What Are Cycling Caps For: And why do they have to be so tight?


Cyclists end up wearing a lot of weird-looking clothing, but the one that most people never get their heads around is cycling caps (get it!….). As a cyclist who often chooses to use a cycling cap, I thought I would go into some detail about the advanatges of cycling caps, and take you through the benefits they can offer.

Cycling caps are a great option for regular cyclists, they offer protection to your head from the wind, rain, and sun, while also helping to protect your helmet from the sweat and oil of your scalp. On top of this, they offer extra advantages to those that wear glasses, helping to maintain visibility if it rains.

So, there are some obvious advantages to cycling caps, but why did people start wearing them in the first place, and why are they so small? I take a look at these, as well as the main benefits of cycling caps in the rest of the article.

What is the purpose of a cycling cap?

Why do cyclists wear weird hats?

For more than a century, cycling caps (also called casquettes) were the only thing that cyclists wore on their heads, acting as insulation, a barrier to the rain, and a minimal layer of protection in the case of a crash. In fact, much like with other sports, professional cyclists would often throw their cycling caps out into the crowds of bike racing events as they passed.

After the development of the helmet, the cycling cap stuck around, albeit not as commonly as it was before, and thus many cyclists to this day still use them.

What Are Cycling Caps For?

So if a cycling cap has been surpassed by the bike helmet, why do people still use them?

Visibility

The first bonus of a cycling cap is visibility. Not all bike helmets come with a visor on the front, so a cycling cap is a great addition as it can help to block the sun from your eyes as you cycle.

The visor can be adjusted up or down to position it in such a way that it can limit glare as you cycle.

Hair Management

Another key benefit of a cycling cap is hair management. A cycling cap sits nicely between your head and the helmet, stopping your hair from poking out through the holes in the helmet as you ride. Not only does this help your appearance as you cycle but it also saves you from the “bed head” look when you take your helmet off.

Sun protection

If you don’t have hair, then a cycling cap can also add a layer of protection between your head and the sun. I’ve seen far too many cyclists take off their helmets after a long ride to reveal burnt streaks down their scalp. A cycling cap helps to limit this and reduces the need for sun cream.

Rain protection

Many cycling caps have at least partial water resistance. This helps to keep water from soaking through to your hair on a ride as you are cycling, helping to combat the “wet dog” look as you get off the bike.

Not only this, but if you wear glasses, a cycling cap can be a great way of limiting water droplets from hitting the lenses. The visor part of a cycling cap can be angled to limit the rain from hitting your glasses directly or having the water drip onto your eyes from your forehead.

As a glasses wearer, this is the main reason I wear my cycling cap.

Insulation

Cycling caps can be made from a range of different materials, from thin polyester up to thicker materials such as wool.

In colder months, a wool cycling cap can be a great way of keeping your head warm, trapping the heat around your head and helmet, as well as forming a barrier to the wind.

However, as it gets warmer, a high-quality cycling cap (for example one made from merino wool), will be able to insulate the cool air around your head and stop it from overheating.

Hygiene

Cycling caps also help to keep the inside of your helmet clean. While helmet pads inside your helmet can technically be washed, they are often quite delicate, and limiting how often you need to clean them can increase the lifespan of a helmet.

Wearing a cycling cap can limit how much sweat and different oils from your hair/head will come into contact with the helmet directly and help to keep it cleaner.

It is much easier to clean the cap than it is to clean the helmet and the pads.

Sweat protection

For those of us who sweat a lot on our bike rides, a cycling cap can be a great way to prevent sweat from getting into your eyes. Instead of rolling down your head and stinging your eyes, the cap helps to catch these sweat drips in the brim of the visor (which is gross but still nicer than having it in your eye).

Aesthetics

As with all things cycling, aesthetics also comes into play. The cycling community would be lying to itself if they didn’t admit that one of the reasons they cycling hats is that they like the look of them, and having another piece of gear to waste money on will always go down well with cyclists.

Given there are so many brands and designs available for cycling caps, having another way to express yourself is a reason why some cyclists will wear a cycling cap (although I doubt they’ll go around admitting that).

How many cyclists wear cycling caps?

With so many uses for a cycling cap, I thought it would be interesting to find out how many cyclists actually used them.

I asked a large group of cyclists how many of them wore cycling caps for their bike rides. As you can see from the results below, while the majority of cyclists appear not to bother with a cap, many cyclists still do use them.

Why are cycling caps so small?

So, we’ve established that there is actually a reason to wear a cycling cap, but why do they have to be so tight? There are actually a couple of reasons for this!

First of all, they need to be able to fit under your helmet, other types of hats like baseball caps aren’t as comfortable to wear under a helmet as they are not as small.

Secondly, they also need to have a small visor. If you had a large visor on a cycling cap, as you cycled with your head tipped down you wouldn’t be able to see the road as well.

Apart from this, a smaller cycling cap also means less wind resistance. This helps your overall cycling ability as the more drag you have, the less speed you will be able to get with each pedal.

A small cycling cap is also better suited for being tucked into a jacket or jersey pocket if you find it becomes uncomfortable, or if it becomes too warm.

Finally, a smaller cycling cap is better at keeping your head warm or insulated. The less space you have between your head and the hat, the less air that the air is able to change temperature.

Overall

While they may look a bit odd, cycling caps certainly do have many uses. Be that protecting your head from the elements or helping to spice up your cycling wardrobe, a cycling cap can make a great purchase for a regular rider.

If you’re interested in other cycling gear, take a look at my article on how a cycling jersey should fit, and how to find the right one for you.

Mark Holmes

30-year-old doctor with an interest in cycling, bikepacking, and statistics.