Margot McGovern comes to terms with the dread helmet hair.
Like so many girls before me, I was introduced to bike riding by my boyfriend. At the time he was not yet my boyfriend and I was doing everything in my power to change that, so when he suggested lending me his mum’s bike and riding to a cafe for breakfast, my first thought was “how romantic”, quickly followed by a stricken “but what about my hair?”
At that point I was still trying to maintain the illusion that perfect hair was something I woke up with rather than an elaborate construct requiring a hair straightener, hairspray, a fist full of bobby pins and twenty minutes behind a closed bathroom door. By the time we reached the cafe my once-flawless do would surely be a sweaty mess plastered to my forehead looking anything but alluring. How could I explain this to my boyfriend-to-be without sounding like a high maintenance princess? I couldn’t. Fortunately, he found my mere willingness to ride a highly attractive quality.
During those first enthusiastic months as a rider when I found myself hanging out with other bike nerds and my fitness rapidly improving, helmet hair went from being an eyesore to a badge of honour, evidence of an active, healthy lifestyle, not unlike the inevitable windblown tresses that accompany a brisk walk. I took pride in whipping off my helmet to reveal a dishevelled do with an air of “that’s right, my hair’s all mussed because I got here by BIKE.” It was proof that I, the bookworm who until that point had rarely ventured into natural light and for whom ‘exercise’ meant retrieving hefty tomes from the library stacks, had achieved the seemingly impossible and become the ‘sporty type’.
…helmet hair went from being an eyesore to a badge of honour, evidence of an active, healthy lifestyle, not unlike the inevitable windblown tresses that accompany a brisk walk.
However, I was overzealous in my enthusiasm. As my relationship with my bike progressed from that first heady flush of romance to a deeper, more enduring kind of love, helmet hair again became an issue. It was dispiriting to rock up to my weekly girls’ dinner with my friends looking like they’d just stepped out of a shampoo commercial and me looking, well, like I’d ridden my bike, or to turn up to my then-job as an English tutor looking like the madwoman in the attic. As I no longer felt the need to announce that I’d arrived by bike every time I ventured out, it was time to tame the bird’s nest.
Eventually, I came to realise that implementing a significant lifestyle change, such as making bike riding a part of my everyday life, without allowing for any other changes was equal to shoving a square peg at a round hole. I needed to make a slight paradigm shift and allow the bike to have a ripple effect on other areas of my life. I had to plan for shorter travel times given I no longer had to queue in inner city traffic, I had to eat more to have enough fuel to get from A to B and I had to get used to having an extra $50 a week in my pocket as I wasn’t paying for petrol. Adjusting for helmet hair was equally a part of that shift.
A full fringe that had been a nightmare to manage pre-bike was finally sacrificed. I experimented with styles not easily mussed—the low ponytail and bun are nigh indestructible—and, when an occasion demanded something special, I arrived early and used the time I would have spent stuck in traffic or at the petrol station if I were driving as styling time. When I became really committed I played with cuts that better suited my increasingly active lifestyle and found that a messy bob and pixie cut both had reasonable defenses against the dishevelling powers of the skid lid. But I’m not suggesting all riders need go to that extreme. Keeping a hair brush in your backpack or pannier and giving your locks a quick ‘zhush’ is usually more than enough to restore their former style.
So while helmet hair can be a nuisance, and is something you need to adjust for, it’s certainly not the headache I once imagined.
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