The rain has begun. Drops fall fat on steaming forearms. Skinny tires on the pavement buzzing like lost AM radio signals. Dial it in. Face drawn, eyes up, flip the brim of your cap down. The connection is made. Bikes are time machines. Moving not like the reenactment of some Civil War battle, but like Marty McFly through the past. They are direct conduits to times past, hardships endured, battles fought, won and lost. A rider, subconsciously or not, moves with the same motions and facial expressions of the rider 100 years ago. Sits in the same position, fears the same hills. The hunger is deep at the end of a ride, the legs have the same feeling of day old room temp jello. And the cycling cap is there, perched Belgian style, high atop the head, or pulled down low against the rain, or backward on a steep descent, or rakishly canted, a ship tossing on a storm writhed sea. The colors and the pattern and even the origin of the hat are cues: teams supported, races ridden, swaps attended. We learn the origin story through visual cues. Is the hat dirty? The brim sweat stained? Holes burned in it from campfire sparks? Is it crushed? Threadbare? Perfect and crisp?
The hat must come from a place to go to a place. In other words, the cap must be procured for a reason, so that it may exist with reason. Sometimes you feel an awful lot like you are what you own.
Note the Aero Tassel
The cycling cap has humble origins. Original cycling caps where just appropriated from other walks of life. Baker’s brimless skull caps, the chicken and egg problem of the Welder’s cap, knit alpine beanies for mountain stages. The first caps were just whatever would get the job done. There is validity still in the found cap concept: it’s hot, out, you need to get the sun off your face, almost anything will do, even a Red Sox hat. But the quiet grace of the cap, its packable construction, its minimalist fit, the telegraphed poise, these attributes elevate the cap to the level of gestalt. Nothing can be added. Nothing removed.
The casquette is in trouble. How does perfect design fall onto hard times? Progress means forward movement towards a greater goal. In the case of professional cycling, this greater goal is the ability to plaster more sponsor names on any given garment. So the small, quiet grace of the cycling cap is being supplanted by the gaudy Nascar-esque fitted baseball cap.
The podium is now mounted three men who look like rejects from the Class A Short Season Minor Leagues. The compulsory helmet laws of the past decade in pro racing have also helped with the demise of the ubiquitous cycling cap.
Coppi and Bartali, on their way to a Gnocchi eating contest
The racers’ abandonment of the caps has caused a vacuum in the universe. The universe, abhorring vacuums, (and household cleaning in general) gave us the hipster, who has appropriated the cycling cap. The hipster, his world clouded by pastiche, wears the cap as a statement of fixed gear solidarity. Perhaps they don’t actually own a fixed gear, or, owning one, know how to properly ride one.
It is time for real cyclists to reclaim the cap. Pull it low, hide the suffering, and destroy the mountain. Dip it in a silty drainage ditch and let the muddy water cool your broiling head. If you race, take the podium in a cap, not a hat. If you race in the rain, wear it under your helmet. If you go out to eat, wear something decidedly unhip, and a cycling cap, to undermine those who wear it with meaningless aplomb.
These hats are not vintage, they are repros, vintage teams, defunct teams from a time when riders put cabbage leaves under their hats, and helmets were something splunkers wore. Do you need to relate to the actual team? No. You need to relate to the spirit of living and breathing bikes.