How to look good on the bike: nine style tips from Brian Holm

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To the everyday Joe (or Joanna) with no interest in cycling, we cyclists can be an odd-looking bunch. The lycra, the bright colours and the funny-looking helmets all make us a perfect target for jibes about our style.

But if you’re one of us then it all changes. That funny-looking helmet becomes a desired item. The lycra — be it a classic-looking and minimalistic kit, or one in brighter fluorescent colours — says something about who we are or who we admire in the world of cycling.

Once you embrace the sport and all the little intricacies that go with it, the finer details of style on the bike become a hotbed of discussion. Coffee shops, cafe stops and bike workshops become safe havens where shaved-legged individuals can argue about appropriate sock height, cap etiquette and whether you should be allowed to wear coloured shorts.

There are a few individuals in the sport who you may turn to for ‘the answers’; people you can rely on when it comes to style on the bike. They’ve been there, raced the biggest events, made it look cool in the process and are willing to hand down that knowledge. One such man is Etixx-Quick-Step director sportif and aficionado of all things cool in the world of cycling: Mr Brian Holm.

Brian Holm looking good back in the day
Brian Holm looking good back in the day

If you follow Brian on his Twitter or Instagram feed you’ll be aware that he’s one switched-on guy when it comes to looking good.

Listen to the audio to get a better feel for the sense of humor at play if any of this offends you…

We grabbed a few moments of Brian’s time at the Tour de France to get the definitive answers to the questions that really matter in cycling. What follows are Brian’s rules. Take note and you’ll be looking good on the next club run in no time.

Rule #1: Don’t wear a cap under your helmet

“Someone who could wear [a cap under their helmet] in the past was Gianni Bugno. But there’s not many Gianni Bugnos left in peloton now. It looks silly — why would you do it?

Cor Vos Archives

“The cap was done in the past because you needed it for the sun. Now you’ve got sunglasses. So now, please don’t do it. If you’re wearing a cap it needs to be without a helmet. But please no cap and helmet, just don’t do it.

“If you have to wear a helmet always wear the stems of the glasses over the straps of the helmet. Never under.”

| Related article: How to wear a cycling cap

Rule #2: Leg warmers go over your socks and under your shorts

“If you wear leg warmers always have your socks under the leg warmers, not over the top. You can only put you your leg warmers over the top of your shorts if you’re a track rider, but you need special qualities to do it.

“You need to be a good track rider, that’ll be fine. But if you’re from a small French team you just look silly.”

Only the best of the best, six day track riders and  cyclocross riders can get away with leg warmers over shorts. In this case a Continental French squad Equipe Auber 93 are in the words of mr Holm "looking silly".
Only the best of the best six-day track and cyclocross riders can get away with leg warmers over shorts. In this case the riders of French Continental squad Equipe Auber 93 are, in the words of Mr Holm, “looking silly”.

Rule #3: Baselayers shouldn’t stick out under the sleeves of your jersey

“Somebody who could wear a baselayer was Sean Yates. As far as I can remember he rode with the same baselayer for 15 years, a blue one.

“He was with the Fagor team and once he couldn’t find it. Every day he’d wash it himself. Anyway, the mechanics had used it — they had found it and thought it was an old towel. They’d cleaned the bikes with it.

“Sean was screaming. Probably because it brought him a little bit of luck. I’ll never forget that. Some riders are quite superstitious.

“As a rule though it doesn’t look good when a baselayer comes out under the sleeves of the jersey.”

Rule #4: Bib shorts need to be black and not too short

“Shorts just have to be black. If you’re a cyclist, wear black shorts. End of discussion. It’s as simple as that.

“Sean (Yates) had short shorts, they were always quite short. They were hot pants. And his handlebars were going in the wrong direction.

Yates rode with 7-Eleven in 1989-90 after two years with Fagor.
Yates rode with 7-Eleven in 1989-90 after two years with Fagor. He could have done with longer shorts.

“Most of the guys had them like track riders but his were going in totally the opposite direction. But you know he was doing everything opposite. But he did it with a certain style.”

Ride #5: No ponytails, unless you’re Laurent Fignon

“Another guy with a certain style was (Laurent) Fignon. I like Fignon and his ponytail. No one could wear a ponytail. It looks silly; you’d look like a bloody idiot. But Fignon he could do it. He could pull anything off. I love Fignon.

Ponytail, spectacles, but good enough to get away with it.
Ponytail, spectacles, but good enough to get away with it.

“Those sort of riders like Fignon and Yates there’s not too many of them anymore; everybody looks the same now.

“Wiggo [Bradley Wiggins] he did it; he has the style. Coming in with an Oasis haircut and winning the Tour de France? You’ve got to say ‘chapeau’. That’s something special. Sideburns like that most of us can only dream about and he won a Tour with sideburns like that. Chapeau.”

Rule #6: Socks should be long-ish and in any colour except grey

“Everyone is wearing long socks now. Long socks started with Lance [Armstrong]. He deserves some of the abuse he gets but he did some good also. He came with the long bib shorts and long socks.

“You know in the 90s only the silly Americans would use them. Now everyone uses them. Only the Belgians, Tony Martin and Bert Grabsch use the old-fashion short socks. Or as we call them, the sawn-off East German socks.

Despite changing trends, Bert Grabsch was fond of shorter socks.
Despite changing trends, Bert Grabsch was fond of shorter socks.

“Brad [Wiggins’ socks are] almost on the limit. I mean Brad please think about it twice. I mean it’s not that they are just on the limit, but because when they are too long they look like compression socks and god forbid — nobody wants to look like a triathlete do they? No!

“Please try to look like a cyclist; not necessarily a pro cyclist just try to look like a cyclist.

“Nowadays everyone wants to be individual — you’ve got pink socks, you’ve got fluro socks. If you look at DeFeet they have loads of different patterns; we better get use to it. It does look better if you have long legs and brown legs.

“Black socks, well you can discuss that, but you know the one thing you should never do regarding socks is never ever, ever use grey socks. I mean grey because they used to be white then you washed them with your team kit; you have them back and they’re grey. There’s only one thing you can do with them: you f***ing burn them. Burn them, burn them, burn them.

Grey socks, a reason to get sacked? Discuss.
Grey socks, a reason to get sacked? Discuss.

“The last guy I saw with grey socks was Levi Leipheimer. I was riding behind Levi in the last time trial in the 2012 Tour de France that Wiggins won. I think the TT was about 40km, it was quite long. I was in the car behind for 40km.

“I’m sure he remembers the situation — I was angry. I said to him before the race, I said: ‘Levi you’re gonna swap them socks; you can’t ride in those socks.’ And he didn’t do it. Well, you know the history and what happened — he lost his job. There was a lot of rumours why he had to leave the team, but the true story was down to wearing grey socks.

“There’s a fine line, he did a lot of stuff in the past but sooner or later you have to say stop.”

| Related article: Pro secrets quirks and superstitions

Rule #7: Avoid sleeveless cycling jerseys at all costs

“Not even Cipollini got away with the singlet sleeveless jersey. Triathletes with their singlets, with their long socks and just the bicycles!

“I mean they’ve got nothing to do with the UCI but otherwise, probably the UCI would ban them. Just give all triathletes a two-year suspension, just because they look f***ing stupid.”

If Mario Cipollini couldn't get away with it, neither can you. Sleeveless jerseys are a serious no, no.
If Mario Cipollini couldn’t get away with it, neither can you. Sleeveless jerseys are a serious no-no.

Rule #8: If you’re going to get a tattoo, better make sure you’re a strong rider

“Sylvain Chavanel has tattoos. Never ever, ever, ever say a bad word about Chavanel. He’s my favourite rider, number one. I adore him, he’s the coolest guy, he’s the most happy guy and he’s always attacking.

“He’s just a good kid so he wouldn’t be the same without them tattoos. He’s got the brown legs, he can wear a tattoo like that.

An appropriate tan is a must if you're going to get a leg tattoo.
An appropriate tan is a must if you’re going to get a leg tattoo.

“Wiggins, he came with a full sleeve tattoo. In my day if you had one little tattoo under your baselayer you’d lose your job straight away.”

Rule #9: Don’t look like a triathlete

“If you don’t know what to do just remember you don’t want to look like somebody who’s going to ride a triathlon. Just keep it in mind; a racing bike needs to look like a racing bike.

“A real racing bike you normally put on white handlebar tape. In the winter or on a training bike you go black. You go with white tape as it gives you a bit more morale; makes [the bike] look lighter.

Francesco Moser, white bar tape, cap, looking cool. Check.
Francesco Moser. White bar tape? Check. Cap? Check. Looking cool? Check.

“Bjane (Riis) always says to use white. Did you ever see Francesco Moser, Roger de Vlaeminck, Eddy Merckx? They’d never go with black handlebar tape.”

What’s your take? Do you agree or are you brave enough to disagree with Mr Holm? Just remembered he’s the man that manages to keep Mark Cavendish in order …


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