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Graze of shades: Why are glasses worn over the helmet straps?

Frank Strack
8 Mar 2017

Considering straying from The Rules? Frank Strack is here to guide you back into the light

Dear Frank

Like a good disciple of The Rules I always place the arms of my shades over the straps of my helmet. As a result, I recently removed my helmet, only to dislodge my shades, which dropped and scratched on the ground. It made me wonder what this Rule is for? 

Craig, by email

Dear Craig

When conjuring images of European road racing very few helmets come to mind.

The Prophet Merckx: no helmets, ever. Just a simple cotton casquette, like a civilised rider. Same goes for the Apostles such as De Vlaeminck, Maertens, Hinault, Fignon or Kelly.

These riders were the masters of wearing a cap according to the Three-Point System, which dictates that any headwear be worn in alignment to the three main aesthetic points on the head: the eyebrows, ears and the nape of the neck (more information can be found at velominati.com).

The cotton cap adapted easily to the introduction of cycling-specific shades, which when not in their customary position over the eyes could easily be stowed atop the head over the cap.

What’s more, the cap folded up to fit perfectly in a jersey pocket for strategic deployment and redeployment purposes.

Let the record show that the cap is the coolest-looking thing a cyclist can put on their head while riding. Period. And rad shades are the coolest thing a cyclist can put over their eyes.

These artifacts worn in tandem allowed the cyclist to look even cooler than when they were wearing one, the other, or neither.

The fact that they cohabited so seamlessly was an anomaly during an era when an entire generation was grappling with the concept of fluorescent colours.

The hair net

Be that as it may, the classic cycling cap does little to protect the head from injury. The Belgians were the first to take head protection seriously, and enforced a regulation that required the use of something called the ‘hair net’ in all competitions within their borders.

The hair net comprised a series of leather strips stuffed with what I’m given to understand was horse hair, sewn together in a loose framework that covered the top of the head.

It wasn’t bulky (or particularly protective) and could be folded up and crammed in a jersey pocket. And it looked fantastic over a casquette.

The next era of Apostles – Johan Museeuw, Andrea Tafi, Franco Ballerini and company – embraced it and made it an iconic part of their aesthetic.

This was the state of European road racing when Greg LeMond appeared one spring morning early in the 1990s wearing a sleek Styrofoam Giro helmet.

Oh, to have been a fly on a down tube that day as the whispers spread through the peloton. Ah, l’Americane got his tête stuck dans un coffee cup, n’est pas?

Hard shell helmets posed a challenge for the contemporary European cycling community.

Permanent protection

While the casquette and hairnet were designed to come on and off and be stowed in a jersey pocket easily while riding, the helmet was a permanent fixture.

Unless you came off, in which case it became a permanent fixture depending on how well the straps were adjusted prior to crashing.

And herein lies the answer to your question: the shades go over the helmet for two reasons.

First, since the helmet is not intended to come off while riding and the straps of most helmets are designed to lie flat along the temples and jaw, the most comfortable way to wear the sunglasses is with the arms over the straps.

Secondly, in the unfortunate situation wherein you crash, wearing them over the straps allows the shades to fly off rather than stay in place and cause further damage.

You definitely wouldn’t want them to crack on your face.

It seems a fairly simple remedy to remember to take your shades off before you remove your helmet.

You already damaged one pair of sunnies – make sure you don’t do it again. As the Dutch say, not even an ass bumps into the same rock twice.

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