Caps Not Hats

Caps Not Hats

My son, the older one, said, “When you do something good in France, do they say ‘hat’ to you?” He’s a funny one, that boy, with a precocious sarcasm that will no doubt endear him to teachers and administrators alike. I was wearing the cycling cap above, a gift from the folks at Walz Caps, who have hatched this Caps Not Hats campaign with Bill Strickland and Superissimo.

The idea here is that cycling has traditional headwear. It’s made of cotton. It hugs the head and has a short-ish, rounded bill. It’s a cap. And yet, the baseball hat, pretender to the throne of leisure time sports headwear, has somehow supplanted the humble cycling cap on podiums and in the soft goods catalogs of too many cycling products companies. The aforementioned collaborators are seeking to reverse that trend, to return the simple cap to its former primacy in the cycling world.

This is an entirely serious, un-serious endeavor, or a passionate folly, depending on how you look at it.

cnh2When they asked if I’d like to have a cap, I thought about it. In taking it I was agreeing, although we never spoke about it, to write about the cap and campaign, and I wondered if I really had anything to say about cycling caps. Well, it turns out that I do.

I like cycling caps. I almost always wear one under my helmet. I like the way they look. I like the way they feel. I like them in winter. I like them in summer. Sometimes I buy a cycling cap, but I don’t wear it. I just have it. To have.

My wife hates when I wear a cycling cap when I’m not on the bike. She agrees with Rule 22, that the cycling cap is for cycling, and for nothing else. But you know, I don’t care for rules. I don’t like being told what not to do. And I don’t subscribe to the self-loathing idea that continuing to inhabit my cycling persona when I’m not actually riding is somehow wrong. When I see someone in a store or coffee shop with a cap on, I think, “Hey, a friend, a fellow traveler,” and I think that’s a good thing.

Further, I think the more cyclists people see in their world the more accepting they become of cycling. We need to be visible off the bike, too. And we need to not hate ourselves for being skinny (I’m kidding), shaven legged (I don’t), lycra wearing (mostly) suffer freaks (sometimes). This is who we are, rules or no rules.

cnh3Getting to the specific point of the campaign, to coerce the Contadors and Cancellaras of this world to doff the proper sombrero as they receive their bouquets and podium girl kisses, well, I don’t know. I don’t know how the modern baseball hat (colloquially a cap in its own right) managed to ford the Atlantic Ocean, like some sort of African swallow toting a coconut from tropical climes. How is it that this unlikely hat made the trip, but not the stultifyingly boring, yet compulsively statistical sport it connotes? And how will supporting Caps Not Hats, presumably by donning one of these caps, help the situation? I don’t know, but I decided to wear one.

I accepted their cap, and I pulled it gleefully from the padded mailer when it arrived at the house, and I put it on and commenced to attending my domestic duties, whereupon my wife tut-tutted and my boy said, “What does chapeau mean?” And I said, “It means ‘hat’ in French. It’s something you say when someone has done something well, as though you were tipping your cap to them.” And he nodded for a moment, and then smirked and delivered his line, happy with himself. My wife smirked, too.

They’re not cyclists.

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  1. Ransom

    I like cycling caps. I go back and forth on my willingness to wear them as a part of my general-use attire. Stocking caps aren’t always appropriate, but are an easy choice when it’s cold. When it’s just cool or damp, I want a bit of a visor, and a head covering, and to look, well, like that hopefully-extant sliver of overlap in the Venn diagram of “looking not entirely uncool” and “looking like myself”.

    I hate baseball caps. I think they don’t belong in either component of the aforementioned diagram, are aggressively boring and tedious, and I lament their position as the default casual headgear in the U.S.. My problem is that both cycling caps and my other semi-regular choice -the tweed pub cap/touring cap- can come off as a bit of an affectation.

    And I *never* seem to find the right occasion for the bowler I acquired to go to a Halloween party as that Magritte painting, Son of Man.

  2. Tom in albany

    I’m a baseball cap guy. I’ve got precious little hair so, a chapeau is a must in cold and sunny conditions. I’ve been a ballcap guy since I was a ballcap teenager. I like the better shade offered by ball caps.

    That said, I own all of one cycling cap. Maybe I just need to work on that.

  3. Tom

    Baseball “Stultifyingly boring”—really Robot? You’re from Boston, aren’t you? Home of the Red Sox. And they still let you live in New England after such a remark. Guess that Yankee tolerance goes further than I thought. Love the hat though.
    P.S. Keep score next time you go to a game; you might find it less boring.

    1. Author

      @Tom – I like baseball. As a kid, I was obsessed. I collected cards. I kept scores. And as a Bostonian, I love the Red Sox. This is a tribal as much as a sporting loyalty. I go to Fenway. I eat the hot dogs. I can watch, because I’ve been indoctrinated, jumped into the gang, but…it’s a boring game.

  4. Patrick O'Brien

    I love cycling caps. I often wear one off the bike. All of my caps are from Walz. I especially like the three panel caps in wool or the moisture wicking fabric. And I agree, podium pictures should be in cycling caps. TdF fanatics get all crazy when the “tradition” of the race is violated, but then allow podium poses with riders wearing baseball hats on backwards! Maybe that is the real reason they busted Floyd.

  5. Girl

    I like cycling caps well enough. Problem is, I have a small head, so they don’t fit me. Also, the bill is small-ish, so it doesn’t shade one’s face well. I agree, caps only, on the podium!

  6. Marshdrifter

    I love cycling caps with cycling kit, but not so much with non-cycling clothes. With those, one should probably wear an actual hat, if you need something on your head.

    Those baseball things are also caps, not hats. I support the campaign enough that I don’t mind the misnomer, though.

  7. Adam

    I quite enjoy the knowing nod & smile from a fellow cyclist when out & wearing a cycling cap. Plenty of people wear sillier things on a daily basis.

  8. John Kopp

    I confess that I usually wear baseball hats because my favorite stetson is a bit pretentious. But I always wear a cycling cap while on the bike. Usually under my helmet because most helmets didn’t have visors. The small bill seemed to work well, and the cap fit well under the helmet.

    Excellent article, Robot!

  9. Mark Young

    I think i read in Bill Stricklands article about this that Greg Lemond was responsible for bringing a baseball cap to the podium. If I recall it was yellow and not very nice looking.

    I love a good cycling cap under my helmet. My current favorite is the Castelli Retro. It is deeper cut thus fits my large head better.

    I, along with John Kopp have a few stetsons, and probably way too many ‘ball’ caps. My favorites at this time are the Castelli Podium and Bianchi Podium. But when I ride, it has to be a cycling cap.

  10. SusanJane

    I will watch the most boring, most poorly filmed and commentated bike race before I ever see another baseball game again. I’m horrendously bad a numbers and couldn’t give a fig about averages or any of the rest. I don’t fuss over watts and that cycling crap either, but there’s still a race going on without them. And I much prefer three grand tours of fabulous country side to some stadium full of people eating expensive hot dogs.

    Oh, yeah, hats. I’m of the opinion that hats are first of all a matter of utility (sun, sweat, warmth, helmet hair), and second a personal statement (tradition vs quirk). No one would walk up on the podium in a top hat but I’d howl with laughter if they did and respect their audacity.

  11. Jay

    I like that you reference the Velominati (Rule 22). I,too, like cycling caps,but only when I ride. Your wife has much wisdom. I enjoy reading this blog and contributing my two cents on occasion. I like the Velominati as well. I am one of them in a sense. I have my own issues with some of the Rules. I have a RKP cap and use it most days on the bike. The Velominati have yet to offer a cap. So, hats off to RKP…

  12. Ryan

    I sport a cycling cap under my helmet almost always when riding. Days with extreme heat excepted. Après velo, I’m partial to ball caps. Probably because I played ball for about 20 years of my life. The ball caps I sport are cycling related though. I’ve got a sweet Giro lid, as well as a Speedplay one. Also a Velominatus, while I don’t subscribe to all The Rules, I agree that cycling caps off the bike do look a bit silly

  13. Les.B.

    Nothing says “dork” more than a baseball cap worn backwards. Fortunately this is not common practice with bike caps.

  14. TJ

    Anyone got any experience with Champion System caps, Iv got an old team issue one and its interesting. first of its made of quick dry fabric which is a bonus but the shape is absolutely horrible, the peak sits down on the face and is no good for actually riding in… caps are great imo

  15. Larry T.

    Chapeau! Funny, they don’t say CAPPELLINO in Italian but anyway I agree 100% with wearing a cycling cap when involved in cycling, which includes standing atop a podium at the end of a race. I too hate baseball caps, especially when I see someone in a halfway-decent eatery wearing one, kind of like Artie Bucco of the Soprano’s. We’ve had clients ask us to provide logo baseball caps and we politely refuse, showing them instead our own classic, cotton, Made-in-Italy cycling cap with a tricolore stripe down the middle. Some buy one, most don’t. When I need to keep the sun off my bald noggin’ I wear one whether I’m doing anything cycling-related or not. I ride a bike so I’m sort of a cyclist. I don’t play or watch baseball so no ball caps for me!

  16. burnt

    Oh, I am so late to this thread, but whatever. Caps are where it’s at. For those whose melons are small and large there are several custom makers in the US who will take your head’s circumference and make a suitable cap for $30 and up. I’m guessing the European readers can find something custom as well. I’m not providing links to avoid spam filters but poke around. For my most recent birthday my wife purchased a custom-made cap made from a recycled hound’s tooth suit. It’s light-weight wool and it fits great. It was about $35 shipped.

    Cavendish and his love for caps is mentioned above. When I found this out about Cavendish a few years ago it made me like him. I hope he can turn the pro peloton around and have them embrace the cap again.

    Oh, and sadly I am a fan of rule 22, but I can’t provide any rationalization for it. It’s a silly rule but I like it.

  17. Danno

    I have a problem with caps.

    I love to wear them while on a bicycle, and I love their versatility while on the bike.

    My problem is that, while living in Brooklyn NY, the number of folks wearing terrible Brooklyn cycling caps who have not thrown a leg over a bicycle in years has skyrocketed. So I am left to wonder whether my borough is populated by rabid fans of Roger De Vlaeminck, or Italian chewing gum. Neither of which seems plausible.

  18. sbarner

    The interesting thing about bike caps is that they survived the transition to helmets so cleanly. In the pre-helmet days the cap was a tool to keep your hair in plce and provide warmth, especially if your hair were short, thin, or absent. One quickly learned that ball caps fly off the head at speed. The small bill of the cycling cap and its shape either could direct air over the cap, if the bill were down, or it could be flipped up, which effectively snugs up the band a bit, helping to keep the hat in place. The problem is the bill is too small to shade the eyes, unless the sun is almost directly overheaed. It’s the longer bill of the ball cap that makes it so effective, but a ball cap doesn’t work well under most helmets when worn properly, because the bill is forced too low and blocks vision, especially when on the drops.

    I suspect racers adopted the ball cap for apres event because these tend to happen leter in the day, when the sun is lower in the sky. A cycling cap is not going to help you avoid squinting on the podium. If the organizers are thinking, they’ll face the podium toward the sun to provide better light for photographers.

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