Thomas Löfkvist of Team Sky displays some sharp lines. Photo by Camille McMillan – watch out for his forthcoming pro cycling reportage project The Collarbone.
I bear the marks of my biker’s tan… It’s my second skin. I derive neither shame nor glory from it. I take it on, and, with the first rays of the spring sun, I put down another layer.
One day I was at the pool and a kid yelled at me: ‘Hey pops, you forgot your bike!’
It’s hard to stay incognito. – Paul Fournel, Need for the Bike
By now your friends, family and work colleagues already think you’re strange with that peculiar obsession with cycling you have. But that doesn’t stop them from stifling a giggle when they first notice that the deep brown tan on your arms mysteriously ends at the wrist – the classic cycling mitt tan line. Do they suspect the other tanning horrors that lurk beneath your shirtsleeves?
A cyclist on the bike can be something to behold, poetry in motion, smooth and at ease. Bike removed from the equation and absurdity creeps in. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the contrasts between limbs bronzed by the sun, and the milky whiteness of those areas closeted beneath lycra. It’s a sure fire giveaway that you’re the type of person to spend the summertime atop a bike rather than a sun lounger.
I recently saw an image of an amateur cyclist crossing the finish line with arms held aloft in the familiar victory salute. I did a double-take as I noticed his arms – totally white. Arm warmers perhaps? But then I noticed his legs, also totally white. I was confounded. How can any cyclist – and one capable of winning a race at that – maintain skin so pale? Because to ride a bike is to exposure your body to the elements, and in the summer that means to the sun. Those peculiar tanned areas of skin – from the top of the arm to the wrist, from mid-thigh to the ankle – are the indelible marks of a cyclist. It’s inescapable.
To experience the peloton mid Tour is something to behold; the speed, the effort etched into their faces, the bikes and kit still sparkling like new. And after weeks of riding through the baking roads of France, musculature becomes defined within the leanest of bodies, and the skin burnished to a deep shade of bronze. The colour is like something earned and, even with our paler imitations developed during a dull British summer with only it’s sporadic bursts of sun, something to be proud of. Riding through another summer rain shower, with the rain glistening off your legs, it’s hard not to look down upon them with a sense of wonder.
It’s probably possible to smooth out those embarrassing lines by rolling up your shorts and jersey sleeves on occasion. Fake tan might be even more effective, or sessions at a tanning salon a more extreme solution. But we don’t, and it’s because these lines aren’t an embarrassment. They’re a declaration, an acquisition through effort rather than leisure. They’re another small, but very visible, signifier to the world of what it means to be a cyclist.