We express ourselves through our clothing, that we are a cat lady, or a tough guy, or a style maven, or a firefighter. Whole genres of t-shirt are dedicated to communicating in-group membership. We virtue signal. We package ourselves for someone’s, if not everyone’s, consumption.
Even those of us who purport to give zero f&%ks, communicate that fact through what we wear. We see you. We understand. You don’t care. In part, we admire your dedication to more substantive aspects of your life. On balance though, we think you’re a slob. Your failure to try is endearing/repulsive. Is it a statement of confidence or a cry for help? Hard to tell.
That brings me to the curious case of the cycling cap.
If you’re here, at The Cycling Independent, and you’re reading these words, it’s because, in your heart, you’re a cyclist. Like at some point you subsumed your hobby into your identity. It became less a thing you did and more a way you chose to live. It’s probable that not only do you love to ride bikes, but you also love all the things that go along with riding bikes, the lingo, the history, the technology, and even the cycling cap.
And let me get off the fence early on this one. I love cycling caps. I think, despite all the evidence, they’re cool.
What the rest of the world thinks is this: 1) That brim is useful for nothing. 2) Your head is the wrong shape for that. 3) It is neither rainy nor sunny right now. 4) You must be balding. It’s ok to be balding. We accept you as you are, except for that cap. 5) Is a wedding the right place for a cycling cap? 6) Is the grocery store? 7) Oh, you’re that person.
The cycling cap is the velo-fetishistic version of the bow tie or the waxed moustache, the cellphone belt clip or the insouciant beret. It marks you out as a very specific character in this human dramedy. In as much as you actually want to be that person, the cycling cap is highly effective. Far better, too, than the grease stain on your calf.
I’m not sure how many cycling caps I own, which means I have n-2 more caps than I need where n is the number I have now and 2 is the number that any one human really needs. I have cycling caps that people gave me to celebrate their bike shop or their brand. I have caps people sewed for me, because they’re nice. I have ones that are nostalgic. I have others that I bought to support shops, brands, people I care for. I even have some that are purely functional, with ear covers and wool bits and felt-lined bands. Imagine that.
But let’s be honest, what we’re talking about here today is the scenario in which a cycling cap is called for, a day when you’re riding East into the rising sun or West into a setting sun, late season, when the sun is low. Or, maybe it’s raining, and that truncated brim is keeping the drops out of your eyes, although I have spent so many hours watching drops dance across the edge of the brim, I wonder if rain is really where the cycling cap shines. No. What we’re talking about here is the cycling cap as fashion choice. Outside of Brooklyn, Portland and parts of San Francisco, is this really the move you wanna make? Is this what you want to tell the world?
It’s a look that says, “I don’t have health insurance,” or “I use a homeopathic deodorant,” or “I have a lot of roommates,” or “One less car, but one big attitude about it,” or “I am currently carrying a burrito somewhere on my person,” or if you’re a cyclist who recognizes the deeper signifiers, “I ride single-speed only,” and/or “I race cyclocross,” and/or “I prefer wool jerseys.”
A few of these are true about me. I’ll let you decide which ones.
The thing about a superficial affectation like a cycling cap is that it may mean the things it implies, it may indicate the presence of all the attendant tropes, or it just might mean we’re having a bad hair day. In the end, I decided I wasn’t that guy. I wear a cycling cap when I ride my bike, but I’m not rocking the short brim at the dentist or at my nephew’s high school graduation. That doesn’t make me better than anyone, though. I have a pile of black, band t-shirts that reminds me (and everyone else) of that every day.