Numbers, names, and superstars: Rethinking pro cycling kit

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The basic structure of pro cycling kit has remained largely unchanged since teams first began plastering jerseys and shorts with logos. Maybe it’s time for a rethink.

In a recent episode of the CyclingTips Podcast, we sat down with the founder of L39ION of Los Angeles, Justin Williams, and posed a question: If you ran cycling, someone handed you the keys to the sport, what would you do first?

Williams’ response went straight to rider identification and fandom. He pointed at kit design, custom helmets, and the inability of a new cycling fan to pick out their favorite riders in a packed peloton.

He had a few specific recommendations:

    1. Teams need to pick colors, and they keep those colors.
    2. Riders need to have names on jerseys. “So I know who the hell I’m looking at when I’m watching races,” Williams said.
    3. Add numbers to jerseys and bikes, and in certain cases tie that number to WorldTour ranking. MotoGP, for example, reserves the #1 for whoever is leading.
    4. Allow and encourage custom helmets, so that riders from the same team are easily identified in something like a leadout train.

“Cycling needs to create superstars,” Williams said. “Those would be the first thing I’d do. Numbers, names.”

This is the point at which our listeners stepped in. Adrian Ridley, a graphic designer in Bristol, decided to create a mockup of what Alberto Bettiol’s EF Pro Cycling kit might look like under the guiding hand of Justin Williams as UCI President.

He put a number and a name to the back, a small number on the front, and then added a few tweaks of his own. Bettiol, for example, gets a tiny lion of Flanders on his chest, signifying his Tour of Flanders victory. The concept isn’t too far off of adding rainbow bands to the sleeves of a former world champion, but would extend across the monuments and major grand tours.

“This is a concept inspired again by football,” Ridley said. “World champions get to wear a star for each victory under the national crest. I think it would be super cool if riders got something similar for Grand Tour or Monument wins.”

In Ridley’s version, the rider numbers would remain the same, following them through their career. We can imagine something of a hybrid between Williams’ idea, where rider number relates to ranking, and Ridley’s. Perhaps riders keep their own number until they reach world number one?

“I was very much inspired by football,” Ridley said. “All the kids want their favourite player’s number on their back and the typeface used presents an extra opportunity for sponsors to present their brand. I always love seeing the FIFA world cup jersey’s with the manufacturers choice of typeface for the names and number. Puma generally kills it here.”

Above all, this design is a starting point, and a visual aid. The concepts it incorporates are nothing new, but seeing them all in one place, mocked up, shows just how effective the ideas could be.

It’s worth noting that teams have tried some of these ideas before. And some of them, like having numbers on the jerseys, are currently expressly forbidden by UCI rules, which require all jerseys within a team to be the same. Why? Nobody seems to know.

The team colors issue, too, runs into the realities of pro cycling’s current funding model, where a sponsor change is almost always going to necessitate a color change to bring the team in line with that new sponsor’s branding.

EF actually went through this years ago, as they set about figuring out how to differentiate the team while abiding by both UCI rules and sponsor desires. The solution was argyle. “The only thing we could come up with was the background pattern that would stay with the team,” EF’s Jonathan Vaughters said. Everything else ran against the rules.

Still, it’s a fun experiment to mock up what could be, with a bit of vision from the powers that be.

To listen to Williams’ other recommendations, check out this episode of the podcast. We’ve cued up the relevant section:

While you’re at it, go ahead and subscribe to the CyclingTips Podcast on iTunesStitcher, Spotify, or Google Play.

What do you think? Does cycling need numbers? Custom helmets? Who should get #1?

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