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Cycling 410: Why Cyclists Have Sideburns

May 2014

Bradley Wiggins probably has the most famous sideburns of any modern cyclist, he’s a ginger version of a 1970’s Elvis.  In fact, I actually read a report that he’d shaved off his prized ham hocks so he could be a little less recognizable.

That said, I have some pretty mean sideburns as well, though I was sporting them before I ever shopped for my first bike.  My wife likes them.  So for two years I cycled with sideburns before I learned they give me a distinct advantage over other cyclists.  Seriously.  The All Seasons Cyclist wrote a review for a very odd looking product that made everything make sense.

Sideburns disrupt the air that flows over the ear so I don’t experience quite the same wind noise as a clean shaven fellow.  In other words, I can hear traffic better, even in high winds.  In fact, the science is sound – Cat Ears came up with a faux sideburn that the facial hair challenged can Velcro onto your helmet’s strap in front of your ear.  So how well do sideburns work?  I can hear a car behind me before my wife can see it in her bar-end rearview mirror.  And she can see it in the mirror  before she hears it.  This isn’t without its flaws in the new hybrid/electric car era but I can still hear a Chevy Volt coming up behind me.

Now, the question will arise, “how bushy do they have to be”?  Well, I may have long sideburns (ear length) but when I get my hair cut, I don’t mess around.  I’m not quite high and tight but clippers are involved.  When I’m sporting a new cut, and my sideburns get cut the same length as my dome, I can definitely tell the difference, I lose a few hundred yards.  On the other hand, they don’t have to be Elvis bushy either, not by a long shot.  I’d say that when the hair is 1/2″ to 3/4″ long, that’s just long enough to work well.

So that’s why some cyclists have sideburns:  They can hear better.  Seriously.

Elisariva added that she’s got Cat Ears, and they work…  And it’s a small world – she won the pair that the All Seasons Cyclist gave away in the review I linked above.


  1. elisariva says:

    I have Cat Ears and they work! Didn’t think about sideburns – you are a fashion guru!

  2. […] Fellow blogger and cycling truth-teller bgddyjim has, at last, shone a light on this puzzling issue …. […]

  3. At last the truth behind the marginal gains of sideburns…I had to respond:

  4. Laura says:

    I have both the Elvis ‘burns and fleece versions of Cat-Ears and I love them. They work so well!

    • bgddyjim says:

      Awesome! I can tell you, on the rare occasion when people ask about my sideburns, or why I have them, it’s hilarious to see their reaction when I say, “oh, I’m a cyclist and it helps me hear traffic better”. It’s awesome.

  5. And you haven’t even got started on beards! (Guilty)

    • bgddyjim says:

      Now beards are a different story altogether. Other than a four-day-shave, a beard breaks the allowable maximum drag coefficient, collects bugs and unless meticulously well maintained, are scruffy lookin’. Just my opinion of course, and that doesn’t mean much.

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