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Dear Frank: If the cap fits

Frank Strack
22 Sep 2016

What is the etiquette for wearing a cycling cap when not cycling?

Dear Frank 

One of my friends has taken to wearing his cycling cap and occasionally even a cycling jersey in non-cycling social situations, like in the pub. Is this acceptable behaviour?

Clive, by email

Dear Clive

Let me start with refreshing your memory of Rule #22 by citing its vitals here: Cycling caps are for cycling.

Cycling caps can be worn under helmets, but never when not riding, no matter how hip you think you look. This will render one a douche, and should result in public berating or beating. The only time it is acceptable to wear a cycling cap is while directly engaged in cycling activities and while clad in cycling kit. This includes activities taking place prior to and immediately after the ride, such as machine-tuning and tyre-pumping. Also included are cafe appearances for pre-ride espresso and post-ride pub appearances for body-refuelling ales. Under these conditions, having your cap skull-side tipped jauntily at a rakish angle is, one might say, de rigueur. 

The most common question I get about The Rules is which one I break most frequently. The answer to that asinine question is, of course, that I never break any of them. Although sometimes it might look like I am breaking some. And in the event that I look like I’m breaking one, in most cases it is Rule #22. 

Par exemple, when in Belgium, I tend to wear a cycling cap to a wide variety of activities, including the bike races we spectate on and the bizarre parties we go to where we may or may not watch a crazy French ska band called Monsieur Paris-Roubaix enthusiastically play horrible cycling-inspired songs. These aren’t, strictly speaking, cycling-related activities like faffing about with your bike or drinking a pre-ride espresso, yet the whole week is so cycling-centric that it always feels normal to have a cap perched atop the ol’ brain shield.
But it is a grey area, that much is certain.

My friends at Pavé Cycling Classics in Lille own a Belgian beer company called Malteni – a clever play on the 1970s cycling team Molteni made famous by Eddy Merckx. They made the obvious choice to commission Italian wool jerseys in the style of the Molteni jersey, adorned with their own brand.

I own one, naturally, and have worn it with pride to some of these events. Is it a cycling jersey? Technically, yes. Would I ever wear it cycling? Technically I could. But I don’t. So to me it isn’t really a cycling jersey, but a cool woolen sweater-shirt, or swirt if you will.

More to the point, the cycling cap has long been a beacon of cycling tradition. The cap itself is made of soft and loosely structured cotton, designed to be easily folded and stowed in a jersey pocket and to absorb moisture when worn. But its true beauty lies within its brim.

Its short, blunted visor is designed to provide shade while still affording the wearer an unobstructed view of the road along which they are laying down the hammer – jaw agape, head held low and out of the wind, eyes set with purpose upon the next turn. 

When shade is not the problem but other elements like rain, sleet, or snow threaten your vision, the visor is just as effective at keeping shit out of your eyes. On a sufficiently wet day, when your morale washes into the gutter along with the other debris collected by the rain, the drops of water falling from the brim of the cap tap out your rhythm like a metronome. 

The point I’m drilling home is that the cycling cap is a supremely specialised and purpose-driven article of clothing, a tool designed exclusively for the unique demands of a cyclist.

The same can be said of our jerseys, with full-length zippers, highly technical fabrics, and three rear pockets. Hopefully the jersey fits snugly – tightly enough to prevent unnecessary flapping in the wind and to keep the pockets from sagging when holding tubes and food. 

Civilian clothing is equally purpose-driven, except its function has more to do with comfort and attracting a mate than it does with performing well on two wheels. As such, there isn’t a more compelling reason to wear a cycling cap or jersey to the pub than there is to ride in flip-flops. The kit is designed for the ride. When it comes to the pub, throw on that 1970s Zeppelin t-shirt you got on Ebay. 

And for Merckx’s sake, if you wear any kind of cap to the pub, would you please have the decency to take it off before going in? Cyclists surely have better manners than to wear a cap indoors.

Frank Strack is the creator and curator of The Rules. For further illumination see velominati.com or find a copy of The Rules (Sceptre) in all good bookshops. Email your questions to him at cyclist@dennis.co.uk.

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