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Bradley Wiggins: The Counter-Culture Hero of Cycling

One of the world's best cyclists is defying the bland athlete norm by embracing his love for mod culture. No, really!
September 26, 2014, 2:35pm
Photo via WikiCommons

On Wednesday, Bradley "Wiggo" Wiggins won the individual time trial at the cycling World Championships in Spain. Wiggins is famous for being the first British Tour De France winner, a knight, a multiple gold medal winner, and also for being a heart-on-sleeve, practicing mod. In an era where most athletes are buttoned-up and trained by media coaches and their teams to put on a bland facade for the press and public, Wiggins is unabashedly open about his mod status. He made NME a playlist of his favorite mod songs right after he won the Tour and he is designing a clothing line with Fred Perry, a mod favorite. So, how did we get here?

Mod culture started in post-war London, when the modern jazz scene (where the mod name comes from) started to adopt tenets of Italian style and American R&B. Over the next decade, the young scene metastasized and adopted its most well-known symbols, like trenchcoats, sideburns, scooters, and amphetamines. It evolved and splintered the way any youth movement does when it grows through different eras, including the ska boom in the 1970s and, eventually, a big revival in the 1990s when Wiggins was a kid in North London.

Right around this time, Wiggins got into Fred Perry, Paul Weller, and racing bikes. His first training sessions were soundtracked by The Jam. Britpop was just taking off around Wiggins' formative years, and the revival was led by mod-aping acts like Oasis and Blur. He saw Ocean Colour Scene when he was 14 and it "paved the way" for him. A few years later he got into Quadrophenia and that became the impetus behind his fashion taste, which you can see in his love of bad haircuts, scooters, and Fred Perry gear. He has rocked an early Who haircut and sideburns for most of his racing career.

Wiggins spent the first half of his cycling career on the track, winning six Olympic medals over three Olympics. He eventually shifted to the road full time in 2009, where he quickly became a British cycling icon. Cycling is the perfect sport for someone to express personal style. You can't do a whole lot of self-expression with the way you actually ride, as the whole sport is an annotated exercise in moving from point A to point B, so riders trick out their bikes and their kits. Joaquim "Purito" Rodriguez's nickname comes from from a brand of Spanish cigars, so of course he has an unintentionally phallic cartoon cigar on his seat. Vincenzo Nibali has his bike dressed up like a shark. Wiggins took it about as far as he could.

The bike he won his World Championship on has an ostentatious custom Union Jack paintjob, and he usually wears a helmet with a roundel on it. For his first few years with Team Sky, he raced on a saddle featuring him riding a Union Jack scooter, which, combined with his Weller haircut, made for a mod Trifecta. He is the ambassador for mods in cycling, but similarities between mod and cycling culture don't end with him. Sir Paul Smith, famous mod fashion designer, pursued a professional career until age 17. Scooters and bicycles (especially racing ones) are similar in their simultaneous functions as both useful transportation tool and fashion object.

Wiggins' dream 2012, in which he won the Tour, an Olympic gold medal, and got knighted, made him one of the most famous athletes in Britain. He took advantage of his new stature and got to play with Weller at a December show and started work on his line for Perry. As world champion, Wiggins will get to wear the rainbow jersey and stand out on the road. Given his love for mod symbology, he'll probably put his own flair on the iconic jersey. Either way, he's a modern mod hero and a reminder that athletes aren't always the blank slates they're so often made to be.