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I'm planning on commuting by bicycle to work in hot Montreal, though this question is probably relevant to anyone who bikes to work in a city with temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). I have to wear business casual to formal clothes (no jacket, usually).

How do I not sweat?

I'm particularly looking for

  • Helmet features that prevent sweating
  • Tips on rhythm, speed, pace, etc. that prevent sweating
  • Bags that will make me sweat less (I'm leaning toward nice, office-friendly panniers at the moment but I'm open to other suggestions)

Any other tips would be greatly appreciated.

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You won't be able to do it without sweating. I live in Ottawa, which has a similar climate, and when the temperature is 35+ degrees, you can't even walk without sweating, let alone ride a bike. Wear proper biking attire and carry your work clothes in a rear pannier. –  Kibbee May 2 '13 at 17:18
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It might be more realistic to figure out how to take a shower at work than trying to avoid sweat in the first place: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/308/… –  amcnabb May 2 '13 at 17:19
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Ride naked -- it's the only way. –  Daniel R Hicks May 2 '13 at 18:01
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An electric bike might be an alternative. It helps you up the hills, and I have heard it is popular for business people in Denmark who doesn't want to be sweaty either. –  user1049697 May 3 '13 at 7:39
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The obvious answer for "helmet" is "don't wear one", assuming your local legislation allows that - see cyclehelmets.org for an overview of the risk. –  armb May 9 '13 at 9:33
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17 Answers

It is possible, but only in certain conditions. I live in a tropical country, so, 20 degrees centigrade is considered cold here. My conmute to work is almost flat, with only one climb, something a very steep 300 meters. If it were not for that, I'd be able to get to the office almost completely dry.

What's the trick? I use a hardtail mountain bike with a small rack in the seatpost. The bike has a sporty position, but the trick is to pedal in the easy gears and making very little effort, accelerating very slowly. The effort should feel comparable to a moderate walk. Also, take as much advantage as I can from the downhills.

However, ideal conditions are an exception. I have already told you that I have to climb a very steep hill, so I just put the easiest gear and pedal like a grandmother for that hill (While in "sports mode" I can climb the same hill in 4 gears higher and a quarter of the time). I sweat the minimum and I manage to avoid clothes changes, but there are other things I do to minimize body odor:

  • Drink a lot more water than actually necesary. (your urine will be totally transparent). This will mean you have a very clean system, so even if you sweat, it won't stink that much.
  • Apply a little deodorant in other parts of the body besides armpits. (I recommend a little in the chest and in the back)
  • Carry a clean hand towel and use it to dry the sweat when you get to the workplace. First the face, then the hair, then the neck, arms and last, armpits. The towel can be pre-scented with a suitable cologne if you want. Rinse the towel thoroughly and twist dry it as much as you can. It won't be smelly if you do it right, so you can discretely hang-dry it near your desk without disturbing anyone.
  • Leave home early enough so you can take your time getting to the office, also, plan to get there 20-15 minutes prior to the time you have to be there, so you can spend those "cooling off". Sprinkle your face with fresh water, moisten hair (and apply hair gel, if you use to do so) wich help against "helmet hair".
  • Avoid carrying backpacks or anything similar. Any strap that makes your clothing tight against your upper body will wrinkle the clothes, will restrict airflow around your torso, so it will make you sweat more. They will also cause curious sweat marks in your shirt.

All those tips are easy to implement, and can keep you from needing to change clothes. After you cool off and clean yourself with the towel, most people won't even notice a difference on you if you hadn't commuted by bike.

As per anecdotal stuff, my grandfather used to commte exclusively by bike, in a small city located in the Valley of Sula (Valle de Sula) near the city of San Pedro Sula in Honduras. A valley in a tropical country has a very hot weather all year round. He used a bike similar to the "Flying Pigeon" (Google Flying Pigeon Bike for images). That is a heavy steel bike with 28" wheels, a very high gearing and a very comfortable seating position. I remember that he was never sweaty, even if he commuted from workplace to his home for lunch, right under caribean sun at noon. Two elements had a big role in it: 1) the city is completely flat, no climbs, no downhills. 2) The bike he used is almost impossible to pedal in an sporty way, it kind of 'forced' you to pedal in a smooth fashion, with slow cadence, but after a while, you get some speed that is really easy to keep. It makes you feel you can go for hours without getting tired.

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Even a short sprint or uphill effort can make a big difference in how sweaty I am when I get to the office. Maintain a consistently low effort, using low gears for any uphills.

Panniers are good, since backpacks and messenger bags not only insulate, but also hold your shirt directly against your sweaty back. Often I'll put my shirt in my pannier and just change that when I get to the office. Pants take a bit longer to soak through, but they're even more embarrassing if they do, so be careful.

If you can, change your hours so you can ride in during the coolest part of the day. On a sunny day, the temperature rises a lot between 7am and 9am.

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+1 for panniers and low effort cycling. It really depends on how far you are cycling. It helps to keep a small package of baby wipes, deoderant, and a comb in your bag as well so that you can 'tidy up' when you get to work if you sweat a lot. If it's an option, keep a full backup set of clothes at work stashed in a drawer (with socks and undergarments) in case you get your outfit dirty or wet while commuting. Most sporty looking helmets are very well vented. Just avoid skate style helmets (like bern watts) may be too hot due to lack of vents on the front. –  Benzo May 2 '13 at 17:35
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Add an electric motor for the ride to work and use the ride home ride home to make up for being lazy in the morning.... –  mattnz May 3 '13 at 1:28
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Everyone else has offered good advice, but let me point out one simple thing for you:

Almost no matter how hot it is or how hard I'm riding, I'm not really sweaty until I stop moving. That's because 1) I'm wearing bike clothes designed to wick moisture and evaporate it quickly, and 2) almost no matter what the weather is doing, while I'm moving I'm headed into a steady wind that quickly evaporates sweat.

But when I stop, that steady wind stops and with it the evaporation, and all of a sudden I'm sweaty when I wasn't 10 seconds earlier.

So just do three things:

1) Wear sports clothing designed to wick moisture.

2) Slow down and cool down a kilometer or so before you reach work. Cruise around in slow circles in the parking lot if you must until you can stop and not feel sweaty.

3) Bring a change of clothing and once you've cooled down and stopped sweating, head for the bathroom and change.

Evaporated sweat doesn't smell. Only old sweat that has lingered and had time to allow bacteria and fungi to grow smells. So go ahead and sweat but just make sure you're dry when you change into your work clothing.

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I'm perplexed by the other answers, the only answer is wearing sports clothes. I wear in the summer one that has long sleeve just because i don't have a sport t-shirt, i feel muuuch better than wearing a normal t-shirt, i really don't feel any sweat and i also carry a backpack. Wearing a t-shirt makes it wet in the back in minutes, with the other one i pedal for hours. Also, if you eat healthy the sweat will not smell bad, it's a good thing to do anyway. –  Cristi Băluță Aug 19 '13 at 4:22
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Oftentimes, you sweat the most just when you finish the ride, as you've just been pedaling at full effort, but you don't get the wind generated by the moving bike. Oftentimes you need to stand around in a warm space, like I need to wait in the very warm freight elevator lobby. Try to take it easy especially for the end of the ride, and hold something cold (such as an ice pack or cold drink) against your head or neck to cool down quickly.

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Sometimes it works to ride a couple of casual laps around the parking lot after arriving. And try to do your dismounting and taking stuff off the bike, etc, in the shade. –  Daniel R Hicks May 30 '13 at 18:35
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Basically, getting "sweaty" is a function of the temperature, humidity, clothing, level of effort, length of exercise, and your personal propensity to sweat.

If you're dressed lightly enough, the weather is not too bad (below 75F and maybe 60% humidity), you travel only a short distance (maybe 2 miles max) on relatively level ground, and you maintain a very "casual" pace, then you can hope to arrive without too much visible sweat. (You may have to wipe your forehead, eg, but possibly that's it.) And for shorter distances you can probably stretch the other parameters a bit.

The killer, of course, is humidity. If the relative humidity is 80% it's going to be hard to avoid working up a sweat, regardless of the other factors.

Rather than simply hoping that you won't get sweaty I'd recommend having a way to change your shirt and "freshen up" a bit on arriving at your job.

Look into one of the "sport towels" for drying off at work. They're compact and travel well.

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Yeah, humidity is a killer. The average humidity in Montreal last summer was over 60 degrees, and it's not uncommon to have days with 90%-100% humidity in the summer. Which is why I recommend that most people should just bring a change of clothes to work. Since I started biking, I don't know why I didn't bring an extra shirt when riding the bus. It's impossible not to sweat in those conditions. Source for humidity information –  Kibbee May 3 '13 at 12:39
    
I use "Wet Ones - Big Ones" towels. Cheaper than "Sport towels" and they do the same thing. –  plh Aug 20 '13 at 16:12
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@plh - A sport towel is reusable, and hence "free" if you reuse it enough. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 21 '13 at 5:09
    
Oh! Thank you, I'll Have to look into that! –  plh Aug 22 '13 at 9:58
    
@plh - "PackTowl" is one brand, sold largely to campers. There are others that are sold to swimmers. Made either of "microfiber" or synthetic chamois, most can be used dry or they can be wet, wrung out, and used damp. Even when wet, if you wring them enough, they will dry you off pretty well, without another towel. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 22 '13 at 11:10
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What worked for me in an admittedly flat terrain - I used a heartrate monitor. In my spare time I calibrated it a bit - at which heartrate do I get sweaty? Then on the trip to work, I make sure that I stay about 5% below that rate. At 45, my sweat heartrate was about 110, so I stayed below 105.

My trip is 21 km in each direction.

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Living in Denmark, I have ridden a bike almost every day of my life since I turned 5. I do not claim to be any kind of expert, I just see biking as an every day rutine. I ride my bike to work every day. I break into sweat real easy in the summer, when temperatures often rises above 20 degrees C if not in shorts, which I cannot wear to work. So how do I challenge biking to work in the summer in long pants and a shirt? I go slow. That was an easy question to answer. You do not need fancy equipment, just leave home earlier in the summer!

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Presumably you live in southern Denmark where there are few hills. ;) –  Daniel R Hicks May 31 '13 at 22:43
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@DanielRHicks Maybe, but Montreal is flat as a board. –  Carey Gregory Aug 16 '13 at 4:13
    
@CareyGregory I'll take that as a joke, given the actual royal mount in the middle of the city... :) –  amp Aug 19 '13 at 21:42
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@amp Well, okay, Montreal has one 150-meter hill. If your job is at the top of it, I guess Montreal isn't flat as a board for you. But from my perspective, Montreal is really, really flat. –  Carey Gregory Aug 20 '13 at 0:46
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"No-sweat cycling" is a much talked about art that will never be perfected. Luckily, you don't have to be perfect to make riding to work in your work clothes a viable option. I do it several times a week (in NYC, over a bridge), some days finding more success staying sweat-free than others. A couple keys:

Weather is a big determining factor. If it's particularly muggy out, don't ride. Find another way to get to work. But for most summer days (in NYC, and I'd think in Montreal) riding in work clothes is doable. That is, as long as your commute is no longer than about 5 miles and relatively flat.

Of course, no ride is perfectly flat. And hills are where most riders work hard, get hot, and get wet - sweating is your body's attempt at wicking away heat from your core. Choose an easy gear on hills, and as Cyclescheme advises, "treat each pedal stroke like a step on a flight of stairs" -- a light step. This goes for the entire ride: go easy.

Cycling is efficient -- about 300% more efficient than walking, according to studies cited by cycling advocate Ryan Rzepecki. That means that on a bike you can commute to work at an average speed about three-times as fast as the speed at which you would sweat on the same commute on foot. This is fuzzy math, but the main point rings true: You really can get to work efficiently on a bike without breaking a heavy sweat.

That is, as long as you're not the type of person who breaks into a heavy sweat on a leisurely stroll. If that's the case, and maybe even if it's not: Anti Monkey Butt.

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only 300%? I would say the difference is way bigger. –  Sarge Borsch Mar 7 at 23:27
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I live in Hawaii and it gets sort of humid at times. What I like to do is secure those ice pack lunch bags to the back of my backpack so it keeps my back cool during the ride. It helps a lot since the heat from your torso seems to feel the worse when you begin sweating.

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There has been some good advice here so far:

  • about packing your business clothes seperately during your ride
  • riding before the temperature rises in the morning
  • using a low gear

But essentially you are asking "how can I prevent sweat during exercise?" There is no cure for sweating since it is a natural mechanism the body excretes to cool your internal body heat down. To prevent sweating, you have to go at a pace where you are pretty much bored. If it's not hot outside and you are going <10mph on a low gear, then chances are you won't break a sweat.

A more extreme solution to experiment with is applying antiperspirant to your armpits, arms, face, and upper body. You also can also clean yourself the sweat post-ride by packing moisture wipes. I do the latter and it makes a huge difference on how I feel after getting off the two pedals.

Clothing-wise, you can minimize sweating by wearing a dry-fit shirt underneath your business shirt or change into your business setup after the ride as mentioned above. Also research shirts made from Ministry of Supply - it a online clothing website that claims to make sweat-free business shirts through some proprietary technology or whatever. I'm not endorsing them by any means though since I am not a customer, but you should definitely look into that or other alternatives to traditional materials.

Good luck!

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Which moisture wipes do you use? Moister wipes looks like an excellent idea, but everything I see are baby cleaning wipes once I search it in amazon.. –  arthur Sep 20 '13 at 8:17
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An electric bike which helps you uphill will lower-down the effort leading into less sweating.

I tested two of them and the feel is quite natural – it automatically adds power when you step into pedals a little more while let you just ride if you want to go calm.

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Bring a change of clothes so you can wear shorts, etc. Get a rack for your bag so it's not against your body. But no matter what, some days, your gonna sweat.

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I have had the same problem for a long time. You need 2 things to significantly lessen sweatiness.

First, you have to get a headband. A lot of tennis players, like Rafa Nadal wear them. You can use a bandana if you hold it like a diamond and then fold it down and tie it around your head. You can use a 70's era John McEnroe type elastic headband, too, if you don't care about fashion. This keeps sweat from running down your face, neck, chest and back. Leave the headband or bandana on until you stop sweating - usually 5 -10 minutes after the ride.

Second, before you leave fill a metal water bottle with ice and the beverage of your choice. When you stop biking, put it on your forehead, neck, face, chest and anywhere else you think it will cool you down. Plastic water bottles are about 80% as effective.

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  • Use a good antiperspirant
  • Don't cycle in your work clothes, carry them separately
  • Wear sports clothing designed to wick moisture away and evaporate it quickly
  • Use panniers rather than carrying a bag or rucksack on you
  • Ease off 5 mins before you arrive
  • Go slow :)
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I've solved my problem by putting an electric motor (BionX) on my trike.

I work inside a dairy cooler in Florida, so getting to work wet was a huge problem.

About 2 weeks after I got the motor installed, I forgot to unplug before pulling out of the garage and yanked the cord and half of the fuse holder out of the charger. Over a year later, I still haven't bothered repairing it. What I do is run the motor on the way to work, and run it as a generator on the way home. This gets about 3/4 of the charge back. Topping off I do by either a longer ride, or attaching a VERY small (.1 watt) solar panel directly to the battery pack.

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No answer mentions your fitness/cardio level. As mentioned by most answers, the faster you go, the more you sweat. But you'll also notice that the less you are in shape, the more you sweat. Take anyone who's obese on a short walk, and you'll see them sweat 5 minutes later even though you're probably just getting warmed up. If you exercise with a great athlete and push yourself to keep the pace, you will be the person sweating like crazy, when he'll be warming up. Bottom line: if you're in better shape, you will sweat less.

So if you have time in your schedule, outside of work, go out and push yourself with a heart monitor, go to 70-80% for a good 45-60min once or twice a week; make sure you warmup well before. After a few weeks, you will notice that at the lower speeds, on your commute, you will no longer sweat as much, because your body can handle it better.

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You could try leaving earlier, maybe before the day heats up. Granted that during the summer this means a very early start, but at certain times of the year it can mean pleasantly cool morning air and maybe less traffic.

Look at the forecast and aim to wear clothing that makes you feel slightly too cold at the start of your journey, while carrying a few alternative layers in your panniers. It's worth taking into account wind direction when planning. On cooler days wear something windproof you can quickly unzip at the first sign of overheating.

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