As cycling continues to boom I feel that it’s part of my duty to educate and inform on the finer details of the sport. On the surface wearing the simple cycling biretta appears to be a no-brainer. What could possibly be done to mess it up? As it turns out there are many variations to wearing a cycling cap that are easy to get wrong.
First, The Death Of The Cycling Cap
The cycling cap has changed little throughout the years but somewhere along the way it’s taken a wrong turn. The men of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s epitomised the look of the cap and brought it into a style of its own. But I fear those days are gone.
This was partially due to the fact that helmets were not mandatory and caps were much more visible. Images of team time trials and sprint finishes with the riders wearing caps were a sign of the times. The helmet rule for professional cyclists was brought by the UCI in 2003 following the death of Andrei Kivlev during Paris-Nice. The new rules were introduced in the 2003 Giro d’Italia where the riders were allowed to discard their helmets during final climbs of a stage. Subsequent revisions made helmet use mandatory at all times and the cycling cap has fallen into obscurity underneath the helmet doing only the job it’s intended to do. I believe this is when things began to change. Now the iconic ultra-Euro cycling cap has been forgotten and has even been replaced by baseball caps on the podium :
Somewhere along the line we went from this:
Form and Function
The cycling cap is an essential piece of kit. It serves both form and function. It keeps the sweat or rain out of your eyes, it shields you from the low sun in the Spring and Autumn, it keeps your head warm, and last but not least, it’s part of the cyclist’s quirky look.
My only personal rule regarding the use of the cycling cap on the bike is that it should only be worn with armwarmers and a vest at minimum (or long-sleeve jersey is fine). It completes the Spring Classics look. Wearing a cap while it’s warm outside just doesn’t seem right to me. It doesn’t serve much of a purpose except for shielding the sun off your balding head or keeping the sweat from dripping down. I can accept those reasons, but I’ll choose form over function here.
For such an image conscious and vain group of people we’re certainly regarded by the general population as a fashion disaster on wheels. As cycling gets more mainstream there are many people wearing accessories in their everyday life that used to be confined only to the bike.
Velomonati rule #22 states:
Rule #22 // Cycling caps are for cycling.
Cycling caps can be worn under helmets, but never when not riding, no matter how hip you think you look. This will render one a douche, and should result in public berating or beating. The only time it is acceptable to wear a cycling cap is while directly engaged in cycling activities and while clad in cycling kit. This includes activities taking place prior to and immediately after the ride such as machine tuning and tire pumping. Also included are cafe appearances for pre-ride espressi and post-ride pub appearances for body-refueling ales (provided said pub has sunny, outdoor patio – do not stray inside a pub wearing kit or risk being ceremoniously beaten by leather-clad biker chicks). Under these conditions, having your cap skull-side tipped jauntily at a rakish angle is, one might say, de rigueur. All good things must be taken in measure, however, and as such it is critical that we let sanity and good taste prevail: as long as the first sip of the relevant caffeine or hop-based beverage is taken whilst beads of sweat, snow, or rain are still evident on one’s brow then it is legitimate for the cap to be worn. However, once all that remains in the cranial furrows is salt, it is then time to shower, throw on some suitable après-ride attire (a woollen Molteni Arcore training top circa ’73 comes to mind) and return to the bar, folded copy of pastel-coloured news publication in hand, ready for formal fluid replacement.
I love the sentiment and can understand the logic, but I caught these guys red handed at Paris-Roubaix blatantly breaking their own rules:
I’m a big fan of the Velomonati, but this is an instance where my rules differ. I’m okay with the cycling cap being worn “après velo”. It can add a touch of pizzaz to your look if it’s done properly. Size, fit and orientation are key and there are subtle details to getting it right.
Here are a few tips on how to wear a cycling cap on and off the bike:
Philippe Gilbert will sometimes don the inverted flip. Usually Strade Bianche or Giro de Lombardia if the weather is bad. He pulls this one off nicely for two reasons. First, because he’s Philippe Gilbert and he could wear a bucket on his head and I’d still have a man-crush on him. Secondly, because up until now he’s been doing it with a Specialized helmet. I can’t pin down exactly why, but it just works. Time will tell how it will hold up with his new Bell helmet…
As you can see in the featured image of this post, Roger de Vlaeminck wears the flipped brim wonderfully. Notice the high placing on the head, perfect amount of luft while slightly patted down.
Get It Straight
It only takes a small nudge to throw the brim askew, but I can’t overstate the importance of making sure it’s sitting straight. Many cycling caps have a stripe down the middle which accentuates any asymmetries.
Cap Luft: Correct Fitting and Sizing
In my expert opinion, one of the coolest ways to wear a cycling cap is up high on the head as my mate Marko is doing below. Perfect amount of luft, it just needs a touch of flattening at the front. This has all to do with correct sizing.
I’m sorry to use my mate Craig as an example here below, and he’s not alone in violating this rule. Many people wear a cycling cap that’s far too small for their head. My mate Jeff Provan is the master at getting his fit right and has derived a formula for cap luft (CL): “CL is derived from a proportional formulae relating to SL stem length and ST seat height”.
This doesn’t matter much when only being worn under the helmet, but when going out in public CL is of utmost importance.
My mate Dave is on the verge of wearing a cap that’s too small, but he manages to pull it of beautifully:
The Reverse Cap
A personal rule of mine is that the cycling cap should never ever be worn backwards under the helmet. It’s just looks wrong. If it has to be done (and sometimes does), then cut the brim off. However, with the absence of a helmet it’s possible to pull off the backwards cap look if sizing is correct and it’s worn properly. Here’s a good example:
The one important caveat to the reverse cap is that the brim needs to be flipped up at the rear. See Tom Southam’s fine example here.
Bandanas are a totally different beast, but since they’re a piece of headwear that many people still wear I think they deserve some attention. As far as I’m concerned they should be on the UCI banned substance list. Marco Pantani acquired the nickname ‘Il Pirata’ because of the bandana and earring. Unless you ooze panache and win races in the manner of Il Pirata, it’s safe to say that the bandana should be put away until that time.
The cycling cap is a strong part of the cyclist’s quirky fashion statement and the way it is worn can make you or break you. In recent years the cycling cap has plummeted into obscurity. Wouldn’t it be great if the cycling cap returned to the podium where it should be? This can only be done if it’s seen as being cool again. Stick with these basic tips and we hopefully we’ll see it back in the spotlight like it deserves.