Bradley Wiggins: What is a mod?
- 23 July 2012
- From the section Magazine
British Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins has been variously described as "mod-loving cyclist", "king of the mods" and the "fastest mod on two wheels". But just what is that makes Wiggins a mod?
If sport replicated life, Bradley Wiggins would have ridden up the Champs Elysees on a shiny Lambretta scooter.
Wiggins is a self-proclaimed mod. His thin torso, narrow shoulders and surprising lightness - he reportedly weighs less than 11 stone - makes him an unusual modern athlete.
With his previous Paul Weller-style haircuts, carefully pruned sideburns, and collection of scooters, Wiggins could almost have been an extra in Quadrophenia, the classic mod movie of the late 1970s.
His Tour de France win prompted admiring tweets not just from cycling fans but from style commentators and Weller, who is known by fans and journalists as the Modfather.
The term "mod" is thought to derive from the modernist jazz fans of the 1950s. In contrast to the earnest chin stroking image of traditional jazz, modernists were young, hip and sleekly dressed, taking their influence from black America.
But the mods people think of today - and those Wiggins takes his cue from - hail from the 1960s. There are both musical and style cues.
Wiggins has spoken previously of his musical tastes - listing The Who, Small Faces, The Jam, Oasis, and Ocean Colour Scene as his favourite bands. All are mod favourites.
Mods of the 1960s wore parkas, tailored suits, loafers, skinny trousers, and Fred Perry polo shirts. Wiggins has designed cyclewear for the Fred Perry label. The parkas of the post-war era were often ex-RAF issue and so displayed the classic target symbol, known as the roundel.
Wiggins reportedly has the RAF roundel on some of his training kit.
Mod hair was neat and clean in contrast to greasy-haired rockers and long-haired hippies. Wiggins has said he grew his hair long in 2007 in honour of John Entwistle bassist from The Who. The sideburns were another Entwistle touch.
Mods defined themselves as sleek, neat and well turned out. It was a tribe. Convoys of scooters would descend on seaside towns and scuffles - greatly exaggerated by the media - would break out between the mods and rockers.
The classic mod movie is Quadrophenia, which came out at the end of the 1970s at the height of the mod revival. The hero Jimmy, played by Phil Daniels, sums up the philosophy. "Look, I don't wanna be the same as everybody else. That's why I'm a mod, see? I mean, you gotta be somebody, ain't ya, or you might as well jump in the sea and drown."
"It's about staying clean under pressure," says Robert Elms, author of The Way We Wore. There's always been a cycling crossover, he argues, with "mod designer" Paul Smith having initially aspired to be a professional cyclist.
Wiggins is a classic mod, Elms says. He is a working class Londoner with a certain style, an arrogance. And he looks right. "You can't look good as a podgy mod," Elms says.
There's also an anti-establishment attitude. In Quadrophenia Jimmy tells his employer to "stick his job" in the post room.
There are vague parallels with Wiggins's dealings with the media. He has attacked journalists for their poor questions and swore repeatedly when asked to comment on tweeters who suggested only drug cheats could win Le Tour.
Amphetamines - often called blues - were a central part of the mod existence, whereas Wiggins has made it clear that he has no time for doping in cycling.
Reinvention is crucial. After its jazz incarnation, bands like The Who, the Small Faces and The Action took on the mod mantle. It was revived in the late 1970s by The Jam and in the 1990s by Britpop acts like Oasis and Paul Weller as a solo artist.
Unlike being a punk or a new romantic it is a look that a middle aged man can carry off, says Elms.
But it's more than a look. It's an attitude, Elms argues. A mod is cool and sharp and open to foreign influences - qualities that Bradley Wiggins encapsulates in his life and cycling. "He's slightly sardonic and rock and roll. But it's not about rock and roll excess. It's slightly pared back."