A decade since the UCI banned ‘lycra-elastane-based’, tight fitting clothing was banned from downhill World Cups, but are we almost back there already?
Shaun Palmer revolutionised World Cup downhill with baggy motocross kit, and it seemed, for a few years at least that downhill mountain biking might just find its own image in between the two.
In recent years though, with riders looking for those ways to find fractions of seconds in a sport dominated by speed, have we seen a trend towards tight-fitting clothing being the norm again?
It’s easy to say no. No downhill riders are not wearing the cat suits that the Mojo/Orange team rode at the 2008 Fort William World Cup but we’re certainly getting there. Watch any downhill World Cup, certainly at the sharp end and the kit is not the baggies we saw Palmer, Kovarik and the like charging hard in way back in the early Naughties.
For those that don’t know, in 2008, the UCI banned lycra-elastane based, tight fitting clothing and protective accessories, but that is as much detail as the ruling got. So what we have is teams and manufacturers looking to find those extra margins with other materials.
It’s going to be hard not to name names, but have a nosey at Troy Brosnan and Loris Vergier’s kit, especially their ‘race pants’, and there’s something very not baggy about them.
Or have we got the wrong end of the stick? Times have moved on. Riding kit is no longer re-branded moto gear, but has technology that works on mountain bikes. So is what high-performance downhill kit is, and perhaps, always should be?
Have we found the blend of function and fashion? Or is this the skinny jeans bleeding into downhill?
Whatever way you look at the UCI’s ruling, it seems that it was written in a hurry without a massive amount of thought to its policing or implementation. Lycra certainly as a brand name is the synthetic equivalent to spandex, manufactured by DuPont. Lycra-elastane is the material used nine times out of ten, to produce a stretch in a fabric.
So let’s look away from the skin suits and the race pants, and look at any stretchy article of clothing from glove cuffs, to actual (British) pants, and everything else, and you can see that the rule has been flaunted almost unwittingly since 2008.
But at what point does ‘contains’ turn to ‘based’, and we get to a dangerous middle ground?
There are certainly arguments to support skinsuits in a sport about outright speed, but does that then feed into straighter and straighter tracks that become less of a spectacle to watch? Or have we found that acceptable middle ground where riding kit functions well aerodynamically without the horror of seeing men’s genitals in a skin suit?