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What is a vintage cycling cap?
Vintage cycling caps are a quirky accessory that should always be considered before setting off on a ride and some would even consider them to be exquisite artifacts from a bygone era. They are made of a light synthetic material with an elasticated back giving a snug and comfortable fit. The skip is made from soft card that allows general flexing to give shade when required.
A lot are made to commemorate races from around the world, or companies that sponsored those races. The older the cap is, the more unique it is: they are extremely collectible and show that you not only love cycling, but you appreciate the history of the sport. Collecting them can be extremely addictive!
Why are there so many pictures of professional cyclists just wearing cycling caps?
Helmets were first introduced in the 1880s, when bicycles had larger front wheels than back, so the slightest stone, or dent on the surface of the road would send the rider tumbling over the handlebars and onto their head. The first helmets were made out of Pith, a thin plant based material that would disintegrate upon impact, but it would provide enough protection to encourage people to purchase a helmet.
At the turn of the century, leather became the material of choice for manufacturers. It was only in the 1970s, when bicycles became a widely used mode of transportation for the general public, that research into how a plastic, lightweight and safe helmet could be created began. Unbelievably, it was in the 1990s that helmets, that are more recognisable by today’s standards, became readily available.
Therefore, for the majority of the vintage era of cycling (1920s-1980s), leather helmets were worn in professional races. These helmets were not the best at protecting the ride from head injuries and would also mean that a lot of heat was retained, thus often hindering riders performances. So, once the pack was a little more spaced out and the rider deemed that they weren’t as likely to crash, they would remove the helmet and expose their cycling cap. Lots of pictures of the greatest cyclists of all time at their finest moments, will show the rider without their helmet sporting a vintage cycling cap. This remains the fundamental reason why cyclists want to wear them: to be like their heroes.
This photo shows Italio Zilioli and Caro Chiappano of the Faemino and Molteni teams. Both are leading a chasing group of 15 riders.
However, in 2003 the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) made helmets compulsory for all professional riders, at all times - so caps were no longer centre stage, but optional extras for riders to wear under their helmets.