Assos Cycling Cap and Summer Headband
Lore has it that in winter, when your feet are cold, put on a hat. What about summer? When it's hot outside, why do so many people wear a cycling cap? We've been wondering about this for some time. Our natural inclination in summertime is to take off as much as possible in an effort to remain cool as the thermometer shoots hot. We picked up an Assos Cycling Cap and Assos Summer Headband to try it out.
Let us begin with an aside about summer, water, and clothing: Water is a mixed blessing. When placed on skin facing the wind, it has a dramatic cooling effect, the most efficient we know, though we're often a bit leery of dousing ourselves. A soaked chamois reduces friction too much, and the same goes for soaking socks. However, we sometimes soak our jersey during the hottest days of summer. The water seems to wash off the perspiration; the action cools the body.
Cooling is one of the reasons people wear cotton cycling caps in the summer. Another is as a sponge to soak up sweat. A third is to keep sun out of the eyes. A fourth is to fill up the inside of a helmet.
The body cools in four ways. The four are: conduction, convection, evaporation, and radiation. Radiation is what cools us most of the time; it occurs when the air temperature is lower than the skin temperature. But radiation stops working after a certain point. We've read that skin temperature is usually around 91.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Somewhere before that point, the body starts sweating; we've read that a still, unclothed body starts secreting sweat at around 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Sweating also occurs when the internal body temperature rises beyond 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Sweating cools the body, but only when the sweat can evaporate. Evaporation can stop working when it's sufficiently hot and humid. Caps and headbands could work as conductors and convectors. Conduction being the transfer of heat from warmer to cooler objects by direct contact and convection being heat loss to water vapor that is cooler than skin temperature. Convection is why wicking garments are supposed to cool you.
This reviewer (not necessarily speaking for all of Competitive Cyclist) is not a cycling cap fan. Maybe it's because my skull is relatively hirsute. Maybe it's because I find the fit between helmet and head too tight. Maybe it's because I've had the "cotton=death" mantra drummed into my brain (the idea of wearing a cotton cap on a frigid day seems improbable to us). Maybe we just never found a good cap.
Back in the day, finding a good cycling cap was rare. About the only thing we could find in the US were Campagnolo caps in white, with the arc-en-ciel down the middle. Wearing of the rainbow was and remains a faux pas, and the caps never fit well. It was impossible to find the Euro-cool ones that pros really wore or fit your head like a pro -- big enough to go over a hairnet. And when hard helmets took over, it seemed like the death knell for cycling caps.
The caps have not only hung on, but thrived. We know people who have made an art of wearing the cap so that the elastic is just barely hanging on to the back of the head; the essence of the pro look. We now have easy access to good ones, and in a variety of materials. With sweaty weather upon us, revisiting the issue made sense. We tried both riding and on the trainer.
The Assos Cycling Cap is mostly cotton. Three-fourths of the noggin pie panels are 100% cotton. The last quarter, at the back where the elastic is stitched, is black nylon mesh. While you can wear it backwards, it does seem to be designed to wear forwards. Further, with RocLocs and other retention systems, wearing a cap backwards under a helmet is nigh impossible unless you cut off the brim. Interestingly, while the cap should be almost identical to the Assos Six-Day cap we've already used, the cotton felt thicker.
While we like the idea of using a cycling cap because it is cheap and old skool and seemingly practical, we're skeptical that it works as a good cooling device. The body cools when sweat evaporates off the skin. If the sweat isn't evaporating, you're not cooling. For the cap to cool, the cap must initially wick away some of the sweat on your skin, and then, once it can't wick, the air rushing through the helmet must chill the cap so it is several degrees cooler than your skin. Think of the times you've seen your arms sleeved in a layer of perspiration because you're overheating and the humidity is high. Your arms aren't getting any cooler. Pour some water over them washing away the sweat and they seem cooler. Until the sweat sleeves return.
We tried using the cycling cap as a cooler on a number of hot days. One high-90s day, we soaked the cap in cold water, put it on sans helmet and rolled around. It felt good for the first few minutes; we didn't notice it after that. After a half-hour, we checked the cap, and it was bone dry; and felt somewhat chalky.
On several days, we rode with it under our helmet. Besides barely fitting, and having to open up the RocLoc to get it in there at all, our head felt no cooler. We wore it on a warm rainy day, and it didn't seem to appreciably help there, either.
While the Assos cap hasn't changed our minds on wearing them, we have plenty of friends who wear caps in the summer. Some cut off the top and wear the cap as a headband. Others use to it to protect their follically-challenged pate. Works for them. Could work for you. From what we've read, short hair should keep you coolest in summer, but experience leads to mental and physical comfort; depending on lab results can leave you unhappy.
The Assos Summer Headband seemed like a better idea to us in several different ways. It is made of synthetic fibers. Much of it is mesh. The one non-mesh panel is made of a wicking material that looks and feels a lot like roubaix fabric. The band is thin. The band is wider than an NBA headband. All that is good. We thought we'd like it better than the cap.
On the trainer, the headband definitely was comfy. The mesh made it feel as if it were barely there, and the wicking forehead panel seemed to do a pretty good job of mopping up the sweat. Out on the road, the headband fit much more easily under a helmet. The RocLoc had to be loosened, but only by a few clicks.
The nice thing about the headband on the road is that it has less material and the material is both wicking and focused on the main contributor to sweat dripping in your eyes; your forehead. So long as it wicks, it is cooling through convection. We liked it under the helmet, though with the Giro Atmos, we haven't had too many climbs where our eyes sting with sweat and our glasses are stained with the stuff. The only drawback to the headband was that sunglass arms usually sat on top of the mesh part of the band, making the glasses feel less secure, even though they didn't move.
After rides and rides with various toppings underneath our brain buckets, we decided that neither garment works for us. But, since we see so many wearing them in the summer, we have to admit that they must work well for others. Our recommendation is to experiment and see what works for you. If your head sweats like a hydrant or you suffer from skull sunburn, you owe it to yourself to try.