Bandanas are a Cyclist’s Best Friend

Mar 10th, 2020

There’s no need for applause or fanfare: the bandana is a modest accessory. A humble servant. A beacon of hope, with seemingly limitless possibilities for utility and function housed within that unassuming square of thin cotton fabric. Will you be in need of a napkin, a tourniquet, a washcloth, or an eye mask? Or perhaps your fancy camp towel is in the washing machine and you’re desperate for a shower? A bandana (or three) can come to the rescue.

When I’m gearing up for a bicycle tour, I always pack two bandanas. Why two, you ask? Because bandanas are so dang versatile. I use one as a hanky (or a “snot rag,” as my mom so aptly calls it), and another to wear around my neck or use as a headband. And, obviously, I’m not going to use just one bandana for all those purposes: that’s how you get boogers in your hair. (On that note, I recommend that the two bandanas be different colors. To avoid the mix-up.)

Olivia Round sports a bandana in several fashions
Napkin? Washcloth? The humble bandana does it all.
Olivia Round

I realize there are a dozen brands of fancy camp towels and moisture-wicking, state-of-the-art headbands available, but can your camp towel or headband do all the things listed below, at any given moment? If not, consider inviting the lowly cotton bandana on your next bicycle adventure.

10 Tried-and-True Uses for Bandanas on a Bike Tour

1. Napkin

For those polite side-of-the-road lunches.

2. Washcloth

Sometimes a good scrub is just what the doctor ordered.

3. Headband

Way better than the ’90s plastic, scratchy things. This one blocks sweat from the eyes, hair wispies from the mouth, and whatever else might get in the way.

4. Head covering

This is an excellent way to conceal your helmet hair until you can get to a shower.

5. Towel

The word “towel” is a bit optimistic to describe the experience of drying your entire body with one bandana. But in a pinch, it’ll work to remove most of the moisture from your skin/hair!

Ways to wear a bandana for bicycle touring
Bandanas are the ultimate utilitarian neck and head coverings.
Olivia Round

6. Eye mask/blindfold

Some campgrounds are brightly lit, and those lights can sear right through the thin walls of your tent and make it hard to sleep. Also, if you’d like to catch some extra z’s on a rest day, an eye mask can help you relax enough for a daytime nap.

7. Hanky

In my experience, wrestling a flimsy paper tissue from a travel pack in the middle of a rainstorm is tricky. A pocket hanky is so much easier to access for a quick sneeze.

8. Balaclava

While riding in hot, windy areas, you can cover your nose and mouth to avoid inhaling a bunch of dust or blowing sand every time you take a breath.

9. Neckerchief

You’ll resemble a Boy Scout, but keeping the back of your neck covered from the sun could spare you future skin cancer. Also, wetting the bandana provides a lovely cooling effect for staying comfy in hot climates.

10. Tiny purse

Tying the corners together can help contain small items in your pannier if you run out of zippered pouches.

Now, if you do make the rookie mistake of confusing your snot-rag bandana with your headband bandana, don’t fret: there’s a chance that mucus is really nourishing for your hair, and you’ve just stumbled upon a DIY beauty secret. At least, that’s what I told myself the first (and only, I swear) time it happened to me.

Did I miss any major uses for bandanas? What’s your go-to problem solver for a bicycle tour? Tell us in the comments below!

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