52

I have a question regarding commuting to work on a bike. I recently moved to a new location because of a new job. The drive to work is roughly 15-20 minutes depending on the traffic (no freeway or highways). About a month ago I got a new bike the Giant Revolt 3. The location is a bit away from the city so I've noticed a lot more people ride bikes here.

My question is, how do you commute to work on a bike? My bike ride to work is about 7 miles, half of it is probably on the side of the road, and the other half is on a bike trail that takes me all the way to the office. Like most people, I have to wear a dress shirt and pants with business casual shoes. Don't people get sweaty? Wouldn't your clothes get wrinkled if you put them in a backpack to change later? There is a guy that always take bike rides for lunch and when he comes back he's drenched in sweat. How do you avoid these problems?

The reason I want to start commuting is because About 5-6 years ago I lost a bit of weight and I've been having chest pain problems which went away after I lost the weight (and I'm only 23), now they're coming back because I'm sitting in front of a computer most of the time.

(feel free to change/add tags if necessary, thanks).

  • 14
    If you have had chest pain, I strongly suggest you seek the help of a medical professional. – Deleted User Jul 22 '15 at 16:51
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    Relevant: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/15594/… – Jahaziel Jul 22 '15 at 21:31
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    It matters a bit whether you're north or south - you got several answers claiming if you ride slowly you won't get sweaty, and that's just not true in much of the US, especially in the summer. It's a bit late now but you might have gotten better answers if you specified what kind of temperatures you're expecting. (For example in plenty of places in Texas, the average low in the summer is ~25C, warmer nights can be more like 30C, and unless you're leaving at sunrise you won't be biking at the low temperature.) – Cascabel Jul 22 '15 at 21:31
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    Something else I just realized, stop in at the dollar store and pick up a cheap 6in desk fan. Even after I shower at work it still takes some time for me to stop sweating. Just 10 minutes of the fan on my face while reading email has really made a difference. – BPugh Jul 24 '15 at 14:25
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    This seems obvious, but hasn't been mentioned: Check if there are showers/lockers at work. Many, particularly newer, office buildings include a small gym with locker rooms and showers. If not, is there a gym with memberships near enough to use? I used to walk about 3 minutes to a gym for showers (and workouts if weather precluded cycling). – mpez0 Jul 26 '15 at 17:52

13 Answers 13

50

I've recently started commuting to work 3 times a week and my commute is about 8 miles each way. I've found if I roll my clothes rather than fold them and pack just before I leave, there are no creases when I get to work. I always put my shoes at the bottom of my bag, then trousers rolled up then shirt. I leave my ties in my desk draw and leave my suit jacket at work.

It takes me about 45 minutes to get to work and I make sure I take the last mile easy so I don't arrive out of breath. I then spend about 10 minutes in my cycling clothes (making sure the kettle is boiled and quickly checking emails) to give me time to "cool down" before I go and get changed in to my work clothes. I've found I'm completely "dry" by then but if not I use wet wipes. Liberal use of deodorant and I'm good to go.

On the way home I just do the reverse. I attack the route home faster for a work out as I can have a shower when I get home.

I believe that as you get fitter you'll sweat less too, so it gets easier.

  • 2
    Thanks for the input, I don't have enough rep to vote up :/ . No need to take a shower once you get to work? Maybe locker room or something? – MB41 Jul 22 '15 at 14:43
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    Unfortunately I don't have access to a shower at work and that's something that put me off getting a bike for a while. But I bit the bullet and after biking in for a few weeks, I don't really miss the shower. Wearing a good jersey top that breaths helps a lot, as does taking the last mile slowly – Gordon Copestake Jul 22 '15 at 14:48
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    I found that wearing a cotton t-shirt on my ride to work works better than a synthetic fabric bike jersey -- the cotton absorbs more sweat than the synthetic jersey so when I change to my work shirt, I'm not so sweaty - I used to have to towel off when I wore the bike jersey. I just spread the shirt out on my bike bag under my desk so it's dry for my trip home. I just wear my regular work pants on the ride to work, my legs don't really get sweaty. – Johnny Jul 23 '15 at 16:01
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    @Johnny: another factor in favor of cotton: body odor. I don't wear deodorant. I think I am lucky not to need it, but if I wear a synthetic shirt, I reek. With a cotton (or wool) shirt, I am okay. – phoog Jul 23 '15 at 16:30
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    I leave my work shoes at work under my desk. Less to carry back and forth each day via bicycle. – GLNN.LRSN Jul 23 '15 at 20:47
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People who are sweating when cycling but not when walking are either cycling in hot weather (worse when steeply uphill with not enough gears), or treating a bicycle as a piece of sports equipment rather than a mode of transportation. When on foot, you walk rather than run. You don't need special clothes for walking or cycling. You do for running or racing. If you depart on time, you don't need to race.

To get from the sport cycling mindset to the utility mindset, get a traditional bicycle where you sit upright. Mountain-bikes and racing bicycles have purpose; they are sports equipment. Utility bicycles are simply a way to get around. They're a lot more comfortable too.

Fietspad
(Source: Fietsberaad, (CC BY-ND 2.0))

The additional benefit is that you are more visible — extra bonus when sharing the road with other kinds of vehicles.

  • 8
    I find as a beginner I sweat regardless of speed. I'm sure that will improve in time though as my fitness improves. Sit up and beg type bikes are great if your city has dedicated cycle lanes everywhere. I dont have that luxury where I live and it seems motorists have little patience for cyclists going slowly – Gordon Copestake Jul 22 '15 at 16:47
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    @ChrisW Perhaps a windy and humid day in spring in The Netherlands is less pleasant than you think :) – gerrit Jul 22 '15 at 17:03
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    @MR04 If motorists want to do 50 km/h, does it really make that much of a difference whether a cycling is doing 18 km/h or 26 km/h? – gerrit Jul 22 '15 at 17:04
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    While there's truth to the general idea that you don't have to sweat a ton, I think you're exaggerating quite a bit. There are plenty of places where you're going to sweat substantially even just from walking. (Have you tried summer in Texas?) And even if you can avoid sweating, it might well mean riding much, much slower, and you'd be better off riding faster and taking a couple minutes to cool off once you get to work. – Cascabel Jul 22 '15 at 19:04
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    @Jefromi Though places where you sweat from normal cycling are the same places you would sweat from walking and are thus the same places where I presume there is less of a cultural stigma against somebody being slightly sweaty when they arrive at work. The only point gerrit was making here I believe is that cycling is no more sweaty than walking if you cycle in a... lets call it Dutch way xD . – David Mulder Jul 23 '15 at 0:31
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I've a theory that body odour doesn't come from sweat but from bacteria.

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Body-odour/Pages/Introduction.aspx

The sweat itself doesn't smell. The unpleasant odour is produced by bacteria on the skin that break down the sweat into acids.

Bacteria take a bit of time to grow/multiply. So maybe it doesn't matter much how much you sweat, and what matters more is how long it's been since your last shower.

So my strategy is:

  • Shower thoroughly with soap immediately before going to work, put on clean clothes
  • Sweat as much as necessary on the way to work
  • On arriving:

    • Change from shorts to long trousers, e.g. in the washroom
    • Allow the sweat to dry naturally (which takes about 15 minutes or so)

For carrying clothes (or anything else) I don't use a backpack (a backpack isn't good for cycling, and is very bad for causing sweat) but rather use a pannier attached to the side of the bike.

In summer even pedestrians will sweat somewhat when they're outside. It seems to be a non-issue.

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    I agree - I shower in the mornings when I get up and don't notice any foul odour during the day despite sweating on the way to work. – Gordon Copestake Jul 22 '15 at 16:50
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    That's perfect because I take morning showers anyway. I'll probably be leaving to work around 6:30am to get there by ~7:15am, so it should be hot at all around that time. On my way back to my apartment I can sweat all I want because I can just take a quick shower when I get back. Thank you for the advice! – MB41 Jul 22 '15 at 16:55
  • Use deodorant on the spots where smell does develop, armpits the only ones most people need to keep free from smelling. – Willeke Jan 4 '16 at 23:17
8

I have been commuting for a long time, throughout the year (30km/day), I have a few short tips, that might help you:

  1. Get mudguards/fenders, unless you live in a very dry/sunny place
  2. Always have lights with you and a HELMET
  3. Sunglasses, even clear ones help keep your eyes safe
  4. Put your folded up clothes in separate plastic bags (they will not crease, if done properly: fold each item, place in a plastic bag, roll up the bag and place at the top of your bag above all the other items)
  5. Dress in layers (so that you can remove some if you get very warm)
  6. Have a small pump, inner tube, tire levers and multi tool
  7. Always stay on top of your bicycle maintenance

Hope this helps, there is much more that 10000km+ of commuting a year has tough me about cycling, but if you have any other questions, just ask.

  • 4
    For #4, it would improve your answer considerably if you described how to "do it properly" - that would specifically address an issue the OP asked about. – FreeMan Jul 22 '15 at 15:52
  • I definitely need to get a small pump and inner tube (already have a mutli tool), and I already wear prescription glasses to there is my eye protection :). But I plan to ride my bike mainly on dry days when there is no rain. My work doesn't have showers to clean myself off if I ride in rain. Thank you for the advice! – MB41 Jul 22 '15 at 16:52
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    @MR04 Rain will dry off (i.e. evaporate/disappear) when you get indoors. It's only dirt that's sprayed up from the road (if you don't have mudguards/fenders) that would cause you to need a "shower to clean myself off". – ChrisW Jul 22 '15 at 18:00
  • No problem MR04, I live in Ireland, so rain is a big issue, however you can still have something like this also used by professional riders in bad weather, it also folds up like this so its not in the way. – Filip Nikolic Jul 23 '15 at 9:28
  • If you're going to be commuting on a bike in the rain, just fit mudguards. "Ass-savers" are better than nothing but they're not great and they do nothing to protect your calves from muck thrown up by the front wheel. – David Richerby Mar 13 '18 at 21:28
8

How much you sweat depends a lot on climate (temperature, wind), route (flat, number of stops) and your body. 7 miles is a fair distance when you haven't done it before (but quite feasible), so perhaps it's a good idea to try the route a few times on the weekend when you're not under pressure.

Your colleague who's drenched in sweat is probably doing it for exercise and pushing himself really hard, so I wouldn't worry about that.

Some general experiences on sweating:

  • You often start to sweat more after your ride. While you're cycling, the wind keeps you cool and sweating is more efficient, but when you stop, your body still needs to get rid off excess heat, and without the "air cooling" you break into sweat in the first few minutes after you arrived. You can reduce this effect by taking the last bit of your commute slowly to cool down. I find it particularly problematic when I'm cycling against a strong cold wind (Edinburgh!), i.e. hard work but very strong cooling, then I just start to boil when I arrive and go into the warm office.
  • Try out different routes. A lot of the effort and the sweating is not so much the length of the route in total, but any uphills parts. I use different routes to work and back from work, because I don't mind going downhills on a steep hill, but chose a longer, less steep route for uphills. Longer routes may actually be much more comfortable.
  • Similarly try to avoid traffic lights or junctions, because having to stop and accelerate again takes a lot of effort too, particularly on roads where the flow of the traffic may force you to accelerate harder than you really want. It's often easier and quicker to go at a slow constant speed than at higher speed but with a lot of braking and accelerating.

It's good that your last half of the commute is on a separate trail, I think that will help a lot because you can just go at your own pace.

  • Thanks for the post! Yes it's very nice that the second half of my commute is on a dedicated bike path. My work office is right by a state park so that trail leads right to the back of my office building. – MB41 Jul 23 '15 at 13:14
  • @MR04 Going through a park is lucky! Your commute will probably take a bit longer by bike than by car (perhaps 30-40 minutes for 7 miles) but much more enjoyable and less stress. The first few times may be a bit difficult as you get familiar with the route, so don't let that put you off. – Stephan Matthiesen Jul 23 '15 at 14:13
  • @StephanMatthiesen yes, I'm expecting it to take about that time but I'm okay with it. I need to cut on my mileage on my leased car because I'm over anyway :) – MB41 Jul 23 '15 at 14:16
3

I commuted to work for years. It was about 5 miles, half of which was on a dedicated bike trail. It took me roughly 20 minutes. There was always a bit of a chill in the morning, so I never really got all that sweaty. It also helped that I had a very high fitness level at the time, so my body wasn't working as hard as it looked. I would just change into my clothes without showering, and never had any issues. My wife worked in the same office, and she would have told me if there were any issues!

If you are worried about your clothes getting wrinkled, one option is to drive in to work with an extra set of clothes and your bike in the car. Leave the clothes and the car there over night and ride home. Ride in the next morning and you have clothes waiting for you. Drive the car home with your bike. Repeat. That works well for some people.

3

If you're riding to work (well done btw) you have three concerns in the office:

1) You don't smell 2) You look professional (appropriate for your job) 3) Your clothes arrive in work in the same state as when they left the wardrobe.

I used to commute daily for about 8 miles and here's what I did. Roll your clothes, in a few a4 zip lock bags or draw string type carrier bag.

Get three small towels. Bath towels tho not the thin ones. On day 1, use the first towel, get it soaking wet and have a good wipe down, use soap if required. Wring this out and get yourself clean. Use the second towel to dry yourself. Leave the second and third towel at work. Day 2, get a new towel in your bag, go to work, use the second and third to wash and dry yourself, use the clean towel in your bag to replace the missing one and repeat.

You only ever need to carry one towel after you start and you get properly clean. I left clothes at work too for a Monday so I brought items home as required, e.g., my jacket and jumper could stop but the rest I'd bring home.

Ride hard and fast, don't slow down, sweat and get dirty! Its part of the fun ;)

  • Where (e.g. indoors or out) do you have a good wipe down using the towels? – ChrisW Jul 22 '15 at 23:32
  • All office buildings have bathrooms with toilet cubicles (as have almost all other places of work) and those are big enough to do the wipe and dry. And re-dress. – Willeke Jan 4 '16 at 23:26
3

For the sweat: I cycled in the humid midwest USA and would be drenched. I brought a pack of jumbo baby wipes (wet ones big ones, I believe...try to get un-scented). When changing in the restroom, I'd use two or three wipes and it would really get most of the salty muck off of me. Get dressed, slap some product in my hair and I was good to go. I don't recommend hanging out at your desk until you've changed. Another coworker did that and people were really put off by his soggy self.

I can't speak to packing dress clothes. A t-shirt and jeans was the norm for my job when I rode to work. I'd just fold and roll them up.

If you also pack your lunch then get a container that seals very well and then put it in a sealed plastic bag. Nothing like finding your clothes covered in mustard once you arrive.

Also be sure to bring a spare tire tube and basic tools. You will eventually end up using them.

Good luck. I miss working close enough to ride. It was the best 30 minutes of my day.

2

Adjust your speed to your needs. I never get to work in sweat as I keep my speed to such a level that I do not get too hot.
Wearing the right amount of layers helps as well, as does the ambient temperature.

Unlike other users here, I do NOT believe in helmets and I never use one. But if you feel the need for one, it does depend on local laws as well as on (preserved) need for the traffic, think about getting your whole head wet on arrival. (Yes, it can be done under a tap.)

There are loads of posts online about taking clothing to work, the most important thing is that you find a way that works for you. So test out different bags, buy or borrow one to clip on your bike if you do not own one yet as a backpacks are sweat collectors. Handlebar, seat post or best bags to clip onto a rear rack.

  • 2
    Can you explain why you "do NOT believe in helmets"? I understand opposing helmet laws or not hyping the dangers of cycling to scare people into wearing helmets, but flat out refusal to wear a helmet doesn't make sense to me. Is this belief based on logic? – Samuel Jul 22 '15 at 18:53
  • @Samuel Reasons for and against helmets have been discussed in this question bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/1678/… – Sumyrda Jul 23 '15 at 5:32
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    That post does not include my reason. I live in the Netherlands where 99% of the people cycle, most without helmets. I do not know anybody who is handicapped because of not wearing a helmet. And our hospitals are not full of people with head injuries. When you go high speed and off road, helmet use might be needed. – Willeke Jul 23 '15 at 15:19
1

As stated in the accepted answer: roll up your business clothes. Suit and shoes do not need to travel each time, just find some place to hang or fold them in your office. Be sure to take the investment in a water-proof sidebag of high quality. They are surprisingly expensive and surprisingly indispensable. Not having to carry anything on your back gives you air.

With regard to body odor, I'd recommend getting rid of underarm hair. Waxing has tolerably long service intervals and pricing but the first few times are not fun. In my experience, even showering and very thorough laving right before the hike was only marginally effective against rejuvenating considerable body odor when sweating.

Removing armpit hair was quite helpful. Mind you, you'll get rather wetter there in consequence (so it won't help against sweat stains if they are a cause of worry for you), but you can easily wipe it when changing and the smell is quite more neutral.

Those isolated patches of body hair nature left us with serve as smell beacons, and at least the underarm hair is hard to keep from doing its job.

1

I have a desk job with little required physical exertion, in an air conditioned environment, and I wear undershirts. Wearing the same clothes for several days in a row for only 8 hours a day isn't a problem in this environment with this work load.

So I keep a change of clothes in the office. When I arrive at work I cool down (server room at 65F (18C) works quickly for this!) and then change into my work outfit. If needed I wipe excess moisture from myself.

I swap clothes when I drive, or sometime when I'm not working - it's just another errand. I've considered having several outfits at the office so I'm not wearing the same thing every day for a few days at a time, but it's a small office, I'm not customer-facing, and the dress is casual, so it really isn't an issue. I've swapped clothes on bike as well, wrinkles aren't much of an issue, but if they were then hanging the clothes up at the office would resolve most wrinkles in the clothing I choose.

1

A lot of people where I'm from (Sweden, winter temperatures -10..+30C) who want to dress well and ride a bike to work buy an electric bike with pedal assistance, it lets them ride fast while not exerting so much energy to get sweaty, they are legal to ride in bike lanes as well.

I guess you might be hesitant to buy another bike, but there are kits for converting an existing bike to an electrical one for about $700-800 including the the li-ion battery.

  • I had one of these for 18 months, and all it did was allow me to ride faster. I still got just as sweaty. – Criggie Mar 16 '16 at 9:37
0

Get an electric bike. I commute around 10km one-way in 20min without breaking into sweat.

  • This was already mentioned in Mårten's answer, two-and-a-half years ago. Duplicate answers just make things harder to find. – David Richerby Mar 14 '18 at 19:06

protected by RoboKaren Mar 14 '18 at 16:35

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