Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"

Sometime around 1976, when I must have weighed about 155 pounds or so, I purchased what until now was my finest bike jersey, in terms of material, construction, and fit, if not looks. That would be my "La Grange - Peugeot" team jersey, which I wore for the few races I entered in Southern California, as well a plentitude of training rides over the next few years.

At the conclusion of the
La Grange ride each Sunday, part of which went up Nichols Canyon in the Hollywood Hills, Raymond Fouquet would open his La Grange restaurant and serve glasses of ice water to the riders. (I first visited the restaurant, which featured a French "country" cuisine, as a teenager in the company of my family, because my parents enjoyed dinning there and eventually came to know Monsieur Fouquet on a first name basis).

My jersey was made by the
Kucharik bike clothing company. Founded by John Kucharik in 1934, the company is still going strong, now run by John Jr. I can remember making the trip from my apartment in the San Fernando Valley, driving south through Los Angeles to the old Kucharik store in the town of Gardena, to order my jersey from the senior Mr. Kucharik.

I've managed to hang onto that jersey, but for many years it no longer fit. I gained too much weight - about 30 pounds - to even attempt to squeeze into the tight jersey's wool/polyester blend.

These days, while it's still a tight fit, just as it was more than three decades ago, I can again wear the La Grange jersey, and it looks good, even if I don't. The Peugeot-inspired graphics are basic, and so is the design of the jersey itself. It's not just vintage, it's classic.

Over the years, I've collected a number of jerseys, some of them commemorating hard-won finishes on organized rides, others coming as gifts. One is covered with lizard graphics, another features a turtle and a snow-covered peak, others have a lion, a frog, cows, and wildflowers. Single or muted colors are rare.

Now I've treated myself to another jersey that is not a gift, nor did I earn it pedaling up to a col in the Alps. Yet it is a jersey that, even if did nothing else, would still commemorate style.

It's a
"Club Jersey" made by Rapha. I also ordered a copy of "The Rider," touted by Rapha and others as a seminal work about bike racing.

Is presentation everything? It's certainly part of the fun. Three days after I ordered them, the items arrived in a black box, via Fed Ex. Inside the box, the jersey and the book were wrapped in the ersatz pages of the pink-sheeted Gazzetto dello Sport newspaper. (Note the prominent article titled "Glory Through Suffering," a motto dear to Rapha.) It didn't take long to pull the jersey over my head and check out the fit in the mirror.

The Rapha jersey, like my old Kucharik jersey, is partly made of Merino wool and partly of polyester. It's soft against the skin, far softer than my old La Grange jersey. I want to think the good fit is probably due as much to whittling off 22 pounds I carried eight years ago, as it is to the jersey's race cut. (For more details about Rapha jerseys, see a couple of my posts back for a look at the "Country Jersey.")

I don't think I'd have believed, if someone had suggested it in 1976, that I'd still be riding a bike at my age, and that I'd be capable of riding one hundred hilly miles in a day. True, I'm not as fast as I was 30+ years ago, yet I can still wear the same jersey. The struggle over the years hasn't been with staying physically fit as much as it has been making a commitment to keep my intake of food down. And maybe that's reason enough to treat myself to a good jersey.

No comments: