Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cycling and Hairstyles: Long vs Short

Charles River, Late Autumn
This morning I received an email from a reader asking whether I prefer long or short hair for cycling. Short answer: Long! 

Last summer I chopped my hair for the first time in nearly two decades. While I didn't do it for the sake of cycling, I did expect short hair to be easier to manage for someone who rides a lot compared to my previously unruly mane. Surely it would feel lighter, be less prone to getting disheveled and sweaty, be easier to comb. Lots of active women have short hair, so this logic made sense. 

But oh how wrong I was. You know how sometimes you have a bad hair day? I feel like I've had a bad hair year. While I like the look of my bob and it was nice to have a change, as far as cycling it's been annoying and fussy. Not long enough to fit into a pony tail, it is long enough to fly into my eyes when I ride unless I use lots of pins. This includes the times I am roadcycling and wearing a helmet - loose strands won't stay under the helmet, but fly in my face unless I remember to pin them down. Post-ride maintenance is harder as well. When my hair was long and it got disheveled or tangled after a ride, I could simply put it up in a "messy bun" and it would look decent enough. With short hair there is no way to hide the mess; looking presentable after a sweaty or windy ride is a challenge.

So while it may seem counter-intuitive, my experience as a cyclist has been that long hair is easier to deal with: With or without a helmet, I can just tie it back or braid it and forget about it. Now that mine fits into a pony tail again, I am ecstatic and feel like I need to write a note to myself with a reminder to never cut it again. I could see how a buzz-cut or pixie cut would be low-maintenance, but my chin-length bob has been anything but. 

What are your thoughts on hair maintenance and cycling? Have you changed or tweaked your hairstyle as a result of riding a bike?

57 comments:

  1. It's so hot here I decided it was time for layering and a shoulder-length do. When I tie back my hair, the upper layered part either looks like Mickey Mouse ears sticking out of my helmet straps, or pieces fly loose and look messy. Another cyclist told me to cut it shorter but I don't look as good with really short hair.

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  2. I buzz myself with a No. 2 blade every two weeks. I realize this look is not for everyone, but it works for me!

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    1. Ha, same here. But I still get helmet hair, believe it or not.

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    2. You need a shorter blade - it eliminates helmet head completely but it just about eliminates all my hair, as much as is left, as well.

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    3. i'm thinking of doing this too. and yes, i also get short-hair helmet bumps.

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  3. Funny, what you call short I call long :) But agree, that length is a constant mess.

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  4. I had long hair, low shoulder-blade length from 2000 through to 2010 when I got it cut to roughly just below chin height, long enough to grab a ponytail. I was happy to be rid of the mane; not as hot in the summer, less grunge in the winter and a faster dry time on those wet days.

    But then I found the cut was never exactly the same, sometimes they shorted me and I hardly had enough to get a real ponytail, ending up with fly away hell and the 'wings' coming off the side of my head wear utterly maddening.

    About the same time I began to wear hats/caps more and a helmet less (let's not go there) and the result was my sometimes chin length cut - sometimes not chin length cut - was total frustration. It was also annoying off-bike as anytime I looked down, hair would be sweeping in my eyes making simple adjustments to my bike or messenger bag or painting at my easel frustrating.

    So, I went in and said, chop it. That was February and its super easy care all the time now plus caps look sharp instead of geeky stupid.

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  5. I find I have had the same experience as you. I typically get my hair cut when it gets hotter, and my current style is almost long enough to put back into a ponytail, except for one strand on the right, which always ends up sticking out of the helmet and makes me look silly.

    If I don't put my hair back in some way when I ride in the summer, my hair sticks to my neck in the most uncomfortable way.

    I like the way my hair looks off the bike, though. Maybe I need to find a style just long enough to put back into a ponytail.

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  6. I totally agree with you. I made the mistake of buying a fairly expensive new helmet, but didn't realize it was lacking accommodation for a pony tail. Even when I wear a very low pony, it still tends to force the helmet forward on my forehead which I find endlessly annoying. I've since discovered a solution, which is to wear a pony off to one side. It still manages to keep my curly long hair out of the way, but without altering the helmet's position. The side pony tail has an added bonus: no bump in my hair after I remove the elastic. I like your bit about reminding your future self never to cut it short again. It's amazing how quickly we forget our own good advise!

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    1. Which helmet is that? Women mention this issue, but I've worn several helmets and never had a problem if I tie the ponytail low. Maybe it depends on the shape of your head?

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    2. Peppy (I thought they are called ear vents)June 20, 2012 at 11:32 PM

      My problem is mostly with the ears.

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  7. my hair was about as long as yours is in that pic, Velouria (I let it grow out a bit, obv) but just hacked it back to something a tad longer than a "high-and-tight" in anticipation of the heat of Summer. After today, it wasn't a moment too soon!

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    1. Wish I'd seen that before you cut it!

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  8. I prefer my hair just below the shoulder. It's long enough to put up in pigtails or braids, which pulls the loose ends away from my face. I find a part down the center is cooler than all the strands tied up in one hair band. I pull the pigtails through the V-ends of the helmet strap and just like that it's a manageable hairstyle!

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  9. I am about to get mine cut tomorrow and stressing over this very thing! What do you all think about bangs as well? Do you find when sweaty they just stick to your forehead and lose shape and bounce? Is the issue of style post-helmet different for curly/wavy hair than it is for straight hair style?

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    1. I always keep mine cut to just below the shoulder by about an inch or so. I personally do not like bangs..they get too sweaty and greasy looking and I need to be able to put all my hair in a ponytail or some type of clip. I just keep it all one length and go in for my trims as I need them. I would say don't do anything drastic...go with something to the shoulder and I say no to bangs. You can always take a little more off if you don't like it but you can't get it back once it's cut off :)

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    2. I love my bangs (or fringe as we call it in Oz) but it's trouble under a helmet. I can twist the rest of my long-ish hair into a low bun, pull it loose when I'm finished riding and its all good. The only thing that fixes my fringe is a blow dryer. I actually started reading this looking for tips on how to manage it better.

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    3. Have you tried wearing a cycling cap under the helmet? While it does not keep my bangs/fringe 100% dry, it does soak up much of the sweat.

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  10. I buzz my hair with the bare blade every week. Never a bad hair day!

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  11. Your haircut looks nice and I was planning to get a similar one myself this summer. Now you have me thinking twice! How long did it take you to grow your hair out from chin length to pony tail length?

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    1. I had it cut asymmetrically, so that the hair was just barely chin-length in front, then followed the jawline and got shorter toward the back, buzzed and layered at the nape of the neck. From that length, it took 6 months before I was able to put it into a real pony tail. But you know, everyone's rate of growth is different.

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  12. Whatever. I shed like a dog. Don't even mention cats.

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  13. Long. Mine is currently somewhat below my shoulders but it's near time to have the bi-annual two inches hacked off.

    I actually find long hair -- long enough to put into a pony tail -- easier to ride in and deal with than hair that is shorter than this but long enough to comb. That is one reason why the experiment, started in August, 2007, to try it long has lasted almost five years. My hair is very thick and wavy and a pony tail keeps it all in place and away from my face.

    Yes I am a man, yes it is still largely dark, yes it covers my entire head -- no bald spots, no I don't have beard or moustache, no I don't paint my nails.

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  14. Although no one who knows me now would believe it, I used to have REALLY long hair - I could sit on the end of my braid. It was sort of annoying in the winter having the bulk of my braid between my helmet and my collar (I almost only wore it in a braid) but not a huge problem. It was more a problem that if just got into everything, stuck on everything, etc. Seriously, I'd overhaul my hubs and unwind hair that had gotten in there somehow.
    So I cut it off a decade ago and never looked back. Now I buzz it myself as often as I feel like it and I'm happy. The only problem is that when it's starting to get shaggy (about the point everyone else thinks it's starting to look good) it gets really hot and fluffy and annoying, especially under my helmet and even more so under a hat. But when it's freshly buzzed I can really feel the breeze through the helmet vents and then it's REALLY NICE.

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  15. Peppy (my pantaloons have you seen thems)June 20, 2012 at 11:31 PM

    I have long hair too and sometimes it's a problem. It gets matted against the saddle.

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  16. I keep my hair very short in back and it's the only way I can stand it. (pic here: http://yaybeth.blogspot.com/2012/05/joy-of-new-hair.html) The length in front is easily contained in the helmet, no rogue strands flapping in my face.

    I have extremely thick hair, so it becomes a giant sweat sponge back at the nape when I let it grow out more than an inch. It doesn't look awesome when I take my helmet off but, because I am blessed with very manageable hair (and an outstanding hairdresser, worth her weight in gold) it's very easy to make myself presentable with nothing but a comb. However, my cut would not work nearly as well for someone with thinner or finer hair. And a ponytail on me, with my super-thick hair, makes me miserable and looks bad to boot. There are so many factors - texture, thickness, cut, heaven knows what else - that the One Perfect Cut doesn't exist.

    Well, except the buzz cut. And I don't think I can pull off the full Sinead.

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  17. I chopped mine off short sometime last fall. It was just below my chin all around. Like you, at first I really liked it since it was easier to brush and felt so much lighter. But as I remember it I had a lot of the same problems with it getting in the way. I just could tuck it behind my ears before putting on a cap, and that helped a little. But I always found myself reaching for the hair tie that wouldn't really make a ponytail. I'm SO glad that it's shoulder length again and can tie it back. The weird thing is, I've always had straight hair, but shortly after the cut it started getting wavy progressing to curly! So the new problem in feeling compelled to straighten it everyday and hoping that once it gets some weight back it will hang straighter. :)

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  18. Used to have waist-length hair, along with a collarbone-length beard. No problem, really, except for flyaway hairs along the sides of my head.

    Wife likes shorter hair, so now hair and beard are both more typical lengths , but the hair is more problematical than before except for the week or two after a haircut. I get those damn wings, as my hair is wavy. Even on the rare non-bike days.

    Actually, wearing my hat (which I wear whether I wear a helmet or not, for sun protection; it's one the of James Black Hats I make & sell) really helps more than any amount of conditioner or combing. In effect, my hat prevents hat hair somehow!

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  19. You described my haircut to a 'T', except mine is very curly, thick and holds its shape. I never have a problem with hair in eyes, etc.

    Velouria wrote:
    I had it cut asymmetrically, so that the hair was just barely chin-length in front, then followed the jawline and got shorter toward the back, buzzed and layered at the nape of the neck. From that length, it took 6 months before I was able to put it into a real pony tail. But you know, everyone's rate of growth is different.

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    1. Mine is naturally very curly also, but I usually straighten it. Here it is half way between its natural and straightened state. I do not find my hair easier to deal with when curly; it is very bouncy/buoyant in that state and loves to fly into my eyes. Gets matted very easily too and is impossible to brush!

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  20. Supposedly Laurent Fignon, who lost the Tour de France by a mere couple if seconds back in the 80s may have lost it because of the extra drag caused by his ponytail - at least according to some Dutch physicists. Who knows?

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  21. you need a buzz cut (nr 1 or 2 all over), a quiet early spring morning and NOT wear a helmet (crikey, do none of you read any Dutch cycling research?)

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  22. A buzz cut can be entertaining after a ride. I cant post a pic here but I've got some that are very much shaped like the inside of my helmet.

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    1. Exactly. My head has ridges in it after wearing a helmet for a few hours.

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  23. I have a very short pixie and other than an occasional "Alfalfa" bit sticking up on my cowlick when I take off my helmet, I usually have no problems. Granted pixies don't work for everyone but I look like Cousin It with long hair since I have a little face.

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    1. I also have a pixie cut and it is great for biking. Velouria, from my point of view, you are really only commenting on Long vs Medium.

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    2. Same. I recently went from long (always had it up in a bun) to medium (asymmetrical bob) to pixie. I'm loving the pixie so much that I'm surprised I never tried it sooner. It might stick up at the back in a helmet, but really has not been a worry at all.

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  24. Ever since my ARMY days back in the early-mid 90's,I've just never felt "right" having much hair...I cut my own (by chouce,mind you) with the clippers that have the #1 gaurd on them,all one length,all a short as my neatly trimmed beard and lip hair...simple,no muss or fuss for any activity. That wouldn't nessesarily look "right" on my Wife though,LOL! :p

    The Disabled Cyclist

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  25. I noticed that some Dutch women tie headscarfs around their hair when they bicycle. I asked my wife why and she said it keeps your hairdo from getting mussed by the wind or tangled. They seemed to have hair at all lengths, from short bobs to shoulder length.

    Of course they don't wear helmets, but I imagine a scarf worn under a helmet would also work.

    I wear, year round, a very lightweight wicking cap under my helmet. It's to help prevent any sweat buildup, but it also seems to keep my short hair from sticking up after a commute. Probably the same principal as a head scarf.

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  26. My very curly hair is a couple inches below my shoulder. I center-part it and make two French braids on each side. Post ride, I can undo the braids and have nice waves to go with the sweaty face. Ha!

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  27. last summer my hair was about chin length, but this spring I got a pixie cut. It is great for cycling and because I style mine a little "messy" it's easy to fix even after a helmet.

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  28. Short, and I mean really short, not shorter than long. If it gets long enough to touch my face, it makes me crazy. Lots of gel and then when the ride is over, a few squirts from the water bottle, a little comb through with the fingers and I'm good to go. At this point though, no matter what, the do is a don't, because I'm old!

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  29. I wear an extremely short haircut and I love it, esp. for cycling. For some time, I had more bob-length hair that required blow drying. Once my helmet was on and then off when I arrived at work, the morning hair fussing was undone. I happily chopped it two+ years ago and now when I get to work, my hair can be drenched with sweat but I run my hand through it, pat it down on the side, and I am good to go.

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  30. I have short curly hair and if I have to look nice after a ride (for example, going to work in the morning), I'll just make a quick stop in the bathroom to wet the curls with a little water on my hands and maybe define the curls with a bit of gel if they've gotten frizzy (I love the Ouidad moisturizing gel). Works great and is super easy.

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  31. My hair short almost never looks good. My hair long almost always looks good. Maybe it's more a matter of individual hair personality. I've always been jealous of that easily tousled short hair some women can pull off.

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  32. I tend to do a 10 year hair cycle- from gamine to mid-back and back again. The worst I find is a bob with fringe. Fringe is the WORST with helmets and hats. Do I push them up into the helmet? Do a I plaster them against my forehead? Nothing works!

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  33. I have pretty short hair that's a very messy style and I find it's perfect for riding a bike (I wear a helmet). Once I arrive at my destination, I just ruffle up my hair and I'm good to go! No more helmet head!

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  34. My hair style it's all helmet hair! haha Big hair that always take the shape of my helmet...what can I do?! Cycling is always in the first place!

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  35. Talking of loose strands of hair... I recently purchased the "The Take A Look" mirror to wear on my sunglasses to try it out to see what everyone was talking about. I found that loose hair strands would block my view in the mirror, which is very annoying. I also find that when I pull back my hair back in a pony tail - drivers seem nicer towards me. Ok it might be psychological, I don't know.

    BTW I've never had much success with mirrors, and read great reviews of this product. It's not that I really need it, I'm pretty confident looking back, but just wanted that added sense of security for my arterial road commutes and errands. I don't like how bar mirrors look. I would love to read your take on this product if you ever decide to give it a try. Warning - it only took me one day to get comfortable with it and i don't look as geeky as I thought I would look :).

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  36. Hemet hair, the bane of my mane.
    -t

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  37. I have the sort of super fine hair that winds up in your eyes no matter how it's pinned or plaited back. Someone above mentioned scarves and on thinking about it I remember reading that silk scarves placed loosely inside a wool cap can keep your hair in place. Maybe I'll give a silk scarf a try, at least once the weather is a bit cooler. Silk can be quite warm.

    Judith

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  38. After having long hair all of my life, I find I prefer it short for frequent road cycling - just above chin length, and nice and short in the back, off the neck. When it is not really hot, I almost always wear a wool beanie under the helmet (smartwool, icebreaker), which helps to regulate sweat and temperature; in the dog days of summer, I wear a cotton stretchy headband to help keep hair out of the way, tucked under the helmet. (I find silk scarves slip around. The bandana option may be worth trying.) But if you have straight hair there is no way around it: helmet-head is an insolvable problem, except with a shower. Thanks for your writing, Velouria.
    Evelyn

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  39. I know a woman who does her long hair in a 1930s style with a backcombed, pinned roll at the front and a similar roll at the back (I hope I have described it accurately). It looks incredibly stylish and suits her really well, and when she puts her helmet on, her hair stays in place and when she takes the helmet off it still looks great. Not everyone can work this look but it works really well on her.

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  40. I had long dreadlocks (that I cut to chin length every other summer) for 11 years. I've only been biking for transportation for the last two years or so, rain or shine. While my hair was mostly care-free, there were issues that cycling caused that always bothered me (namely, African American hair is very fragile and shouldn't be shampooed every day and what to do with sweaty helmet head).

    Two weeks ago, I cut my past-shoulder length locks off into a teeny weeny afro, and I've never felt better. No more helmet hair, because there's very little hair there to worry about. A quick rinse every morning does away with the sweaty helmet head, and my hair is dry in minutes instead of taking 8 hours to dry fully. Although none of my helmets fit anymore and I'll have to get new ones, it's a small price to pay to have care-free, helmet friendly hair.

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  41. Another vote for long hair. I am changing my hair now that I've really gotten into cycling though -- I'm growing out my bangs. The short bangs would get sweaty and damp against my forehead under the helmet, and would stick out funny. Now that they're long enough to tuck behind my ears, I'm much happier.

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  42. Once upon a time, long fine straight hair pulled back tightly in a ponytail. Now, buzz cut generally with clippers set at #2, and always with cap or bandanna between the scalp and helmet. No helmet head, no odd burn marks, less sweat in the eyes.

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  43. I have a bob with bangs and always wear a helmet. No problem. Sometimes when it gets a little long I wear an elastic headband to hold it back a little.

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