How to wear… Caps
Ex-pro Yanto Barker explains why caps should receive a rightful renaissance as part of your outfit
Awise man once said, ‘Trends come and go, but caps are forever.’ That wise man was me, and I said it just then, but the point is valid. Casquettes have been around almost as long as the bicycle. They are integral to our culture so they shouldn’t be considered in any way a fashion fad – think of their popularity more as you would the moon’s phases. The cap waxes and wanes but will always be there.
In recent times the currency of the cap has waned, largely because helmets are now actually cool to wear. Even though wearing a helmet is not a legal requirement unless you are racing, it’s the preferred headwear for all rides nowadays, and rightly so. Style, as important as it is, should never come at the expense of safety. Yet go back 15 years and it was very different. Back then a cycling cap was what you wore and it was something that was worn in a very particular way.
As has always been correct, the pros made the rules and the amateurs observed them. If you were a senior rider, your cap was worn traditionally – the peak facing forwards and down. Note Miguel Indurain in any of his Tour wins, or Bjarne Riis in the 1996 Tour. Those guys epitomised this law. However younger riders, as they were cool and hip and fashion-forward, wore their caps backwards with the peak up – see Jan Ullrich just a year later in 1997.
As the years passed, these first informal nuggets of cap etiquette (capiquette?) crystallised into rules: peaks forward and down below 30kmh, backward and up above 30kmh. Only in training, though. Pros might be totems of style but they wouldn’t drop a tell like that if they were planning to accelerate away from their rivals in an actual race.
Cap it off
With caps now rare in the peloton, there’s more scope for the amateur to carve out their own rules. There’s no reason why, with careful colour and style selection, a cap and helmet cannot only coexist but actually enrich the riding experience. A lightweight cap in summer can keep sweat from your eyes, while an insulated one in winter can keep your head warm.
A clean white cap is the best choice. I used to get very upset if one of my teammates picked mine up – there was never a limitless supply and clean ones after the Classics were few and far between. I have a soft spot for a cap that matches your socks, though – little touches like that will earn a nod from even the most discerning cycling fashionista.
When riding with a cap in your pocket it should be folded with the peak inside the body of the cap, and placed vertically in your pocket without being bent, otherwise you might as well throw it away. A cap with a bent peak is like a bird with a bent beak: not worth a squawk.
Colin Lewis, a racer from the days of Tom Simpson, has told me some stories about caps. In the bad old days a cap could be taken right off a teammate’s head by senior riders if they had upset stomachs. Without getting too graphic, apparently they could be put down the shorts to catch all the contents of the unplanned operation, leaving the area relatively clean given the circumstances. Thankfully in my time I never witnessed this. If you have, you’re riding with the wrong type of people. Next month – shudder – Yanto looks ahead to winter.