Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Caps, Not Hats

"One thing I love about cycling is the odd traditions that still exist no matter how hi-tech it gets. The cycling cap is one of these so it seems a shame that on the podium, the showcase for the race, you always see baseball hats."

That quote, from cycling writer Bill Strickland, pretty nicely sums up a recent movement called Caps Not Hats. The movement got started as a reaction against the proliferation of baseball hats in the cycling ranks and on the victory podiums, which has pushed the traditional cycling cap out to the fringes.

Look at photos of racers of the past, in the days before helmets, and see how many don the little cap with the short brim as their only head gear while riding. Sometimes you'll see one tucked under a leather hairnet. And on the victory podiums, the caps were a regular sight. Nowadays, it's all baseball hats.

When did the change start? I could be wrong, but searching through old photos, I believe it started in 1989 -- Greg LeMond on the final podium at the Tour de France with his neon-pink Coors Light ball cap. LeMond regularly is credited as a pioneer in the use of carbon fiber frames, aero-bars, clipless pedals -- all things that make a Retrogrouch cringe (though I try not to hold it against him) -- but now I'm adding baseball hats to the list. No, he wasn't the first cyclist to wear a baseball hat on the winners podium. One could sometimes see them at American races, like the old Coors Classic of the 70s and 80s. Even Bernard Hinault wore one with his Coors Classic victory in '86 (and no Frenchman has won the Tour de France since Hinault -- a coincidence? Hmmm. . .). Since LeMond in '89, the baseball hat has almost completely supplanted the traditional cycling cap, even among the Europeans.

Let's look back a bit. . .

Coppi and Bartali in '49. It's hard to top that look.
It's actually not easy to find pictures of Jacques Anquetil with anything on his head -- probably didn't want to mess up that awesome hair.
There we go.
Can't leave out Merckx. 
LeMond with Hinault in 1985 -- the last time a Frenchman won the TdF.
LeMond and Hinault on the podium in '86. The tradition is still safe . . . for now.
Stephen Roche in '87.
Delgado bucks the trend with his headband in '88. Rooks and Parra stick to tradition.
1989. The tide turns . . .
By '92, there's Chiapucci, Indurain, and Bugno -- all with baseball hats.
Bjarne Riis, in '96, dons the traditional cap. Probably the last TdF winner to do so. Notice that Virenque is holding a baseball hat.
Jan Ullrich and Eric Zabel in '97. Mountains winner Virenque goes hat (and cap) less. 
Of course we know what this guy wore for all his wins. But there's Basso and Ullrich, wearing baseball hats, too, in '05.
Contador takes aim on tradition. . . and blows it away!
Froome, Wiggins, and Nibali in 2012. Two British, and one Italian rider -- not a cycling cap in sight. Froome would wear a baseball hat on the podium in 2013, and Nibali, too, in 2014.

All those photos are from the Tour de France, but look for pictures of podiums from any bicycle race in the last 20 years, and they all look pretty much the same. Baseball hats have taken over.

No Frenchman has won the TdF since Hinault in '85. I do have a completely crackpot theory that it has something to do with the fact that the definitively American baseball hat supplanted the traditional cycling cap among most racers. Nuts, I know, but think about it.

In my teens, this was the only head-wear I ever wore. It told
people "I'm a cyclist." No baseball hats for me. Period. 
The Caps Not Hats movement may be having a small, but hopefully growing impact on cycling, and I think it's a movement that can be embraced by Retrogrouches and technophiles alike. Mark Cavendish has been seen sporting the traditional cap more recently, as has the young American Taylor Phinney. Walz Cycling Caps has some CNH-logo'd caps available for people who want to promote the cause.

What else can I say? The traditional cap is one of those little items that tells people "I'm a cyclist" -- even when you're off the bike. Embrace it!


  1. Replies
    1. Either works for me. Up most of the time. Down if the sun's in your eyes, or it's raining.

  2. Picked up a wool Walz cycling cap and a lightweight wicking poly version. Both are nice. Now that I look at your chronological podium pictures the baseball hats look odd and out of place on the riders.

    I vote for caps.

    1. The Walz caps are nice. I have a fantastic burnt-orange wool one that looks really classy. The old "Clement" cap I wore all the time so many years ago eventually fell apart. I recently picked up a newer one -- exactly like the one I have pictured. And of course, I have the classic "Campagnolo" script logo one.

  3. I blame compulsory helmets.

    1. Could be -- though nothing covers "helmet hair" better than a cycling cap -- and a cap can be stuffed into a jersey pocket soooo much more easily than a baseball hat.

  4. No helmet today protects you against the sun burns, if like me you have adopted the Horner looks! Cap forever.

  5. Now I know why Fignon looks so depressed. It wasn't losing by 8 seconds, it was the death of tradition and French culture! ;-)

  6. I agree with the sentiment and I realize I'm being pedantic, but I've always heard them called "baseball caps" not "baseball hats" (the MLB seems to agree, their shop at MLB.com lists "caps"), hence the name "caps not hats" makes little sense.

    1. True -- But "caps not caps" would make less sense. I didn't come up with the name, but I agree with the message.

  7. I too deplore this fashion of pro cyclists wearing those redneck ball caps on the podium and for interviews. Let's hope it doesn't degenerate to where it has in Formula One, where Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen wear those flat brim rapper hats.

  8. I remember wearing those to high school in the 70's and looking like a complete dork.

  9. Wonderful blog, I didn't expect a simple and ordinary hat with such a wonderful history.