Long before I started cycling, I had a big hair obsession.
Not a hair obsession that was big, I was obsessed with big hair. My locks are naturally pretty lifeless (there are many strands, but they’re ridiculously fine) and all I wanted was volume.
VOLUME DAMN IT.
Sadly I’m also lazy, cheap, and low-maintenance, so extensive preparations and pricey Brazilian blow-outs were out of the question. Ironically it took many years, extensive research, trial-and-error, and copious amounts of cash, but eventually I found a system that works for me and those in my near vicinity (because it turns out that crispy, sticky (yet nonetheless voluminous) hair is a certified man-repeller).
These days I’ve calmed down a bit (no more backcombing), but I’ll probably never come to terms with my fine hair; and HURRAH because it’s this very lack of hair-based happiness that inspired the old research which now applies to getting rid of helmet hair. Well done, younger, vainer, slightly deluded self. Well done.
So, firstly, here’s the ugly truth: there’s no way you’ll get rid of helmet hair completely. Soz ladies. I know, I promised you a lie. BUT there are ways to counteract it, at least to the best of our abilities. So here we go . . .
1) Wash your hair regularly . . . but not too regularly
Clean hair tends to bounce back quicker when the helmet is removed. However, I also think that the more frequently you wash it, the more it needs it. I actually trained my hair out of its necessary every-other-day washes and into less than twice-weekly. Glastonbury doesn’t phase me any more! How? Why, with the use of . . .
2) Dry shampoo: YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND
This stuff is FREAKING AMAZING. If you don’t have it already, buy some. BUY IT NOW. Pretty much every haircare range will have a variant but I swear by Batiste. It comes in loads of scents and they even do tinted versions for different hair colours. I particularly like the cherry and tropical ones. I have a couple of massive cans at home, a medium-sized one in the office, and miniature travel-sized babies in my handbags and panniers. Some people are fazed by dry shampoo. Don’t be! Here are my tips:
- Follow the instructions. I’m amazed by the number of people who spray it on, leave it, and then wonder why they look like they have dandruff. You have to brush it out, folks!
- Spray all over – and under. Lift up sections of your hair, do it piece by piece, and don’t forget the crown
- rub it in to the roots with your fingers
- leave for a couple of minutes; I tend to spray it in, do my makeup, then go back to my hair. You can take it out too quickly, but you can’t really leave it in too long (except for not taking it out at all)
- and then brush it out.
- I actually keep aside an old hairbrush (with bamboo prongs rather than nylon bristles) which I use solely for brushing out my dry shampoo. As time passes, the stuff cakes on and makes the brush really quite unpleasant for day-to-day use, and you don’t really want to pass it through newly-washed hair
- My technique is to put the brush at the roots and wiggle it back and forth whilst I drag it out. It creates volume as you go, but also helps the product to really soak up the grease (nice huh??!), as well as removing the excess from your hair. No more dandruff effect.
I put it in before I leave the house (generally on the third day of not washing my hair – or the second if it’s usually greasy), but I also sometimes apply it when I arrive at work and remove my helmet. If you’ve had a very damp ride into work then this is the only way to dry it out at speed. The danger is just that if your hair is particularly sweaty, it can go a bit gluey. However, if you’ve sprayed it in advance then funnily enough the sweaty cycle ride will actually allow it to really sink in to the roots, so you can usually just run your fingers through your hair and joosh it up a bit. You’ll still look a bit damp but not nearly as flat as if you hadn’t bothered in the first place. And perhaps most importantly, it not only masks the sweaty aroma (NICE), it will actually make some people comment on how good you smell. Win-win.
3) Volumising powder
I use this every day. Literally every day, whether I’m cycling or not. For fine hair, it’s a godsend; helping it bounce back when the helmet is removed. I’ve used several and the one I like most is Tresemme. Shake it straight into the roots, push up with fingers, no need to brush out. Then liberally apply . . .
It may remind you of the 1960s but frankly that’s only a good thing. Again, I use it every day. I am literally destroying the ozone layer but hell if humanity’s slow sacrifice isn’t worth the volume. Again, Tresemme make my favourite: it has a really fine mist, which is brilliant for lightweight hair and isn’t at all sticky. (This one is pretty good too, after styling; not so much pre-cycle).
5) Tie it up
Pull your hair into a very low ponytail, right at the nape of your neck, so that it fits beneath your helmet. Keep it as loose as possible. Use kirby grips or snap-clips to secure fringes and loose hair; the slightly curved ones are less likely to dig into your scalp under the helmet.
5) Brush your hair
This may sound obvious, but it wasn’t to me. The moment you take off your helmet, especially if you have straight-ish hair, brush it out. I used to think that allowing my hair to air out without doing so gave a sort of wavy, bohemian, hippyesque, mermaid effect as it dried. After my head of department pointedly gave me a new hairbrush for Christmas, I wondered if it just made me look like a tramp. Experimentation tells me that the latter is true. If your hair is a bit kinky but easy to manage then actually brushing it out whilst damp will give the effect of straighteners.
tl;dr: dry shampoo, hairspray, ponytail, cycle, brush, joosh, VOILA.
You can buy more airy helmets which allow the hair to breathe and not get as sweaty, like this one and any ventilated racer helmets. But personally I think the latter look daft on city bikes, so I use this one because for better or worse, I choose cycle style over office style. Also because I could put stickers on it.
Sometimes I cycle in plaits. They fit well under the helmet if you keep them close behind your ears. When you take them out, don’t brush them; just separate with your fingers. This way you actually do get a sort of bohemian mermaid effect. Best done on one- or two-day-old hair.
If all else fails, stick it up in a top-knot . . . but dry-shampoo the shit out of it first.
Oh, and for those of you with fine hair who want to know which shampoo/conditioner combination I recommend, here are the ones I’ve found particularly good over the years (bearing in mind that I am loathe to spend more than £7 on a bottle of shampoo):
- John Frieda volumising shampoo and conditioner (relatively good, but hair gets greasy quickly. They used to do a volumising version of their blonde shampoo which was terrific but sadly the range has been discontinued; this is the less-good replacement)
- Herbal Essences Uplifting Volume (cheap yet effective; smells great too)
- Organic Color System Power Build (I don’t know if it’s available online in the UK, but I buy mine at my brilliant hairdressers, Hoxton Salon)
- Tresemme 24 Hour Body is fab but I fear they’re phasing it out
- Not a shampoo but an absolute essential is volumising mousse: faves are John Frieda, Tresemme (24 Hour Volumising Mousse and Volume & Lift Extra Body Mousse), and Lee Stafford
I know that the cheaper stuff is vilified by hairdressers and beauty addicts because it “coats” your hair with something, but frankly I’m happy with the way it looks, so I don’t care. If you don’t like the feel of the build-up, just switch your shampoo periodically. Frankly when I go to the hairdressers (as rarely as twice a year . . . see aforementioned low-rent/laziness), I find it sort of resets my hair back to nicely soft and manageable. Then I can start abusing it all over again.
I’d love to know your helmet-hair care tips so please pass them on in the comments!