I would like to bicycle commute to work, but we don't have showers or any place I can change. How can I clean up and carry clothing? My office is business casual, but I need to look neat and presentable.
My commute was fairly short, so my major burden was the rain. For this I invested in rain proof panniers & waterproof jacket & over-trousers. I had both a summer & winter jacket to make sure I didn't arrive in too hot during summer. I didn't have overshoes, so kept spare socks/shoes at office. I cycled at leisurely pace on way there to avoid building up too much of a sweat. I'd let rip on the way home to make up for that.
I had a colleague who cycled in from further afield, and wore the spandex gear. He just discretely got changed in the toilets when he arrived. It was never an issue (odour wise) - I guess he went with the babywipes & deodorant.
Our dress code was pretty casual. If you need to be smart, just bring your freshly ironed office clothes in a pannier. See if you can get a suction bag to prevent them from flopping all over the place enroute.
In the past, when I commuted to a job without showers (I've managed to luck out recently) I made sure to:
- Keep my hair relatively short, as to avoid helmet-hair
- Get in early enough that I can have a quick wash in a bathroom sink without too many people around to take notice
- Always bring a full change of clothes
- Like @curtismchale, leave a pair of 'work' shoes under the desk
- Bring deodorant!
2 pro-tips for not smelling bad.
One, and this may seem odd, but cool down before you change. If you can hang out in what you rode in on for like, 15 minutes, you can avoid immediately sweating into the clothes you've just changed into. For me, I've got a regular morning call so I show up 10 minutes before that, get through the 10 minute conference call and THEN go change. Even in summer by the time I do I'm no longer creating more sweat. There's nothing worse than changing your clothes in the bathroom only to notice your back is still sweaty 10 minutes later onto the shirt you carefully rolled up in your pannier.
Two - and this I think is key, not only should you keep deodorant at work, but put it on before you leave too! There's a reason they call the stuff "anti-perspirant". The aluminum oxide in deodorants actually works. So put a bit on before you leave, and more after you get there and you shouldn't be offending anyone.
I use a Chrome Metropolis messenger bag (waterproof) to carry my stuff. Lots of room to carry a laptop, shoes, clothes...If you can leave a pair of shoes at the office under your desk. I've known a few people with no shower to just use some baby wipes in the bathroom and get the essentials freshened up. Also leave deodorant at work and put it on.
When I used to have 32 mile round trip commute, I used to keep a cache of clean clothes at work to change into. I'd refresh the clothes store every couple of weeks.
Not having to carry anything on my back, and wearing lycra gear meant that I minimised sweating.
I'd wash my face and upper body whe I got in using the little sink in the toilet.
I did look a bit crumply, but happily I make software for a living and noone particularly minded.
Lots of people have mentioned a full change of clothes, and to that I would add just one thing: have a separate "emergency" pair of socks/underwear with you at all times. If you have space, extra pants, shirt, and shoes may also come in useful.
Every morning I pack myself a change of clothes, but the spare socks/underwear live in a separate bag which I put in my bag next to emergency bike tools and such. You just never know when you're going to get caught in a downpour or something, and they don't take up so much room in the bag.
A cloth, such as a bathroom hand down, in your bag, that you can wet in the bathroom sink, and use to wipe down works wonders, it cools you down quicker, and wipes away the sweat. Just remember a plastic bag to pack it away, and don't forget to put it straight in the wash when you get home.
+1 for the shoes under the desk.
A full change of clothes are definitely a must.
You might investigate whether there is a gym, community center, or somewhere else with showers nearby. For example, my previous job was about a block from a YMCA, and it was only about $60/month for a membership that included a full-sized locker. I commuted in my biking gear, locked my bike inside, showered in the locker room, changed into my work clothes, then walked the final block to work.
This method can even work in very formal workplaces. On Monday, I brought a week's worth of shirts, socks, and underwear in my panniers. On Friday, I took it all back home. My suits and shoes remained in the locker or at a downtown dry cleaner.
This was even better in the below-freezing winter months. There was no better feeling after a slushy bike ride than sitting in the steam room for 20-30 minutes before getting a warm shower. Access to basketball courts, a weightlifting room, and yoga classes was another nice bonus.
It takes approximately twelve hours for bacteria to grow in your sweat and produce the waste products that we know as 'body odour'. Therefore, if you shower in the morning before you start your commute, you can work nine to six and not worry about having not baby-wiped every orifice on your arrival. If taking the 'only stale sweat stinks' approach you may want to avoid nylon clothing as this can harbour bacteria in the nylon fibres, beyond the reach of the washing machine.
'Business casual' is a uniform of sorts, I recommend 3 easy iron shirts, a spare selection of undies, a jacket, a couple of pairs of trousers and some shoes in the desk at work. It should always be possible to carry an item or two in your panniers/rucksack/saddlebag to rotate the clothes selection and a fresh T-shirt for ever day. Nobody will ever think you are weird for always wearing a variation of the same outfit as your reputation as a cyclist should go before you.
In Copenhagen and the Netherlands people commute to work in regular clothes at affordable cycling speeds on heavy bikes. To my knowledge they do not have to then shower on their employers hot water (and time) or do something weird with loads of baby wipes. They probably also do a better job of attracting the opposite sex by radiating their own pheromones rather than the fake ones included in the better deodorant brands.
I have used a Chrome messenger bag and would highly recommend it as highly visible and rainproof. I also have a pannier from Swift Industries that is great for taking larger amounts to work. I know of several people who swear by Ortliebs as visible and virtually waterproof. As others have noted, rolling your clothes will minimize wrinkles. This also works great when traveling.
I cannot recommend enough the previous note for Action Wipes - http://www.actionwipes.com/ They are bigger than most wipes, definitely more sturdier, they smell better and they can be recycled for other purposes after being washed.
My work has showers, so I pack a fast-dry/ultralight towel (brand is MSR). Think about getting two towels, because the towel doesn't get any real time to dry while at work so I alternate each day. The towels aren't as soft as cotton, but dry faster & are much lighter. Still, I try to remove as much water from me before using the towel because of how long it sits in my bag.
Check the local pharmacy/convenience store for "trial" or "travel" size shampoo/soap containers...
I have "waterproof" panniers, but have found that wrapping my clothes in a plastic grocery bag was still necessary for the really bad days, even with fenders. Speaking of fenders, photochromic sunglasses are a good idea because fenders only help with what comes off the wheels. Between fenders & glasses, I'd choose glasses -- easier to pack, lighter than fenders, can be used for other activities.
I have booties/overboots, and tend to wear them even if the rain has stopped -- keeps a lot of the mud & muck off my shoes. They provide some additional heat too on cool days.
You don't say how far your commute is. Mine's just 4 1/2 miles (though soon to go up when we move offices). One answer to consider is not bothering to freshen-up at all. If you take the cycle in easy, it isn't too long, and your work do not need you to look besuited and amazing then you can get away with just wearing your work-a-day clothes on the bike. I started off turning up in lycra and then changing into clothes I kept at work (taking in a new set of shirts and a pair of trousers every Monday) but found disadvantages. If I turned up late for a meeting it would freak out my colleagues to have me in lycra (understandably). So now I just cycle in in what I'm planning to wear that day, shoes and all.
On wet winter days I need to use waterproof over-trousers (I use some Goretex hiking ones) and I have a bright reflective cycling jacket, a helmet, cycling gloves, and trouser clips but other than that it's fine.
Several answerer recommend disposable towels or baby wipes. I think they are a terrible solution.
You won't get much cleaning done with such a wipe. Its ability to soak up sweat is too limited. At best one smears sweat and grime around. If one were to sweat so little that there's nothing to take up, why even bother with the wipes?
It seems a terrible idea to waste a prodigious amount of cotton. Isn't it absurd when we cycle to reduce our carbon footprint and then be so wasteful?
There is a much better alternative, a simple flannel or towel. I use a tiny microfibre towel. First I rinse my head in our toilet's wash basin and dry it with the towel. Then I get the towel soaking wet and wash myself head to toe. In between I wring it out and mop up the water from my skin.
After this I use a little hand soap to wash the towel. Then wring it out good. I let it dry at the open window. The towel fits neatly in my jersey pocket which allows me to change it from time to time.
Background: I commute 13 km and a dripping wet afterwards. I avoid backpacks or stuff. From time to time I take public transit to work and bring a change of clothes for a week or two.
I commute about 6 miles to work with a couple of good hills to get me nice and sweaty and I live in Seattle, so rain is a factor. I have fenders to keep the worst of the rain off and rain gear, but I wish I had booties. For cleaning up for work, I get the face wipes at Costco and clean up in the bathroom. They don't smell strongly and aren't "girly" and aren't expensive. My work is fairly casual. I keep a couple pairs of shoes at work and some pants. I usually wear the shirt I rode in. I trade out the pants as needed and if I need to dress a little nicer, I will bring something in my bike bag.
This system works well for me and I don't have to worry about washcloths that get smelly and have to be taken home to wash. I also take the bus occasionally and try to do most of my porting of laundry and other items then.
A lot of good answers below. I cycle 5 miles either way each day and use the 'spare clothes routine' left at work. Each day I have something new to wear, just one item, so clothes are continually being transported back and forth. The shoes always stay there. Get a good back pack, they are light and should not make you sweat if they are the type that sit off your back. I also have double cycling gear - 2 shorts, 2 leg warmers for winter, 2 socks etc, just in case it rains and one lot doesn't dry by coming home time. And who cares about getting wet on the home trip anyway? I would also seriously ask at work about somewhere to change; they want a healthy and active workforce, don't they? Tell the others in the office what you want and get their support. I've also been given a key to a small boiler room where I also leave the bike.
For odour reduction (and comfort!) wear natural fibres. Synthetic materials are particularly bad at making the worst of a good sweat. Of the natural fibres, cotton is probably the worst, while in my experience hemp is excellent at reducing smells (even though it seems to stay damp longer).
Of course, different synthetic fibres perform differently, but as I don't often wear them, I haven't noticed which are better or worse, and I can't find any good references about the topic.
One rather drastic solution: Cycle commuter Holy Grail: Shirt remains wrinkle and odour-free without washing.
I commute 8 miles to work and so by the time I get to work, I'm pretty sweaty. My solution, which has worked pretty well, is to keep three washcloths and a small plastic bowl in my work drawers. I keep my hair short and slightly gelled so that I won't have to wash it when I get to work and they stay in form. I first cool down, then I wet the towels in the sink and take them into the toilet stall with me. There I wipe my entire body down with them. I use paper towels to wipe my feet. Then I wash and ring the towels and put them on a makeshift rack in our computer datacenter. Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that you'll need access to your work's computer datacenter for this scheme to work.
Some cities or regions have shower-stations exactly for this purpose - have a look around.
As for clothes - if you can't do a weekly/fortnightly drive to get a batch of pressed shirts to work, perhaps look at paying to get them laundered close to your work? There might be pickup/drop off services to do this, and (for me at least) I found that paying a couple of dollars per shirt was worth the time saving of ironing it myself. This all assumes you have somewhere to keep a wardrobe at work - if not, choose low-wrinkle shirts, and roll rather than fold (there are good youtube clips that explain this - they are usually more focused on business travel than cycling though)