The sport of bicycle racing has a long history of riders who have taken great pride in how the wind whistled through their stylish hairdos. Some, like Laurent Fignon went for the sleek pony-tail/wind-sock effect, while others, such as the one and only Laurent Brochard took the cascading mullet route. Note to self: Don’t name child Laurent.
But these guys aren’t the reason that helmets were made mandatory. Stylistically, the helmet rule didn’t really affect the racers who chose the “long in the back” look because they could still get the neck coverage that they so desired. No, the helmet rule was designed for one hairstyle genre in particular. The Velo Fro.
An afro, sometimes called a "natural" or shortened to "fro", is often defined as “a hairstyle in which the hair extends out from the head like a halo, cloud or ball.” Oh yeah. While this is a purely academic description of the afro, the term is often used loosely to describe any head of bushy, curly hair. If you have additional questions about this style choice you can reference the spectacular hip-hop group The Afros’ groundbreaking work entitled “Kickin' Afrolistics” for greater detail. But for the purpose of this article we will stick with cyclist afros or, as I like to call them, Velo Fros - Nature’s helmet.
My first introduction to the Velo Fro came from the legendary Andy Hampsten. Those who follow the sport will recognize that Hampsten is perhaps one of the greatest cyclists in American history. They will also attest to the fact the guy had one wicked Velo Fro going for a few years back in the late ‘80’s. The thing I appreciated most about Andy’s afro was its dryness. It was always fluffy and kind of cotton-y. Never all greased up like the Italian Velo Fro’s we will look at shortly. In fact, few people know that the stored-up heat in Hampsten’s wild and wooly, Colorado-grown Velo Fro was actually what propelled him to victory during the cold and snowy Giro in 1988. Insiders (okay…just me) have since dubbed the race “The Gi-fro d’Italia.”
Another contributor to the UCI helmet rule and the Gi-fro d’Italia phenomenon was the one and only Lion King himself, Mario Cip-fro-llini. Now this is basically the anti-Hampsten look. The Italian was known for his flamboyant style throughout his career but this photo was taken during Cip-fro’s time with the little known Soul Glow Cycling Team shortly after the release of Coming To America. Few people know that he used to scream “Just Let Your Soul Glow” as he crossed the finish line during his many sprint victories. One wonders how many more stage wins he would have gotten with a more aerodynamic do.
Building off of Andy Hampsten’s legacy, another Boulder-based climbing specialist has taken a different approach to the Velo Fro. Over the last two decades, Scott “Morning Hair” Moninger has had almost the same number of follicular adventures as race wins. Okay, he has actually had about two-hundred more race wins but I like this Navigators-issue hairstyle in particular. You can almost see the hair dryer stuffed into his jersey pocket and the Poison tape in the walkman. Rock on Scott, rock on.
Although he is no Cipo, Franco “Il Dolfino” Pelizotti has done a fairly good job of letting his hair do the talking. It may be a bit too “Dee Snyder from Twisted Sister” for my personal taste, but at least those huge sunglasses on the forehead keep the locks in check when he’s doing pre and post-race socializing. I don’t really get the Dolphin nickname though. I’m no Marine Biologist (although George Costanza and I can fake it pretty well) but aren’t dolphins all slick and smooth? Flipper never rocked a Velo Fro. I think Pelizotti’s new nickname should be “Dee Snyder” and he should immediately start using “We’re Not Gonna Take It” as his theme song. Either that or he should be called Franc-fro Pelizotti.
And finally, let’s reflect on the most under-appreciated American cyclist of all time, Ron “Wookie” Kiefel. I am still waiting to hear back from the jury on this one, but I think that is his real hair, although I believe this photo was taken after he had retired. Just a hunch. It may come as a surprise to some but Ron’s real last name is actually Kiefunkel and he has a famous older brother named Art. You may recall Art from his work with Paul Simon in the seventies and eighties. The song “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was actually about Ron making it from the peloton to the breakaway in a particularly wet race for the 7-Eleven squad. It turns out that the duo’s manager didn’t like how “Simon and Kiefunkel” sounded so he ended up changing it to Garfunkel and the rest is history. Anyway, the resemblance is uncanny and should eliminate all doubt as to the legitimacy of their brotherhood.
Over time we will gather some more data and create a Hair Hall of Fame but at least now you know…About the Velo Fro.