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How Cycling Headbands Can Make You Pedal Slower

Anytime a cyclist tries out a new piece of gear or clothes, it makes for an exciting ride. You’re eager to hit the road and see how this latest tweak affects your performance. 

But, just because you can add more gear, doesn’t always mean you should.

Longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie has been pedaling for more than 35 years and understands the impulse to add on. That said, there’s one piece of gear he never wears, and he urges other cyclists to be cautious about it, too. What cycling gear would that be? Read on to learn more.

The Steady Allure of More Cycling Gear 

Before we get to that mystery item, though, let’s consider the constant pull cyclists feel to try out new equipment and cycling gear. There are three main categories that most cyclists frequently have their eyes on: bikes, components, and clothes. 

  • Bikes: These are, of course, the holy grail of upgrades. Anytime you have a chance to try out a bike, you’ll feel instantly faster.
  • Faster, lighter, better components: Whether it’s lighter wheels, faster tires, brighter lights or a new tensioned leather saddle, these upgrades make your rides faster, safer or simply more comfortable.
  • Clothing: Cyclists can be clothing junkies. You might always be on the hunt for the right color to match your bike or the perfect material to wick moisture and keep you cool. Or you may be looking for a better pair of cycling shoes or gloves to boost comfort. Whatever it is, there’s a never-ending supply of cycling clothing options.

For the most part, these upgrades can add a little something special to your rides and improve your comfort and performance. But that’s not always the case. 

It seems that theres always an upside to everything that we buy to enjoy our cycling,” says Coach Darryl. “Theres nothing that we buy that has a negative effect on our performance, right? Not so fast.”

Headbands: One Piece That Can Cause Problems for Cyclists

Darryl unexpectedly discovered this particular piece of problematic gear on a pair of rides 15 years ago. On the first day, he was doing one of his typical rides — nothing unusually challenging — but didn’t seem to have the energy he normally would. He was worn down and sluggish, and he felt as if he almost hadn’t eaten enough.

The next day, he set out again and, not far into the ride, started feeling the same sluggishness. Then it hit him: On both rides, he was wearing a cycling headband, something he’d never done. Once he realized this, he took off the headband and was back to feeling normal and riding well within a few miles. 

Ive never put a headband on since,” he recalls. “In fact, I threw it away.” 

That wasn’t the only incident, though. A few years later, he was pedaling a century with a group of riders he’d been coaching. He’d put in hundreds of miles with this group and knew exactly how strong each rider was. That’s why he noticed one woman riding at the back who would normally be one of the front leaders.

By roughly the 70-mile mark, this woman looked like she was falling farther and farther behind. Finally, Darryl slowed down to see what was up. After peppering her with questions about what she’d eaten, how she’d slept, whether she’d been sick and more, the reason eventually dawned on him: She was wearing a cycling headband. She said it was her first time using one, so Darryl asked her to remove it and see how she felt. Lo and behold, she was riding well and catching up within a few miles.

Why Headbands Can Cause Problems for Cyclists 

Those two incidents were enough to show Darryl that headbands for cycling can actually be an issue. The question is, why? 

The cause probably comes down to your body’s internal temperature regulation system, located in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Although it’s not entirely clear why the headband could cause this to go haywire, Darryl’s theory is that holding in that extra heat around your brain raises the temperature in that area, basically triggering your body to make aggressive efforts to cool down and preserve energy. The result? You feel sweaty, sluggish and tired.

He notes, however, that this isn’t a problem for all cyclists. People respond to temperature changes differently, and there are probably many cyclists who can wear a headband without any issues. Still, this is an important enough issue for any cyclist to know about, as you never know when you might be on a ride with someone who is struggling and unaware of this simple solution.

For some people, if the head is warmer, then the brain is warmer,” he says. “It affects this part of the brain, and it has an effect on sweating and performance."

Think Twice Before You Ride With a Headband

Ultimately, cycling headbands might not be a problem for you as a cyclist. But if you’ve never worn one on a ride, think twice and be alert when you try it out. Pay attention to how your body responds, and take it off if you don’t feel right.

You might be surprised to see how quickly you perk up.


Looking for other ways to dial in your cycling performance? Follow our blog and subscribe to our newsletter for fresh tips from Coach Darryl every week. You can also look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Photo by Coen van de Broek on Unsplash