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Hair can be a bit of a drag when it comes to cycling. I mean we’ve already discussed the havoc it can play down there if you don’t get your hair removal procedures right and now it is time to move onto the joys of helmet hair and aerodynamics, or perhaps that should be hair-o-dynamics.
A little while ago a video was released regarding shaved legs for male cyclists – does it really save time? The best result showed 82 seconds saved over 40 kilometres, the lower end was still 50 seconds saved. I remember my newsfeed being overexcited by this justification for male cyclists shaving their legs. So if that hair on the legs can make a difference, it really makes you wonder about those long locks so many women have flying out from their helmet.
When I first started riding, I’d just go with a ponytail that caught all the wind and upon coming home was a messy ball of knots. It was so much easier when I worked out there were better options. Now my speed at a side plait has become rather impressive and I can even do it half asleep which is a good thing for those early rides.
To help you find your cycling hair solutions, in this Ask Ella we are going to run through some of the hair-dos and hair don’ts. Remember, if you have any other riding questions we’d love to tackle them and you can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave them in the comments below, but without further a-do, let’s move onto this hairy question.
This subject made much more sense to me after a friend gave me a quick lesson in fluid mechanics, which is the science of fluids (liquids and gases) in motion. If you took a pipe and pictured the fluid travelling through it, the velocity of the fluid will be fastest in the center of the pipe, as compared to the edge where friction is occurring. The drag will bring down the velocity dramatically, in some cases the liquid will not even be moving, depending on force it’s travelling at and the fluid’s viscosity (viscosity being the state of being thick, sticky and semi-fluid in consistency).
When we look at fluid dynamics and hair each strand – like the outside of a pipe – would be adding drag as we move through the air and even though it is minor, it’s still going to slow you down.
Tested Styles in the Wind Tunnel
Specialized tested four basic hairstyles in what they call the win-tunnel to see which one created the most drag. The styles tested were hair down, pony-tail, tight bun and braid. Not surprisingly, the hair-down was the slowest. The pony-tail was essentially identical to the hair-down style, the hair split open and clearly created a similar amount of drag. The bun tied then also came in the same league, not saving as much time as they had thought it would.
It was the braided hair that came through as a clear winner, compared to the other three styles it saved 14 seconds over 40 kilometres. Funnily enough it wasn’t quite the stellar results that came with male athletes shaving their legs though!
So now that we know tying it up in a braid can not only save us from dealing with a knotty mess at the end of the ride, but also makes it faster, it seems logical to make that the hairstyle of choice always. But that might get kind of boring, so if you have the time, you can change it up every now and again and still keep your aerodynamic edge. A friend of mine, Mae Elizabeth Gurene (who you may know from her Instagram account @maeelizabethg) has been lovely enough to share with us some snaps of her braids to give you some hairspiration from the different styles she does. She learned all her hairstyle techniques off YouTube tutorials.
Helmet Hair and Traction Alopecia
Didn’t want to break it to you, but there’s also a different kind of helmet hair to be aware of. A friend of mine was recently had it brought to her attention by the hairdresser that there was breakage in certain parts of her hair, particularly at certain points where the helmet rubs.
There is a term ‘traction Alopecia’ which means loss of hair due to traction or pulling. It’s not hugely common but tight headgear like helmets that are worn frequently or for long stretches of time and tend to rub or pull repeatedly on the same area of hair can actually cause this.
Tips for avoiding traction alopecia:
- Change position/location of your hairstyle
- Do not tie your hair up when you sleep as this can put tension on your hair without you even realizing.
- Always use fabric covered hair bands, never use rubber bands
- Invest in silk or satin pillows as they cause less friction on your hair than cotton or nylon ones (they’re also believed to help reduce wrinkles too!)
- Wear a cap under your helmet as this can create a barrier or cushioning for your hair between the helmet and avoid additional rubbing.
- Change the location of your part as often as you can – even repeating a simple part in the hair can trigger a problem when worn in the same position day after day.
- Make sure your hair is hydrated as dry brittle hair is more likely to break
- Finally, make sure your helmet is tight enough to be safe but don’t overtighten.
Clean Helmets are good helmets
Did you know a dirty helmet can be infested with bacteria? It can also get incredibly smelly as well. Your comfort pads inside the helmet are soaking up not just your cycling glory, but your sweat.
I didn’t think about any of this until speaking with a friend on a ride who was riding with someone in the rain, and the helmet was oozing a different darker colour to the water’s down-pour as it released everything that was caught up in the comfort pads, delicious huh? It’s important to keep it clean.
LONG STORY SHORT:
Hair and the female cyclist is so much more than an appearance issue, although there’s nothing wrong with wanting a do that makes you look as good as you feel on the bike. When it comes to hair, it goes beyond looking good. There’s health and hygiene to be considered and of course that fact that taming that mane under the helmet could actually be a slight advantage to your cycling performance.