Although socks can appear new and clean for maybe a number of months, after their first use they are never actually ever the same. Only once can they truly wrap your feet and hug your ankles in they were intended, only once will the elastic be as perfect and the colour as vibrant. Very little beats the first time you pull them on and this unique tight, fresh, and soft feeling must be ritualized, savoured, and most importantly of all, reserved for a big occasion.
I’ve bought socks in the past and stored them for months, years even before using them as I waited for an event worthy of taking their virginity. I have a pair of Cycling Weekly ones that came free with the magazine one week still fresh in their wrapper from maybe 15 years ago. I waited and waited for a reason to break them free, but as time passed the size of the event needed to remove them from their cellophane became so huge that it never happened. In the intervening years my taste in cuff length has now increased from a previously favoured two inches to a more sartorial four or five and as these socks belong to the former category they are now redundant, doomed to be encased in plastic for all eternity.
Whilst on the subject of style, as I prefer only to wear dark socks in winter, any new pairs I purchase for special events are likely to be either whiter than white or a garish hue of fluro. This means, they cannot under any circumstances get even the slightest bit dirty on their maiden journey. To ruin new socks on their first outing is sacrilege and if it’s wet, even slightly damp, then yes, they will be trashed. There can not have been as much as a drop of rain for at least a week previous and the forecast must also be 100% dry for the following 48 hours to ensure their condition is preserved. A new pair of pale socks will be turned grey in the blink of an eye if there’s even the slightest film of water on the road and no amount of washing at 90 degrees in a machine full of Vanish will ever restore them, which often further postpones their first use, especially in the UK.
I’ve always had a ‘best’ pair of socks, I think we all do, but my habit of buying them fresh for a big ride began when I first took part in the mighty Marmotte sportive in the Alps. The day before I went down to the bike shop in Bourg d’Oisans and treated myself to a fresh, ice white pair of rather expensive Assos ones. The process of pulling them on the next morning, of making sure my feet would be as comfortable as possible then became an essential part of my mental prep for what is a fantastically tough day on the bike.
As you pull them from their wrapper and lie them limp across your palm, it’s as if they have been steam rollered flat. Never again will they hold this form, no amount of ironing will ever revert them to their virgin state, free from all blemishes, wrinkles or distortion.
Ensuring my feet are clean and free of any alien particles it’s always the right sock that goes on first. The freshness of the material, the perfection of their elasticity envelopes and encases my foot in a pristine shield of comfort. Pulling round the heel then up the calf you reach the full extension of the cuff and then let the supple elastic snap against your leg. Next the left and the same, slow, considered action is performed to enjoy every moment in preparing your feet for battle.
Maybe over the years what started as a treat for the feet has turned into a bit of an obsession but look after the details and the whole will take care of it’s self, (someone wise person probably once said).
So next time you have a big event, invest in new socks, pull them on slowly and deliberately and enjoy, immerse yourself in an event that can only ever be performed the once, trust me, it will change your life.
Simon wrote the original 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs book over seven years ago and has subsequently released a further eight regional climbing guides covering all regions of the UK.
All eight books are now available as a 545 climb boxset through his publishers Frances Lincoln.