It wasn’t until I was in the loos and stripping off my waterproof trousers that I caught sight of my reflection. It had rained, persistently and drearily, for the entire length of my journey that morning. Despite head-to-toe waterproofs, some rain had seeped through to the layer underneath and I was somewhat damp. My only concern was to get out of my wet clothes and into something dry.
Until that glance in the mirror I hadn’t given my hair a first thought – never mind a second.
Now, though…now it had my full attention.
Limp tendrils of wet hair hung loosely around my face. At the back, where my helmet had pressed it against my head, it was matted and tangled. The ends, previously trained with hairdryer and brush to curl dutifully under, had rebelled and were now stubbornly flicking outwards.
In short, it was a mess.
I’m not normally vain. Really, I’m not. In fact, when I read a survey a few years ago in which 27 per cent of women cited helmet hair as a reason for not cycling, my first thought was, ‘How can anyone be that shallow?’
Helmet hair is a daily fact of my life. I’ve long since come to terms with flat and lifeless hair, and a styling routine that – on most days – lasts as long as it takes to run a brush through my hair. It’s never occurred to me to be bothered by this. Being perfectly styled every day just hasn’t been high on my list of priorities.
But even by my low standards, my hair that morning was a tangle too far.
Not so long ago, this wouldn’t have been a problem. I used to have long hair. I used to have hair I could tie up in a jaunty ponytail that would swing about all day as if to say, ‘Pah! Helmet hair? I laugh in the face of helmet hair!’ And everything would have been fine.
If I still had long hair, that’s exactly what I would have done. But I had it cut into a bob a few months ago, and now it’s too short to just pull back and ignore. And beyond yanking a comb through the knots, there was little I could do with it. I couldn’t dry it – there are no hairdryers at work, and the hand dryers are next to useless. Besides, I’d have to be a contortionist to get my head under one.
And so, as I stood there in the loos, I could feel a few shreds of long dormant vanity beginning to surface. I would have to spend the whole day with my hair looking like a bird’s nest.
Those women who don’t cycle because of helmet hair? Perhaps they have a point after all.