The 2018 Fort William World Cup marks the 10th anniversary of the Mojo Suspension racing team's PVC-coated Lycra skinsuits and the uproar that followed. Say what you want about them, but the only fact that is down in the history books is that riders Chris Hutchens
, and Ben Cathro
, donned the controversial catsuits for qualifying and race runs and had the best results of their careers to date: 17th and 8th place respectively.
The PVC coated Lycra skinsuit that prompted the rule. Ben Cathro at Fort William, 2008. Career-best. Photo: Phunkt
A few months later, the UCI introduced a rule which banned skinsuits and 'tight-fitting clothing' plus another that enforced the use of visors on helmets. The wording of the skinsuit rule is looser than the moto-clothing Palmer used to wear. Now, I am not saying I want to see all riders wearing a silly Lycra suit onesie, but the rule was weird from day one as there were no stated measurements, I have never heard of anybody being checked at the finish line to see if their clothes are officially baggy enough. Nowadays, every rider worth their salt at the podium has stylish, tightly cut or tailored clothing, with specific fabrics that identify them as downhill mountain bike racers – not some MX wannabees in some old-fashioned moto kit.
The rule states 'Lycra elastane based' clothing as its enemy, but nowadays there is an array of materials and stretchy compositions that give a tight fit without breaking the rules. In a recent press release
from Atherton Racing, they announced that they will be working in conjunction with Endura to develop race kits that will help with aerodynamics. At the end of the day, riders are racing downhill, with gravity and against the air, there are advantages to be had and surely rulings should reflect this in a way that is fair, equal, and measurable, for all competitors.
For those of you thinking, "What the hell is Aston talking about?"
here is a brief history of MTB clothing: Clunker riders used to wear jeans and tee shirts or whatever they wore in day to day '70s life for a bike ride. Then people wore tight Lycra-type clothing when road racing for aerodynamics and comfort, which was adopted by XC racers, who moved onto downhill racing in the early days. Shaun 'Napalm' Palmer rocked up in the mid '90's in full motocross kit and everybody loved him (Palmer lost the World Championships in Cairns 1996 by 0.15 seconds with a peak and baggies to Nicolas Vouilloz). Then, the cool kids all wore baggy clothes and helmet peaks for years, bar the occasional World Championship where governing bodies usually provided Lycra skinsuits.
Did Sam Hill blow out that last corner on that fateful Val Di Sole day in 2008 because he wasn't used to the extra speed of the skinsuit? Photo: Itster
Occasionally riders stepped out of line and lost their peak and found a skinsuit just in time for race runs, a finger was often pointed at 'the French,' but back then it was a guessing game as who was going to turn up to the start line in what. A gentleman's agreement was formed and signed in the interests of "the image of the sport," – basically the riders teamed up and decided that it would be better in the long-term to look cool instead of going fastest, and, if everybody wore the same clothes, they would all have the same disadvantage. In 2008 Mojo et al. broke the agreement to prove a point. Late 2008 the UCI made an official rule that has stood for ten years. Ten years on technology has improved massively, mountain bike kit is now cool in its own right, and everyone is wearing skin-tight clothing and helmets shaped in wind tunnels.
Today's top downhill racers are wearing outfits that are tailored and close-fitting as they search for any possible time savings.
We asked a few a few of the key players in this discussion, including Craig “Stikman” Glaspell from Troy Lee Designs, a brand who are behind much of the MTB image we have today, Chris Porter, the Mojo man who made his riders skinsuit-up ten years ago, Gee Atherton, the last man to win a World Championship in Lycra, and Ben Cathro who finished in 7th place with the best result of his career in Fort William
Craig “Stikman” Glaspell – Global Category Director - Bike, Troy Lee Designs
Craig ''Stikman'' Glaspell's career has seen him go from working as a shop mechanic in Redondo Beach, California, to wrenching on the National and World Cup circuits for some of the quickest racers in the around. He's keeping things a bit more local these days, although he's still working with some of the fastest racers out there as the Global Bicycle Category Director at Troy Lee Designs.
Chris Porter – CEO/Owner, Geometron Bikes and MojoRising
Heretic. When Chris Porter showed his first Geometron to the world he was outcast as a crazy guy from the UK. Less than three years later, arguably, his influence is widespread. Every bike that comes out is accompanied by marketing spiel that echoes Chris' words: longer reach, slacker head angle, steeper seat angle, shorter stems and less fork offset. More importantly, for this article, it was probably his 'fault' that the UCI introduced the rule – in 2008 at the Fort William WC, his Mojo team riders donned a freaky PVC-coated Lycra suit and rode to the best results of their career: Ben Cathro finished 8th, and Chris Hutchens bested his 37th place career high by 20 places finished in 17th.
Gee Atherton – Trek Factory Racing
Gee Atherton was the last man to win a downhill World Championship wearing Lycra back in 2008, the fateful day Sam Hill blew out the last corner at Val Di Sole. Maybe Sam crashed because of the extra speed he carried through the air on the huge jump out of the trees? His Australian Lycra onesie taking him by surprise and missing his braking point?
Ben Cathro – Sick Skills MTB Coaching
Ben Cathro has his career best result back in 2008 in the fabled PVC-suit. The giraffe-like rider nicknamed 'Hightower' by his friends, admits that it wasn't the ideal thing for a man of his stature to wear, but did give him an advantage on the day where he made a few mistakes when it counted. Nowadays, the racing has taken a back seat for Ben as he focuses on his Sick Skills Coaching
, but that doesn't stop him from turning up to the occasional DH or Enduro race in Scotland and taking the win against full-time racers.
Now I'm not saying I want to see the return of Lycra skinsuits to downhill racing, I'm simply saying the rule isn't really a 'rule' and has been out of date for ten years. Is it time for a change?