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A Doff to the Cap
Choosing the right kit for a ride is a critical moment: too much and you might cook, too little and you could be shivering away any chance of enjoying yourself. With experience this process now takes me seconds rather than minutes, but always ends with a pause before choosing what might seem the least important accessory of all, the cycling cap.
I never ride without one. When spending long hours in the saddle, we become particularly sensitive to every sensation: a bead of sweat, a loose knee warmer. With every passing minute our awareness increases. A cotton cap on your bonce may seem insignificant but personally, on a comfort level, I put it right up there with the chamois pad and those irreplaceable merino socks and base layer.
Rapha receives regular comments about their model riders not wearing helmets (a debate which I prefer to leave to others), so I feel the need to say that one of the many beautiful aspects of a cap is that it slips under a lid come rain come or shine. I am not proposing the use of either one or the other, but both (it's your choice).
Here are 12 reasons why every cyclist should wear one:
The Cap is the only roadwear item that really does have its place off the bike too. It can be a beautiful fashion statement or a nod to your heroes and your sport, but it can also be used to suit your mood. The peak-up position is an instant “hello Life, I’m here!”, half-mast suggests a slight moodiness, whereas full-down suggests “gone fishing/ tread gently”.
With the peak lowered to that perfect angle a wind-free space is created just around the eyes so that, with or without sunglasses, your eyes will feel protected from the constant bombardment of a headwind.
Similarly, the peak can be lowered to keep all rain off the eyes, when glasses are often ineffective at keeping your vision clear. With gentle, constant rain, I have found myself gazing at the droplet that swings back and forth on the edge of the cap, like a pendulum, before dropping away. Dangerously distracting perhaps, but useful when the day starts to feel too long. There is a limit to how low one should drop the peak against driving rain: I once listened to a rider explain how he had been handed down the passion for cycling from his father, who rode in all weathers, despite losing all his front teeth when he went straight into the back of a lorry on a descent in pouring rain. His peak was a little too low…
Obvious perhaps but nonetheless when 30C or more is forecast you might think that less is more. Not so. The cap really comes into its own the hotter it gets. I apparently have a growing bald patch up top – can’t see it, don’t want to see it – and to plaster it in sun cream would be a messy process indeed. With a cap on, no need.
The final hot-weather attribute of the Cap is one of the best: to scoop up a capful of chilled spring water from a fountain in a mountain village and pour it all over your scorched head is a blissfully simple remedy to over-heating. It is also safer than just ducking your head straight into the usually very cold water basin. The cap then offers you a few delightful minutes of cool refreshment once back in the saddle. (The Cap, I seem to recall from an article somewhere, has also been used as another type of ‘scoop’, when a domestique had to hand his Cap to his Team Captain who had a ‘Call of Nature’ to deal with…)
When bees get sucked in between the helmet air vents and thrown into a sweaty mess of hair its hardly surprising that they panic and sting you. The smooth surface of the Cap gives them a chance of crawling back out and moving on to more tranquil florets!
This is my favourite aspect of the Cap. When things are feeling bad, when you can’t see the end of the straight road ahead, or when you can and it just looks too far and too steep, lower your peak. I bring it down to give me a ten-metre vision. Your world has then been reduced to cycling ten metres at a time, which is much easier than cycling thousands of metres. Naturally, care should be taken to look up regularly for safety reasons and in order to keep one’s front teeth.
When the going gets tough and eyes are stinging with the sweat pouring off your forehead, anything that can help reduce this inconvenience is welcome. I’m not saying that it will keep all the sweat out, but it will ‘re-distribute’ the salty stuff somewhat.
The cap may only be made of cotton, albeit windproof and water-resistant, but it really can make a difference when the air is cold (and can be supplemented by a merino hat). Likewise, against the scorching sun, it can also provide a very effective barrier. What I’m saying here is that it is an all-year-round asset to you, so the choice is “which one to wear?”, not “shall I wear a cap?”
Being smaller than most other roadwear, it is the ideal treasure for collectors, especially since it is often the most common choice for a customised product. (If you've ever ridden a Rapha Gent's Race or Ride, you'll have seen some great examples.)
Taking up less room than jerseys and being cheaper and easier to hang than stuffed hunting trophies, the Cap is simply the best wall decoration there could be. And when you fancy, you can take one down and actually wear it. (Which is infinitely more complicated to do with a deer’s skull).
I could go on, and maybe others here will, but I will finish this short reflection on a very small piece of well crafted cloth by adding that, for most people, unless they have a head full of dreadlocks, the cap makes a pretty cool gift at any time of the year! Chapeau!
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