Man, You Look So Euro!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010


Perception vs. reality

You might have seen the Euro Cycling Rules on the internet. It’s amusing but like many internet successes, it has a grain of truth. We might mock the obsession with riding with tubs and obligatory white shoes but ultimately, who wouldn’t want to have shiny kit and the finest wheels money can buy?

I’ve ridden in several English-speaking countries and found the image of Euro-cycling was especially strong in Australia where, anecdotally, many riders fantasised about riding in Europe. Only to return from trips a little downbeat, although usually very satisfied with the whole thing.

The reason for the disappointment? They discovered that whilst the Alps, Tuscany or the Italian lakes can offer fine riding, the local riders themselves are not as elegant. Put simply, the Europeans just aren’t Euro.

  • Paris Syndrome: Every year a few Japanese tourists are hospitalised in Paris. Their condition seems to share common symptoms based around severe anxiety. It’s apparently brought on by a combination of jet lag and above all, disorientation. Fed on images of Paris from fashion shows, Louis Vuitton shops and films like Amélie, they arrive in the French capital… and discover it’s grey and cold, some people still don’t use deodorant and not every woman is a top model or Audrey Tatou in designer gear. It’s all too much for a few tourists, they have a breakdown.

Euro syndrome?
Cycling is still a poor man’s sport in Italy and France, your typical rider is a factory worker or a municipal employee. But this isn’t the case for many in London, New York or Sydney, where a significant proportion of riders are likely to be bankers, dentists or real estate agents. Of course many a factory or municipal worker will ride their bike in these cities too. But it’s quite common to see the finest bikes and acres of white lycra in the English-speaking world but less so in the actual homelands of cycling.

By contrast, riders in France and Italy just don’t seem to look the part. They ride and ride but just because they are rolling through San Remo or climbing the Ghisallo doesn’t mean they need a pair of Boras.

Café Racer
One other significant difference between perception and reality is the coffee stop. I’ve been riding in France and Italy and have never stopped for a coffee when with locals, although from time to time we’ve headed into a café to beg for some water or maybe to buy a coke. By contrast, it’s almost the purpose of a ride in Australia or America that you stop for an espresso. As if drinking Italian coffee is a substitute for riding in Italy.

Why not?
Don’t get me wrong. If you’re an office professional and live in a metropolitan area, then by all means spend your money on a great bike and enjoy riding with your buddies, and cap the ride off with a coffee. I’ve had some fine rides in Sydney like this.

All I’m saying is that the reality of cycling in Europe is usually some 50 year old on a alu frame with an old Veloce groupset and clothing that’s often deeply unfashionable and even faded from being used so many times. Most European cyclists would fail the Euro Cycling Rules instantly, the image of Pozzato copycats is a metropolitan construct that exists in London, Sydney and New York and not in Bergamo, Cannes or Girona.

TheInnerRing August 11, 2010 at 8:45 am

I deleted the original post by accident.

David Welton (http://www.blogger.com/profile/06273635069183854437 ) added this comment which I've salvaged:

Great post! The bit about the socioeconomic differences between your average Italian (I'll have to take your word for the French) rider and average "Anglo" rider is spot on. Most of the guys I rode with in the US had been to college and had a very different outlook on things than the local guys I ride with here in Padova. Of course, there are exceptions, there's one guy here who works as a lawyer and is blazing fast on the MTB, but… yeah, it's definitely a different set of people.

Mark August 11, 2010 at 9:29 am

Good post. Agree on most points.

However, the average Italian Gran Fondo rider still looks more euro-cool than an average British sportive rider, so maybe like for like they are still as or more euro-cool.

TheInnerRing August 11, 2010 at 9:35 am

Thanks Mark, maybe you ride near the front in an Italian gran fondo!

By contrast, I gather that a British "sportive" has little to do with a cyclosportive/gran fondo as oddly no racing is allowed! They sound like rides for beginners who have yet to try racing. Whereas the gran fondo scene has professional teams and elite riders who are more at ease on the bike.

Damien August 11, 2010 at 10:22 am

Nice post. On a recent trip to France your observation that local riders are kitted out in ancient team jerseys and unglamorous alu frames was definitely true. Although most of the local riders we saw were also well past middle aged.

I think that Euro image is important to most racers, regardless of nationality. These guys are more likely to model themselves on the pro peloton (new trends are very quickly spotted and adopted – for example the new fondness for longer length socks).

Sportives are a whole other ball game… the front may well be made up of racers, but behind will be a motley ensemble of weekend warriors, city types in head to toe Rapha, to guys very new to the sport riding bikes from Halfords.

Also, although some do indulge in macchiatos and espressos, over here tea and cake is definitely the order of the day. And it's true that the tea stop can practically be the entire point of the ride. It is for me.

Anonymous August 11, 2010 at 10:27 am

It is strange that Italy/France can be full of elderly men wearing 60/70s kit on old steel bikes and we turn up decked out in white Sidis and new Boras.
However, I've also seen Italian clubs with personalized gilets (so you know who is in front) and club kit in 2 colours one for men and one for women (same kit but one blue and one pink)

Rienk August 11, 2010 at 3:01 pm

I'd say: come and visit Holland and you will see that Europe is bigger than France and Italy only. Racebike sales doubled over the last few years and cyclists with shiny, expensive gear are pretty dominant on Dutch roads. Flat roads, that is. Perhaps a reason NOT to visit. :)

Anonymous August 12, 2010 at 1:51 am

Race bike sales in the Netherlands aside, the largest number of bikes I saw in a v recent trip there and Germany and France were the sit up commuter style, parked in the 1000s at train stations that weigh in at a touch over 40kg ridden by everyone incl the very stylish girls in skirts (luv 'em), and the "euro" racers were more often the tourists from USA and Aus.
But we should keep the legend alive….stay "pro"

Anonymous August 13, 2010 at 9:25 am

Euro = a term invented by middle aged men trying to legitamise owning a £4000 bike with full matching team kit but can barely ride up their own street without passing out. Usually obsessed by bikes, parts, kit but not really bothered about the riding part. See also consumerism. If you want to know which bottles you can or can't use, which socks to wear or which oil to rub on your legs, ask one of them.

Billy August 28, 2010 at 2:19 am

Greetings from Melbourne (possibly the strongest cycling culture (excluding commuting… thanks Copenhagen!) city in the universe), Australia.

in the time line of my cycling life (10-years) I would be described as a recently converted to PRO image, professional, middle-aged rider (Cat-5, club racer. Cat-1 is too much of a time/effort commitment). Almost all of my peers are PRO obsessed. Which I always poked fun at them, especially when I was one of the few turning up to race in a miss-matched kit and on a steel frame. Oh the joy of flogging dudes on bikes decked out with deep dish singles & carbon seats! Anyways, then I found the joy of PRO.

I won't bore you with the reasons for my conversion, but the point I wanted to make is more to do with the Cafe Racer element (ironically our local start/end point and that for hundereds of others thoughout the week is named 'Cafe Racer' – an institution in Melbn cycling culture. But I should point out the name is dervived from motorcycling, but that's another story).

My take on the 'Cafe Racer' element happening in the English speaking cycling World is this: Cycling and the cafe start/stop is the modern-day version of meeting your mates at the pub (a concept I believe that isn't as embraced by Euro culture?). Look at it, it's social, there's plenty of friendly rivalry, it's almost exclusively a men's domain & it's quality 'my time' away from the wife/kids/job.

If you don't believe me about Melbourne being the centre of the cycling Universe, check out blog of one of my local club members – cyclingtipsblog.com for an insight (I hope this is ok TIR?). Ask anybody that's been to Melbn about Beach Rd. 100km of coast road starting 2km from the city. Or the infamous Hell Ride – 100+ peloton tearing up the local roads on Sat morning. In the Euro off-season, our summer, you'll sometimes find some of the Aussie PRO-Tour riders (and their Euro mates) dishing it out.

Billy Buster

TheInnerRing August 28, 2010 at 9:06 am

Thanks Billy. I've done some rides with the Sydney guys and know what you mean. Plus, yes, the café racer is a motorbike thing and I had that in mind too.

The main thing is we all enjoy our bikes. Yes some people miles from Europe are more EURO than the Euros but hey, if you like it, more power to you.

Bensamz January 30, 2011 at 4:29 pm

As an amateur racer here in Colorado, I can tell you that I keep my kit sparkling, try and spin with an easy grace, and stop for espresso on long rides, not to emulate the blue-collar Euro riff-raff (for whom I have the utmost respect), but rather to emulate the Pro's, or at least the portrayal of pro's in magazines articles and photos. It's fun, and a fantasy, but I'm pretty sure if all I had was an Alu bike with 9 speed Veloce and a faded kit, I'd still ride.

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