There was a time when bicycle racing was transformed. In the early 1980’s a sudden, dramatic turn towards technology brought us a largely re-invented sport. New equipment, new players, new media, a new experience.
In three subsequent decades, despite new materials and rules, the Euro road scene is much as it left the ’80’s. Faster and more expensive but fundamentally the same. That seminal period also saw the rise of electronic music driven by pioneers like Kraftwerk, fueled by futuristic themes and accelerating change around the world.
Kraftwerk released an LP in 1983 called “Tour de France.” A copy in my archives surprised me the other day but our recent move from Seattle to the Olympic Peninsula has opened many boxes and memories.
The ’84 US Olympic Team, Greg LeMond, and Francesco Moser started using tri-bars, funny bikes, disk wheels, clipless pedals, carbon fiber frames, Oakley glasses, bladed wheels, aero helmets, cycle computers, and more.
The ’80’s saw a new generation of US riders, many on the 7-Eleven Team, who busted into the European peloton. No rider so arrested the scene as Greg LeMond and his first Tour win (1986). Australian Phil Anderson was the first non-European to lead the Tour (1981). Andy Hampsten won the Giro (1988). Canadians Alex Stieda and Steve Bauer wore the Tour’s jerseys many times.
Breaking Away (1979) and American Flyers (1985) brought the sport to a wider audience. Before US television networks covered the Tour, we waited outside Mac’s Smoke Shop (downtown Palo Alto newsstand) to grab the early edition of the London Times and clip out the latest Tour results to post at the shop. All day long we’d receive visits and calls. No more!
A new style
Graham Watson has explained how visually painful it was for photography when riders all began using Oakley-type glasses and aero helmets. No longer could exertion, anger, desperation, and exhaustion be readily caught by camera. It was as if the peloton’s members morphed from unique personalities to droids.
Eventually, of course, technology brought us aerial, helmet, wattage, and 3D map images, all universally accessible. The sport evolves and thrives.
In time, today’s events and changes will be fond memories, just have to wait. Still, for many of us, the 1980’s were an incomparable period for cycling and Kraftwerk captured it well.