Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What's in a Cycling Cap?

I was in the Ride Studio Cafe the other day, when a woman came in to buy a cycling cap. She was already wearing a cap - one that looked to be from the early '80s, faded yellow with "world champion" rainbow stripes. She looked around the shop and tried on several of the caps they sell, but seemed restless and her eyes kept wandering over to me. I was wearing a white cap with rainbow stripes, very much like her own only newer. Before she even approached me, I could sense that she was attracted to my cap. I thought that she was going to ask me where I bought it. Instead she asked if she could have it, buying me a Rapha hat as a replacement.

So that is how I came to be in possession of my very own article of Rapha clothing that I'd critiqued only a week earlier. It's (even) less flattering to my face than my other cap, though admittedly it works better under a roadcycling helmet and the fabric and stitching are of higher quality. But more than anything, I like the unusual manner in which I acquired it. Sometimes an item can serve as a memento of a day or a social exchange, attaining the status of a personal keepsake.

Cycling caps are a very particular design that has become iconic: The skull-hugging panel construction, the small visor that flips up, the racing stripes. I don't think that any of the variations look especially good on most people, but their symbolism seems to hold at least as much appeal as their objective attractiveness or their cycling-specific usefulness. I would bet that the sale of cycling caps went up when Breaking Away came out, as well as more recently, when the Yehuda Moon comic became popular.

On a personal level, a specific cap might remind us of an experience associated with cycling that was exciting, formative or inspiring. Maybe our favourite racer wore one just like it. Or the cool older kid in the neighbourhood used to ride his bike around wearing one. At some point I realised that one of my first memories of my father involved a cycling cap. He is not a cyclist, but it was popular to wear them in Europe in the '80s, especially on the beach. I have a very clear memory of him sitting on a blanket and sipping beer while watching my mother swim in the sea, wearing a cycling cap with the visor flipped up. It was either yellow or white, and it definitely had the "world champion" rainbow stripes. Funny.

When the woman at the RSC asked for my cap, I had the distinct feeling that it reminded her of something, and it made sense to give it to her. But I will probably buy myself another one at some point: Those rainbow stripes remind me of Europe in the early '80s, of vintage bikes, and of childhood days at the beach.

40 comments:

  1. Peppy (the amazing cycling cat in a hat... not)July 26, 2011 at 5:02 PM

    Must I point out the cruelty and unfairness of the cycling hat industry bosses for not including the much needed cat cycling caps with holes for ears?

    Cycling hats? More like cycling hate, am I right?

    My cycling hat, where is it? Can I has?

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  2. I love the scene in "A Little Romance" where Lawrence Olivier is wearing a bicycle hat, pretending to be in a bicycle race, in order to get past the police.

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  3. Nice on the swap and also that you were willing to do the exchange. I like the look of a cycling cap but I have a major melon so can never find one that fits. I don't even bother trying them on anymore since "one size fits all" never does in my case.

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  4. Phil Miller - Never seen that film, now will have to!

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  5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CL1aohaqjYg
    advance to 4 minutes in, then play.

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  6. Interesting, now I'd really like to see it. Also wondering what sort of race that is where there are both racing bikes and 3-speeds with full chaincases!

    Peppy - that is very sad. I will have to make you one with holes for the ears. Just as soon as I finish the crotchless bib shorts you asked for.

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  7. A Little Romance!! what a great film and i agree, that scene is classic!

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  8. ah, but the movie can't just be joined at a certain moment.....one has to find the scene in it's context.

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  9. "A Little Romance" is my second favorite film of all time and I'm so glad I got to see it on the big screen as a kid when it came out. Diane Lane has been my permanent heartthrob ever since.

    As for cycling caps, "back in the day," it seems everybody wore one under their helmet, if they were wearing a helmet. I did so for many years until one warm, sunny day I realized "Hey, this makes my head hot!" Since then I wear a Halo headband and I will only wear a cycling cap under a helmet if it is really cold out, which doesn't happen too, too often in Southern California. When riding helmetless, I will wear a cap about half the time.

    I have great memories of cyclists, including all the pros, back in the 1980s, wearing them jauntily on their head in various manners. Some sat way on top of the head almost like a yarmulke and seemed to defy gravity and the laws of aerodynamics in staying on their wearer's heads!

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  10. melissatheragamuffinJuly 26, 2011 at 7:29 PM

    What purpose do cycling caps serve?

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  11. Melissa- The visor is constructed in a way that blocks the sun but does not constrict peripheral vision, and also flips up easily when it needs to get out of the way. The shape of the panels keeps it tightly on even when cycling fast.

    XO - Maybe they used hidden bobby pins, just like yarmulke wearers : )

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  12. I saw Breaking Away when it first came out. It is still one of my favorite movies. I once even got to gush to Paul Dooley (the dad) about it. When I saw the hat in the movie, I went out and bought one. Still wear it to this day, but not for cycling. I wear it when I play soccer on Sundays...perfect for keeping the sun off my face and the visor is soft enough that the refs deemed it does not interfere with play.

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  13. for melissa:

    http://www.rideyourbike.com/images/cyclingcapgregg.jpg

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  14. Ball caps..yes. Fedora's..yes. Hard hat..yes. Bike helmet..yes.

    Cycling cap? Nope, not my style.

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  15. Melissa: The purpose of a cycling cap is looking cool, of course! "You gotta look cool to be cool," I learned early in my cycling career from Jonathan Boyer, Michael Secrest, and others who influenced or mentored me.

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  16. When I was ten my dad gave me a cycling cap. It was yellow and blue. I then wore two long braids daily and wore the cap on my head all spring long. I loved it and felt very cool. All the young male adults in my life ( gym teachers, after school teachers) would comment on it's coolness further making it my most coveted item that spring.

    So yeah, I get the appeal. ( granted this was the era of caps with silver wings on them, roller-skates and rainbow knee hi socks. Ahh what a lovely time to be 10.

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  17. Great story of someone buying the cap off your head!

    I love my cycling caps. Wear one on bike most of the time now that my hair is thinning and I get a sunburn on my scalp w/out it. Off-bike I just like the way they look. I have a couple from Walz, which is a little husband/wife cottage industry in SoCal. They have real light weight wool ones that are great in the summer. I dunk it in water and it remains wet the whole ride giving some evaporative cooling. Pretty cheap for hand-sewn quality wool! Here are the ones I like, although they have cotton and synthetic ones as well. No connection, just a happy customer.

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  18. inspiredcyclist - Ah yes, I feel so generous getting a new Rapha hat in exchange for my old generic one : ) Well, maybe some day I will end up giving this one to somebody else.

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  19. I've got a black and white Pearl Izumi cap that lives in my saddlebag for whenever it's needed (it's also worth mentioning that they help on rainy rides, worn by themselves or under a helmet, to keep the rain out of your eyes).

    I have to admit, I'm coveting the Yehuda Moon cap, especially since my facial hair and cycling attire are increasingly coming to resemble Yehuda's.

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  20. Does the cap stay on your head at higher (e.g. downhill) speeds? I've tried more generic caps to avoid sunburns, but they often fly off.

    Is the answer really bobby pins?

    Angelo

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  21. I like that you agreed to the woman's offer, odd as it was. I mean, what makes a person ask something like that of another person? Makes me think of someone who's a little too used to getting what she wants, but who knows. Certainly makes a good story!

    I've never used a cycling cap. Seems like one of those caps would create totally sweaty hat hair, worse than helmet hair. Or are they specially designed to prevent that?

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  22. Oh no, it wasn't like that; she was a very nice woman and the whole thing happened kind of organically.

    I think the hair thing depends on the kind of hair you have. My hair is naturally very curly and puffy and although I prefer to straighten it, in hot and humid weather that process often gets reversed in the course of a bike ride. This is where the hat actually helps - keeping the hair flat against my head and preventing it from puffing out. If you have straight hair to begin with though, I can see how this flattening would not be a good thing.

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  23. One of the main purposes of cycling caps in the 70's-90's was advertising. It was another place for companies to put their logos. Many cyclists wore them high on their heads, barely staying on because they were uncomfortable on hot days. Now that everyone wears helmets, they have almost entirely disappeared from pro races, only seen during bad weather and not too often even then. If pro's wear hats now, it is usually on the podium and it's a baseball cap.

    I like them partly because they identify me as a cyclist to other cyclists. I don't look good in any hats, so if I need to protect my head, I might as well wear a hat that makes it obvious I'm not trying to look good.

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  24. Angelo - I was serious about yarmolkes, but joking about cycling caps. But it would certainly work!

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  25. If you had given her your hat and she had in turn given you her bicycle, it would have been like O. Henry

    Looking at today's Talk of the Townish entry and its rich collection of often whimsical comments and comparing it with yesterday's wrenchish entry which was clarified and enriched by a series of technical remarks that often built on each other, I want to say "awesome!" but instead will settle for "Wow! what a segue."

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  26. I finally got one that I like after going through 2 or 3 that didn't work quite as well. So, yeah, it can be an iterative process but when you get one that's perfect it will keep sun, rain and maybe even particles out of your eyes. And this last one is even so comfortable (and fun--and reminds me of cycling) that I am starting to wear it off the bike. Oy.

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  27. tomthel - Thanks, I am all about contrasts : )

    MDI - I agree that your latest cap is a success; looks great on you and I don't mind that you wear it off the bike : )

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  28. I know they look goofy but I still like to wear them and now have 4, although my Riv wool one is a bit more like a early 1900's baseball cap than cycling cap. And from a practical standpoint like the visor for keeping sun out of my eyes. HT Chen - nice reference shot that is Gregg from my LBS!

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  29. Cycling caps can mitigate helmet hair, somewhat; cover helmet hair once the helmet is off; help to keep perspiration out the eyes on hot days; and connect us to a cycling tradition that goes back to the 19th Century.

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  30. Caps are good for eye shade from sun or rain too, keeping lenses clearer from wet and grit. Worn backwards it provides sun protection; rain not so much.

    In mildly cool temps it provides a bit of warmth retention under a helmet.

    My summer cap has its top cut off for ventilation.

    If you're full on aero going downhill the bill needs to be flipped up to see.

    A tight-fitting cycling cap is also useful for convertible stylings. Stays on well.

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  31. http://www.seinfeldscripts.com/images/seinfeld1.jpg

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  32. its a shame that the euro pro's no longer wear them on the podium opting for American baseball caps instead..iconic photos of the cycling greats all have them with cycling caps on.

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  33. I can't stand riding in the rain or especially the snow without a cycling cap. To squint in discomfort as I roll along really makes me feel like an idiot. And in the sun, it keeps my bald spot from burning.

    Velouria, why do you call it "roadcycling"? Do you speak German as a first language?

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  34. It's possible her stripes were legit and wanted to replace them but didn't know where to get something similar.

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  35. Great blog, and a great subject to blog about! I see your shop only carries Rapha apparel. Great choice! I work for a small company who only manufactures cycling caps, and some of the best in the biz. Various different styles and materials, and two sizes for all! We even carry a limited edition Yehuda Moon model!!! Who knows, maybe you may find some space in the studio for some Walz. Check us out at www.walzcaps.com. Tell em' Matt sent you! Thanks again for the great blog!!!

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  36. Almost a year late to the party, I know. But as cycling caps are a quasi passion of mine, I had to chime in. I got my first one, ironically as a giveaway at a 5k running event while in high school. I rode for recreation back then and hadn't seen too many of the caps, but I liked it for its quirky design (and bright orange color) and wore it incessantly. It finally gave up the ghost three years later when the elastic failed, and I didn't replace it until just a few years ago when I started riding road bikes again. But the love was instantly rekindled and I began building a collection. I wear them on the bike, off the bike and just about everywhere a chapeau is welcome. And, as I too am a photographer, I find the flip-up bill especially camera-friendly.

    Love my cycling caps.
    Nathan

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  37. Nice Nathan...

    I almost replyed to the Obsessed thread here with... "When you wear your favorite 4 panel cycling cap to bed" that thread is a hootX?

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