Illustration: Fette

It is time to talk about Tadej Pogačar’s tufts

In a sport where aero is everything, how much does Tadej’s hair leave on the table?

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In just a few short years, Tadej Pogačar has become the dominant force in men’s cycling, winning Grand Tours, Olympic medals, monuments, and one day races along the way. In turn, that has made him one of the most photographed faces in the sport. In most of those photographs, there’s hair sticking out of his helmet. 

The hair – for the purposes of this article we’ll call them ‘Tadej Tufts’ – is blondey-brown, spiky, and forever escaping through the vents of his Met Trenta 3K helmet. Depending on the day, there are tufts out the front, out the side, from the left and from the right, sprouting toward the sun like little hairy antennas.

His hair has multiple fan pages on Instagram and Twitter, and there’s even fan artwork of them – like, say, the picture up top or the tweet below:

Tadej Pogačar’s signature as a racer is winning pretty much every race he enters; his fashion signature is his hair tufts. 

There’s an inherent contradiction in that. Cycling is a sport where aerodynamic optimisation can be the difference between winning and losing – where potential savings are measured in milliseconds at 40km/h at different yaw angles during different lunar phases. For one of the highest profile cyclists on the planet to routinely ride around with his hair outside his helmet seems a bit … counterproductive. 

So, after having that thought nagging at me for a couple of years, I decided it was time to try to get some answers to the defining questions of our age: Are Tadej Pogačar’s tufts an aerodynamic handicap, and if so, what potential time savings is he leaving on the table? 

But first …

A hairy history

After scouring our photographic archives, it is clear that Tadej Pogačar’s hair tufts have been A Thing since at least as far back as 2018, when teenaged Tadej was dreaming of lion tattoos and riding for a cryptocurrency sponsor

The season before signing a multi-year deal with UAE-Team Emirates, Tadej Pogačar was riding for the Slovenian Continental team, Ljubljana Gusto Xaurum. Photo: Miwa Iijima/Cor Vos.

From there, Pogačar picked up his first WorldTour contract with UAE-Team Emirates. Among other things, that meant that he suddenly had access to a much less hideous-looking helmet, complete with larger vents from which his hair could escape.

So yeah. Tadej Tufts were pre-established as a thing when he joined UAE-Team Emirates in 2019 and burst onto the world stage at the Tour of California:

Pogačar wins the Mount Baldy queen stage of the 2019 Amgen Tour of California (RIP). Photo: Brian Hodes/Cor Vos.

The tufts were a thing at the 2020 Tour de France, when Pogačar won the white jersey, the yellow jersey, and the KOM jersey:

Looking alright in white, on stage 14 of the 2020 Tour. Photo: Kramon.

And as Tadej kept winning, his hair kept tufting. He was especially tufty at the 2021 Tour de France:

Another stage win in yellow on the Col du Portet, stage 17 of the 2021 Tour. Photo: GvG/PN/Cor Vos.

Even when he didn’t win, as at the 2021 Strade Bianche, Pogacar was in fine form, along with – of course – his signature tufts:

Pogačar roars his way up the final climb in Siena. Photo: Kramon.

In fact, even when he isn’t wearing a helmet at all, you can see where the tufts once were:

Il Lombardia, 2021. Photo: Cor Vos.

I could go on, but I think you probably get my point.

Some tech talk

In an industry obsessed with the pursuit of marginal gains, it seemed obvious that there would be smart people studying Tadej Pogacar’s hair not as a meme, but as a problem to be solved.

Was there a polystyrene headform with a spiky wig on it in a wind tunnel somewhere, being buffeted forcefully by a sterile breeze? Were there lab-coated engineers wrangling it into the confines of a helmet to smooth the airflow? Was there someone with a PhD sucking on a pencil, wondering how they could shape internal channeling more optimally?

I don’t have a wind tunnel of my own (😢 ) so I fired off an email to some people who do – and also have a history of tackling hairy cycling problems:

The question: Dear Specialized, I know he is The Enemy, but are you able to give any kind of rough indication of how much Tadej Pogačar is leaving on the table with his hair? Is it infinitesimally small, or actually surprisingly significant? Can any bigger lessons be drawn from this about different hairstyles and/or helmet shapes for cyclists looking to optimise their performance?  

Specialized’s answer came back a couple of days later (my bolding):

“Over the years, we’ve done countless tests in the WinTunnel to collect data in all different scenarios, some similar to this. The shell of a helmet is typically designed first to create and achieve that aero advantage. If air moves through the vent in the helmet, that can improve the aero performance of some helmets. Is Tadej’s hair getting in the way of that airflow? Potentially. Would he be faster without hair? Maybe, but we don’t think it would make a tangible difference. While we see many other ways that Tadej can improve his aerodynamics on the road bike, a hair-cut isn’t one of them. Of course, we don’t need to help make Tadej faster – so we’ll keep any further insights to ourselves!”

-Specialized media representative

That seemed pretty clear, but I wanted to get an official word on it from Met – the Italian brand that has sponsored Tadej Pogačar’s team for as long as he’s been in the WorldTour.

Tadej Pogačar most often reaches for the Met Trenta 3K Carbon Mips helmet (pictured above), although he has access to an aero road helmet and a TT helmet, both of which do a better job of containing the tufts. Photo: Kramon.

I fired off another round of emails. How closely had Met worked with UAE-Team Emirates on Tadej Pogačar’s hair?, I asked. Has there been any design or investigative work into taming his hair?

It turns out that Met’s media and PR people have a sense of humour.

Here’s the “very much official reply” that I got back (which I love):

At MET we develop and fine tuned every aspects of the Trenta 3K Carbon Mips® helmet, from the comfort to the performance. That’s why when Tadej asked us to develop a specific vent system, we jumped on the opportunity. After rigorous CAD modelling, we defined the best vent position and shape while generating no additional drag from ‘the Tadej tuft’, we call this the ‘HAir Vent’. Following further wind tunnel testing, we also discovered that ‘the Tadej tuft’  acted as an air-dam and increased the downforce, which turned out to be very useful on the descent of the Mont Ventoux last year. 

Joking aside, we are happy to play a part of Tadej’s signature. It’s great that cycling retains a bit of silliness and fun, and why not with a wisp of hair? Incredibly it even happens with his Codatronca TT helmet, defying the laws of physics. Aerodynamic studies we’ve looked into suggest that for the most part, hair has very little impact on drag in that area, at most under a second over 40km, though apparently braids are the most aero hairstyle. We’ve not suggested that to Tadej yet…

-Met representative

Tadej Pogačar’s hair is not something that can be easily tamed, apparently. Met’s people told me that even in promo images that they have shot when he’s visiting the factory – the precise environment when you’d have the greatest desire and conditions to control things – the tufts find their way free. Like Pogačar himself, they’re born aggressors.

Photo: Ulysse Daessle, Met Helmets

The final word

So there we have it: Tadej Pogačar’s tufts don’t make a great difference to his aerodynamic efficiency. He could maybe save a second here or there, and he could also grow braids if he wanted to, but he’s dominant enough without them that it seems a bit … unlikely.

Then again, here’s the thing about Tadej Pogačar. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. He shit-stirs on Twitter. He posts little memes. He knows that people are interested in his hair tufts. Heck, he’s probably reading this right now (hi, Tadej!).

And because of all of these factors, I’m thrilled to say that Met went to the man himself for his input, and he responded.

Here’s two-time Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar, talking about his tufts of hair for my silly article:

“For me, having this wisp of hair out of the helmet become almost like an amulet, a good luck charm. It’s really something I like. Looking good for me is part of the pleasure of cycling, and I’m glad to have my little touch.” 

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