Icons of cycling: Silk Six Day jersey

Following the return of Six Day racing to London over the past week, we chart the history behind the fashion classic of indoor racing apparel

In a sport that is constantly changing, six-day racing is one of the few remaining links to the past. Often ridden on the old, pre-250m Olympic-standard tracks of Europe, six-days have a look and feel of their own.

Without the team kits that we see throughout the road season and their familiar logos with modern fonts and on-trend colours, a six-day field has a timeless look about it. Local businesses make up most of the sponsors, meaning clunky logos with plain backgrounds ironed onto jerseys that aren’t known for using ‘fashionable’ colours.

All the action from the London Six Day – day 5 

But these jerseys are part of six-day racing’s heritage and have a special charm with a unique style that has changed little since 1942. Prior to this date, cycling jerseys were made of wool, bulky and scratchy at first, then as time passed more refined yarns gave thinner, more form-fitting garments.

>>> Cookson: Outdoor velodrome could solve 2022 Commonwealth problems

Then, in 1942, an Italian tailor, Armando Castelli, who already made superb wool jerseys, tried making jerseys from silk. Silk is lighter than wool, it holds its shape better, and it takes colour well. Silk jerseys proved lighter, brighter, and crucially, faster.

All the action from the London Six Day – day 4

Vivid sheen

The nature of silk meant sewing pockets on jerseys didn’t work, so they were used for track racing and time trials. Riders soon realised that smooth silk had better aerodynamic qualities than wool. Wind tunnels and aerodynamic experts may not have existed back then, but riders instinctively know what makes them faster.

>>> Icons of cycling: Leicester Velodrome

Spanish great Guillermo Timoner, six-times world motor-paced champion between 1955 and 1965, raced in jerseys made with a wool front and a silk back, reasoning that the drag from wool helped the motorbike pull him along, while the silk improved air-flow over his back. How’s that for marginal gains thinking?

All the action from the London Six Day – day 3

From 1978, Lycra began to replace silk as the search for improved performance stepped up a gear — but not in the six-days. Silk has a look that Lycra just can’t match; it ripples, so reflects light from different angles, but above all silk glows vividly under the powerful lights of an indoor velodrome.

>>> Buyer’s guide to the best winter cycling clothing (video)

The jerseys are specially designed for each event, with each two-man team wearing the same design. Their team number, originally stitched but now printed, is large across the back with smaller versions on the sleeves. One rider in the team has a black back number, while the other’s number is white, so you can tell at a glance who is doing what.

Today’s six-day jerseys are artificial silk. They still look good, but they don’t quite glow like the original jerseys of Armando Castelli. Despite this, six-days retain their charm and remain a must-see for all cycling fans as has been seen over the last week in London.