Being in the vanguard of sun-sensible cycling is like wearing a sombrero in a convertible. The wind is a nuisance and people gawk.
That’s been my experience with the “Da Brim Cycling Classic Helmet Visor,” a huge nylon donut that converts bike headwear into an aerodynamic monstrosity.
The detachable piece fits around a helmet to protect the face, neck and ears from increasingly harmful ultraviolet rays. More new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the U.S. than breast, lung, colon and prostate cancer combined.
The generally puny brims on cycling and other sport helmets are little help in this area.
On my daily commute across Manhattan, I’ve tried wearing a wide-brimmed hat underneath a helmet. It interferes with the helmet’s ventilation and fit, and it looks like your hat’s wearing a hat.
Teresa Bryan, a trained biochemist in the San Francisco bay area, said that she and her husband, Erik, an electrical engineer, came up with Da Brim while baking in the sun during a climb at Yosemite National Park.
She searched online for products offering sun protection while wearing a helmet and couldn’t find anything, she said in a telephone interview.
It took almost a year to locate a manufacturer who would create the brims to their specifications and standards.
“We were told we were revolutionary, not evolutionary,” she said of their unconventional design.
I brought my Da Brim to Charlie McCorkell, an engineer and cycling activist who opened retailer Bicycle Habitat in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood in 1978. I wondered how often his fashionable downtown customers raised the quandary of small brims.
“You’re about the first person to ask,” McCorkell said. “It’s only been 35 years.”
McCorkell inspected my Da Brim. “The wind is going to pick you up like the Flying Nun,” he said, referring to the 1960s Sally Field sitcom.
Mine does rattle when exposed to heavy winds, and it flies off when not properly fastened to the helmet. It isn’t for anyone racing to the office or in the Tour de France, given the drag.
And a big brim can obscure the field of vision for a cyclist leaning forward, said Randy Swart, director of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, an Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit. He’s nonetheless for sun protection.
“Young people are not thinking about retirement funds or how their skin will age,” said Swart, 70, who lost a piece of his right ear to melanoma, a life-threatening skin cancer. “They should be.”
In response to concerns about aerodynamics, the Bryans have introduced new products with slightly smaller brims. In all, they’ve sold about 25 Da Brims in Manhattan. Hence, we’re a more exclusive club than local billionaires.
And amid a hot summer, the perplexed stares have given way, for the most part, to compliments. “Pretty cool,” I hear. Or, “I like that.”
The attention of strangers is a small price to pay for effective, if conspicuous, sun protection.
(Philip Boroff is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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