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I've already read the answers to this question and learned a lot!

But my question is a bit different, I bike to work almost everyday, not a long ride, a few miles, a bit hilly a bit road side...

My problem is if I wear a lot I sweat and I don't have a shower at work, but I can't tolerate the cold either (I live near Washington DC, we have some cold and specially windy days, and I leave fairly early in the morning).

Any suggestions, to what I can wear (on top of my not formal clothes that I wear at work) to keep my warm and dry without making me sweat?

Needless to say, I am a very amateur biker!

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Are you willing to stop once or twice to remove layers, or to be cold for the first 15 minutes? – Jefromi Dec 2 '11 at 19:51
@Jefromi that won't be ideal but if don't find another solution that could definitely help. – Ali Dec 2 '11 at 20:07
So, we haven't had much cold weather in the DC area yet, but there were a few days. How's it going? – Ross Patterson Dec 23 '11 at 14:01
Yep, it's still quit warm compared to previous years. – Ali Dec 23 '11 at 15:26

8 Answers 8

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I find it's important to wear a wind-breaking layer everywhere, covering as much exposed skin as possible. It's especially important to have some wind protection on your legs to protect the more sensitive areas.

Make sure that your extremities have thermal protection as well. Insulted gloves are a must, especially considering the alternative is to be touching the bare metal of your brake levers.

Other than that I find it helps to dress down like @ChrisW mentioned. If you over-insulate your torso, that's when you'll get sweaty.

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The general consensus I've seen is that you should expect to be cold for the first twenty minutes of cycling in the winter. If you're dressed warmly enough that you're not cold for the first twenty minutes, you'll swelter.

If your ride is under twenty minutes (this is just ballpark), you can simply dress warmly and remove clothes once you arrive at work. However, I suspect your ride is around twenty minutes long (given your description of a few miles). This gives you the unfortunate choice of 1) be warm initially but sweat towards the end of the ride, or 2) be cold initially but reach a comfort temperature right as you arrive at work.

I'm not sure there's a good solution if your ride happens to be right around this long. You might try dressing lightly enough that you're comfortable by the time you reach work, but try to get your temperature up before leaving by sitting next to a fire or a heater vent.

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When the temp goes down to +5C I start to wear a jersey over my shirt.

Then when it gets down to 0C (freezing), I just put a wind-proof uninsulated Gore-Tex anorak over my office shirt (no jersey), with long pants and gloves and overshoes (for cold feet).

The wind-proof keeps me warm enough when I'm cycling (it's too warm when it's above freezing). Keeping the right temperature, then, is a matter of matching my exertion (i.e. more is warmer) to the ventilation/zipper of my coat (tight around my throat for maximum warmth, or semi-unzipped to let warm air out and a bit of cooler air in).

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thanks, that makes sense but this is expensive… any other brand? – Ali Dec 2 '11 at 20:09
+1 @Ali: In order to not sweat significantly by the end, you're still probably going to be cold for a bit at the beginning of your ride, unless you go really slowly once you're warmed up. But wind-proofing is indeed the important thing. As for price... searching for gore-tex jacket I find tons and tons of things much cheaper than that. Just shop around. (You will pay more for brand-name or highly specialized cycling things, of course.) – Jefromi Dec 3 '11 at 0:06
@Ali - please see the answers to this question. – ChrisW Dec 6 '11 at 3:53

Sweat doesn't stink. It's just salty water. You should bring a change of clothes in a pannier. Wipe the sweat off when you get to work, and change into fresh clothes. I and many others I know do this and have no problem with body odor. Body odor takes quite a few hours of sweat sitting on the skin to cause a problem. Use unscented baby wipes to wipe the sweat off if you are really paranoid, or just reapply deodorant (I leave some at work).

As far as clothing goes, I've been using these tights the last 4 weeks up in Canada, and this past week it was between -5 and 5 degrees C (around freezing). I've worn them as low as -10 (14 F) and not had a problem with the cold. I'm guessing they would be good to at least -15. On the top I've had a cotton undershirt which really helps absorb the sweat. Also wearing this jersey followed by another waterproof/windproof Columbia jacket (can't find link) over top of that. It get a little warm, but not overly warm, and I find that the cotton T actually helps absorb most of the sweat. You may notice that I have quite a few more layers on top. I don't have a problem with my legs getting cold, probably because they are working so hard, but my arms and chest get a lot of wind against them, and this means they get cold if I don't have quite a few layers.

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It should be noted that body odor is primarily from fatty acids and related chemicals in the sweat. These fatty acids oxidize and become more volatile as they sit on the skin. (Bacteria is not necessary to create the odor.) And only the sweat from the armpits and pubic area contain these components. – Daniel R Hicks Dec 3 '11 at 19:32
In summer, I don't bring a change of clothes: I cycle wearing ordinary summer cotton (shirt and shorts), which dries easily indoors. Just shower in the morning and put on clean clothes each day. – ChrisW Dec 6 '11 at 3:42

I find that merino wool tends to not get as funky as other fabrics. A layer or two next to the skin does the trick for me.

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I find that showering and wearing clean clothes each day is clean enough, almost no matter what the fabric. – ChrisW Dec 6 '11 at 3:43
I do shower and wear clean clothes daily :) – jpmartineau Dec 7 '11 at 5:36
Biking in Colorado daily throughout the winters, I also am a fan of a thin wool sweater as base layer, topped by nylon jacket shell to block out wind. (There do exist non-scratchy wools if you look hard enough.) Same double layer system works for the legs: I use a thin polyfleece pant as base layer, topped by a pair of inexpensive nylon golf pants that flex. These are washer-dryer friendly. I also always pack a cheap compressible down coat for emergencies (when you are not heating yourself by exertion). It is helpful to have panniers to pack this extra gear if you commute daily. – user5694 May 23 at 15:16

Dress appropriately for the conditions, but clean yourself once at the office. I have not used these myself, but heard enough from podcasts and fellow triathletes that this is what I would try if we did not have showers at work.

Action Wipes

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Go with unscented baby wipes. You can pay about $10 for 400 wipes at walmart. No reason to go for the expensive sport specific stuff. – Kibbee Dec 3 '11 at 18:12
The face wipes at costco work well too and don't have the smell of baby wipes. They're very affordable. – ananka Dec 5 '11 at 8:02

Here are some ideas that might help as well:

  • Polypro long underwear is often very affordable, it wicks sweat, and is cheaper than new wool long underwear. Wool long underwear doesn't build up a funk and also wicks, you can easily wear it for a week, and that might be equitable to the cost of a weeks worth of polypro. With polypro, you have to be disciplined about washing it. If you can change your costume when you get to work, changing out of your long underwear is probably desirable.

  • Fleece is pretty effective at blocking wind, I've found fleece pants secondhand, and over wool or polypro long underwear is comfortable. The fleece pants I found would also fit over well fitting jeans.

  • ziplock pogies If you have flat handlebars, consider rigging up some 1 gallon sized ziplock bags over your grips and brakes, this will protect your hands and improve the warmth of your gloves.

  • Can you keep a change of clothes at work?

  • Consider a pirate shower kit, the method with the least waste involves packing a soapy washrag in a ziplock baggie, but baby wipes work pretty well.

  • Don't forget that constricting socks and gloves make your hands and feet colder. I keep my laces so loose in the winter my shoes are slip-ons.

It's worth noting that if you shower regularly, raising a modest sweat on your ride probably won't make you stink. Cotton t-shirts can be almost as bad as polypro for raising a funk, tho. And if you do sweat, cotton t-shirts become cold wet, clingy blankets. As you continue commuting to work your stamina and pacing will improve and you will notice that those hills won't make you sweat as much. Avoid sprinting to work, postpone that urge of for the ride home :-)

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"...without making me sweat..."

Sorry, you'll sweat a lot or a little. Fortunately or not, human biology will cause you to sweat. When you heat up the human body, it sweats.

To control the volume of sweating =

  • Dress in layers of clothing.
  • Add or remove layers of clothing as needed.
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