dorkThis is an opinion piece by Reno Toffoli. Reno’s opinions don’t necessary represent the opinions of Your Group Ride or its advertisers but I always enjoy his rants. If you’d like to write an article for YGR, please email me at



Scratch that – fashion always fails; fashion equals fail. I’ve never really understood the pursuit

of fashion, the definition of fashion in this case being ‘a popular style or practice’. As a whole,

fashion is about how things look, not how they work, and in my universe, fashion is at the

bottom of my list of concerns.

I can understand why humans, being very visual and social creatures, are interested in fashion.

I suppose that in some pure sense, creating things where the visual or stylistic elements are

the most important aspect of the design may have merit. I can’t think of many things that this

applies to…hairstyles come to mind, maybe…maybe.

In my universe, form follows function and if something looks cool, that’s because it has to look

that way in order to work correctly. There is serious beauty in form when it follows function.

One of the reasons I love aircraft is because they’re beautiful and they have to look that way in

order to fly. There’s nothing on an airplane (at least on the outside) that is there just because

it ‘looks cool’. Ok, maybe the paint scheme, but that’s about it.

To a large degree, a bicycle is a pure machine, beautiful in its form, beautiful in its simplicity,

and everything is there and looks the way it does because it has to look that way to work. That

is, until fashion gets involved. This is where fashion as ‘a popular style or practice’ comes in to

play and it gets rather ridiculous in a hurry.

When popular styles or practices get involved, things only get worse. What this really means

is that someone, somewhere, decides that something works for them, or maybe is just ‘cool’

because it looks a certain way and that becomes standard practice regardless of any actual

merit (or lack thereof) that the practice actually has.

The biggest, and most dangerous example of this that I can think of as it relates to bicycles has

to do with why BMX bikes no longer have brakes. A long time ago racing bikes had rear brakes,

and they still do. There’s a reason for this. When you’re in a BMX race, braking is not a priority.

The corners are banked and, therefore don’t require any major braking to negotiate. You may

need to tap your brakes here and there to make some very minor speed adjustments when

coming in to a jump, but for the most part, you’re on the power 100% of the time. The only

time you need brakes is to stop at the end. You don’t need a front brake because locking up a

front wheel in a berm equals a pretty big crash and a lot of road rash and there’s nothing worse

than road rash.

Freestyle BMX bikes had brakes on the front and rear, and they don’t anymore. Why? Because

of fashion. Freestyle bikes need brakes on both wheels. When you’re riding a ramp, nothing,

and I mean nothing is more critical than speed control. Riding ramps is speed control. Front and

rear brakes to a marvelous job of controlling speed. They also come in handy when you want to

take a break while resting on one wheel, or roll along on one wheel, or any other multitude of

things that are really fun.


Here’s where I think it all went wrong. First of all, in order to have brakes that work effectively,

they need to be set up and maintained properly. With rim brakes, the wheels also have to be

true. If you want to have a front brake and want the ability to spin your handlebars around

more than 360 degrees, you also need a gyro or rotor installed which also needs to be set up

and maintained as well.

Most of the people who ride these kinds of bikes are in their teens or early twenties, a group

not known for their patience, attention span, or ability to think things through very thoroughly.

I know this first hand because I’ve been teaching this age group for the past 10 years. What

happens is kids get sick of dealing with brakes so they take them off. At the same time, perhaps

somewhere far away, some pro rider takes their brakes off for a new challenge. Suddenly, the

kids who took their brakes off because they couldn’t adjust them see the pro with no brakes

and this validates their choice as ‘cool’. Now it is fashion…a popular style or practice.

The stupid and scary part of this is that if you don’t know how to ride with brakes, you’re

probably not going to be very good without them. There’s a complete skill set and huge amount

of bike handling ability lost instantly. The next group of kids doesn’t even learn to ride with

brakes at all so they have no idea of the basic skills they’re missing out on. Without brakes, you

lose all control and your riding looks very sketchy and aesthetically unpleasing, at least to my

eye. Is it harder? Sure. Does that make it better? Absolutely not.

This trend gets so ridiculous that bike companies actually start selling new bikes WITHOUT

BRAKES! I have no idea how they get around that liability hurdle. I have witnessed, first hand,

geniuses shooting out in to traffic on their brakeless BMX bikes and almost getting hit by cars

because it’s all about the fashion. Teenagers are notorious for their blind following of fashion so

I guess it’s no surprise that this kind of stuff goes on in the world of BMX.

If you think that the rest of us in the cycling universe are free from this sort of thing, we’re

not…it’s everywhere.

One of my favorite examples is the lowly bar end. 20 years ago, nearly every mountain bike had

bar ends. Why? They allowed multiple hand positions to reduce fatigue in a similar manner to

drop bars, they also worked fantastically well for climbing; they were functional. Unfortunately,

they also became fashion which led to some pretty obnoxious styles being developed. On

a weirder note, they were misinterpreted by the non-enthusiast class of cyclists and it was

discovered that when you stacked about 6 pairs of bar ends on top of each other, you would

be able to sit bolt upright on your bike while at the same time looking like you were riding a


Time passed, bar ends were good, and then they weren’t. There was a fashion trend from flat

bars to riser bars, and I’m not really sure why. I think the riser bar came from the downhill

scene where sitting more upright with a rearward weight bias was beneficial to going down

hills really, really fast. Riser bars end up on every bike (fashion) and apparently bar ends don’t

look ‘cool’ on riser bars (?)…(more fashion) and all I know is that suddenly I’m a pariah because

I run bar ends and I’m a double pariah because they’re on riser bars. Meh…they’re functional,

and I love them, and I’ve been riding them for 25 years so you’re not going to get me to change.

Also, if anyone ever came up to me and pointed out that I had bar ends on my riser bars,

I’d probably kindly tell them to $#%^& off and then challenge them to any number of bike

handling competitions. Beyond that, I’m an adult, not some 15 year old. If you think I give a

rat’s ass about what is cool, you’re greatly mistaken. But anyway…that’s just me and this isn’t

about me, it’s about fashion.

There are tons of fashion trends to choose from in cycling that were probably once rooted

in function but have gone completely off the deep end. You can probably think of plenty by

yourself. Another of my favorites is mountain bike handlebar width. The 21 inch wide bars I ran

back in 1993 had limitations, I’ll admit that. Going a little wider…sure, I’ll take it. Going so wide

that it looks like you’re driving a city bus…probably not good and any functional advantages are

lost. But it’s fashion, baby! Have you noticed that there’s a new fashion movement happening

with mountain bike handlebars? That’s right…back to flat bars. The other thing about fashion is

that it goes in cycles. Bar ends will come back next, mark my words.

The one I really struggle with is clothing. Cycling ‘kit’ is just horrible to me, and here’s where

I’m guilty of hypocritical reverse-fashionista-something-or-other. As functional as it is, I sort of

refuse to wear ‘cycling kit’. The issues are really my own. For starters, I feel really vulnerable in

it and I don’t like feeling vulnerable. Second, I’m not a billboard and I refuse to spend money

to be a billboard for a company who I have nothing to do with. Third, I like to have pockets in

my shorts, not on my shirt. And fourth, I secretly think that it kind of looks ridiculous. Yeah, I

wear it from time to time…mainly during crit races, and that’s about it. I like baggy shorts with

pockets and I buy those ‘Champion’ jogging shirts from Target because they’re really cheap and

comfortable and loose and that’s how I like ’em. I love it when I show up to a race and someone

wearing a Korn t-shirt with the sleeves cut off places in the top 5 of an upper division. When I

see that, I smile, because fashion doesn’t matter, function and performance matter.

At this point an even bigger issue arises and that is that one person’s function is another’s

fashion. So, I guess there’s no easy way out of this mess. In a perfect world, we’d all use what

gave us the most function or maybe the most fashion, if that’s your thing. I don’t know, it gets

confusing in a hurry. Just live by that time-honored cliché of being yourself (that’s a good cliché

to live by) and damn the torpedoes because torpedoes suck.

So, in conclusion, I leave you with this easy guide to determine the difference between function

and fashion…if you even care.

Does it work for you? Yes? That’s not fashion.

Are you concerned about funny looks and whispers between other cyclists when you show up

somewhere? Yes? That is fashion.

Do you ride your bike because you love it and screw what everyone else thinks? Yes? Good.

That’s what I call punk rock and punk was all about anti-fashion, at least until it became fashion

itself and…dammit…I told you it was confusing.