wearing the holy trinity (white helmet, white socks, white shoes) and sticking to the rules regarding sock length. But they’re modern and North American in many ways: in his Riding Up Mountains with Pros interview, Justin said knee pads are terrible. The Williams brothers add style, whether it’s jewelry or their personality.

The same way wider pop culture got door knocker earrings from Salt n’ Peppa and Sha Rock, road cycling will get chains with Lycra from the Williams brothers (and hopefully shoes). white on white with white double boas). The Williams are popularizing styles that will be commonplace in a few years; we are watching this happen. Rapha’s Legion jerseys are selling out regularly.

More important than chains and knee pads were Justin Williams’ suggestions for changing the marketing and direction of pro cycling, starting with jerseys. I could swear I covered this in another post: he suggested that pro jersey designs feature the rider’s number in large print in the middle of the back, so it’s easier to see. He also suggested the numbers stay with the rider, making it easier for fans to track their favorites throughout their careers (or at events like Into the Lion’s Den), meaning pro cycling jerseys would look like more to most other popular sports in the world that require numbers. Essentially, he suggested changing the style and design of American pro cycling jerseys to make it easier for fans to follow and develop relationships with individual riders and teams.

Maybe in the rosy future, the UCI or USA Cycling will issue all rider numbers like DMV licenses, and then teams can have them printed on whatever design they choose. The takeaway here is that black contributions to the spirit of cycling, like functional style and the courage to be yourself, are good for all cyclists. If you’re a gambler, find out how to bet on upcoming style changes.

Aliya Barnwell in California.

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