Biking to work: How to avoid being stinky when you don't have a shower

January 22 2014 | offbeatbride
red high heels to match your bike of course
By: megan annCC BY 2.0

This question was asked in the comments of our post about how awesome walking commutes can be:

I live about six miles from work and I really really want to bike. I mean, it wouldn't take much longer to bike than it would to drive that distance.

The trouble is that there is no shower at my office — so I would have to work stinky all day… and that's not really going to fly.

Does anybody have no-shower solutions, post-biking to work? -Casey

In the comments section, some Offbeat Homies had great advice to offer. We thought we'd feature their suggestions, and give you a space to leave your own…

Homie Cass said:

My husband has had a bike commute for the last few years, without a good showering option, and these are his tricks:

  1. Take a leisurely pace while you bike ride. It's not a race to get to work, plan to take extra time, and avoid getting too sweaty.
  2. Bring a change of clothes (and keep makeup in your desk). Wear sporting gear for your ride, and then change into your work wear in the bathroom or your office at work.
  3. Deodorant/anti-antiperspirant and talc powder/baby powder. The deodorant will keep you from sweating in the first place, and the talc will help absorb sweat to keep you fresher.

Offbeat Homie stealmystapler had this to say:

Depending on the terrain, your six miles shouldn't be too bad. You might be surprised how non-sweaty you are. Taking it slow/remembering it is not a race definitely helps. When I biked to my last job, I just wore my work clothes for the day. (I worked with archaeologists, so there admittedly wasn't much of a dress code.) In summer, jersey-material skirts were my favorite for biking. I'd get to work, wash my face and do my hair. The Mr. MoneyMustache forums are a great place for bike commute tips — there's a strong contingent there.

The other tip I can offer? Just go do your commute ride on a weekend day. You'll get an idea of the ride, what to look out for when there's (likely) less traffic, and you won't be in a rush. And you'll get the first ride out of the way. I find that anything is less scary once you've done it once!

And Alissa added, "Also, dry shampoo!" So, what are your non-stinky, bike-riding tips?

  1. I agree with the above. I cycle 5 miles to work and do it in 'bike clothes'. Then get changed at work. Take a 5 minute breather to cool off. Wash my face, use some baby wipes on the sweaty bits and do my make up. I don't feel smelly and no one's complained so must be ok πŸ™‚

    • Yep this is exactly what I do – bike in cycling clothes, bring a change of clothes and baby wipes or a face cloth to take a "bird bath" (splash some water on your bits). It totally works fine and you are rosy and happy to start your day. I live 10 kms from work and it's all GD uphill so I *really*have to convince myself to get out the door some days.

  2. Do some harder/longer rides outside of your commute to increase your cardio & muscular endurance/efficiency, so that your legs & heart think that 6 miles is a piece of cake.

    • While that's good for you in general, it could backfire. When I work out more frequently I start sweating earlier during activities, since my body is more primed to expect it. YMMV.

      • Agreed. I used to never sweat, and now that I work out most days, it looks like I went for a dunk in the swimming pool, 5 minutes into a workout. Sad πŸ™

  3. My husband rides to work most days when there isn't snow, distance about 4 miles. He takes it slow in the morning, then goes for a "hard ride" on the way home. He typically changes clothes once at work and has Defense brand wipes that are designed to freshen you up when there is no shower available.

  4. Baby wipes!! I know it's wasteful so if anyone has a better idea, that's great, but I use 2 every day when I get to work. In the bathroom, I wipe myself down with baby wipes anywhere I'm sweating before putting on deodorant, change into my work clothes, wash my face and do my hair. I really only have to get to work about 5 minutes earlier than if I were to drive in order to get work-ready. I did sacrifice wearing makeup and getting fancy with my hair, though, to save on time. And it's totally been worth it. But that's a whole other story πŸ˜‰

    So yes, baby wipes. Best solution I've found in my particular situation. Oh, and I've traded out the backpack for a bike basket during my commute and that has cut down MAJORLY on sweat. It's over 100 most days in the summer where I live, but with these simple hacks I have found that I don't smell once I get to my office, despite the humidity and heat πŸ™‚

    • I used to bike to college (now I walk cause my bike broke :(.) But that back pack makes a difference in how much you sweat. I looked forward to days when I didn't have to carry it, I felt so light & breezy.

      • If you can, invest in a pannier bike bag. There are some nice ones that don't scream 'Bike bag', Timbuk2 springs to mind. Plus many are more water proof/resistant than a normal backpack.

    • I also recommend baby wipes/disposable cleansing wipes. There are all kinds out there now, many are biodegradable. I don't recommend perfumey ones, though. A perfumed body powder or straight up perfume used sparingly after you've cleaned up is fine, but not necessary at all.

      If you don't want to go the disposable route, bring a washcloth and a gentle soap. In the sink, get your face, back of neck, pits, and any sweaty areas, then pat dry & deodorize, change clothes etc to get ready for the workday. You'll need to have a place to let your washcloth dry, though.

      Alternately, many bikers I know bring their bike on the bus to work, then bike home after. Once you get used to that commute, you can work up to biking both ways. πŸ™‚

    • I just throw a damp washcloth with a very small amount of soap into a ziploc baggie and use that instead of baby wipes (we do this everywhere we go because you never know when you're going to need a quick cleanup)! πŸ™‚

    • It makes a huge difference if you wipe off the "used" deodorant before applying a fresh layer. I can get by with using a little piece of paper towel most of the time.

      • Agreed… In fact, after a while during the summer I stopped putting the first, during-commute layer of deodorant on altogether. I realized it didn't make much of a difference at all since it would just get goopy and sweaty and I'd have to wipe it all off anyway. It just required me to use another baby wipe and didn't leave me smelling any better than if I were to just clean and deodorize after the fact.

        That said, I don't use anti-persperant because it freaks me out. That might block the sweat better and not get goopy and smelly after the ride, but I don't think it's very good for you and it's not a big deal to just wipe and apply afterwards.

        • Read the directions on your antiperspirant . Many brands work best if you apply it the night before. Otherwise if you put it on the moment you want to be sweat free, there is no chance for it to absorb in to the skin, so you just sweat it right off.
          So agreed, don't put deodorant on right before your bike ride, put it on after.

  5. It's a fact that some of us are stinkier than others. If you're not an especially stinky sweater, six miles at a moderate pace will make you sweat, but it won't make you smell bad. I bike 5 miles to work in Florida. In the hottest part of the year, I bring an extra shirt, a small towel, and deodorant. I dry off, change shirts, and reapply deodorant. The rest of the year, I wear breathable clothes, dress in layers, and drink lots of water on my ride and once I get to the office. A small fan on your desk will help you cool down when it's warm. You could also check out products like "rocket shower" that freshen you up quickly without water. If you work a traditional schedule, the hottest, sweatiest, stinkiest part of your commute is likely to be the ride home anyway.

    There are a lot of bike bloggers who have good tips on how to dress for biking in heat or cold, dressing to commute, etc.

    • I have a tiny fan on my desk that can be plugged in either to a wall outlet or a USB port, and it is AWESOME. It was inexpensive – I think it cost about $10 at Walmart – and works really well, it's perfect to get a little breeze going if you're feeling too warm.

  6. In addition to the great baby wipes suggestion I highly recommend finding a way to carry all of your stuff on your bike, not on you. There are a billion options depending on the type of bike you have and your personal aesthetic. I have an English touring bike that I use for commuting, it's heavy (40 lbs) but handles great and the heavier bike is great for biking in snow/rain inclement weather situations. I sit upright and tend to average around 12mph on it. I put a wooden box on the front (like an old pepsi bottle crate) but a little smaller, it holds my bag perfectly or can hold 2+ re-useable grocery bags full of groceries in it. It also has a rack on the back that I can use either panniers with or I can actually just hang more grocery bags from because of the way it's designed. This keeps all my stuff off of me and that keeps me from sweating more than I'm comfortable with. When biking you can usually wear at least one layer less (in winter) or lighter than you would normally wear and still be perfectly comfortable (after about 5 mins of biking). Definitely investigate where you can park your bike once you're at work. Ideal is if you can bring your bike in and keep it in your office, but most people don't have that option. Some offices provide bike rooms or have varying degrees of parking accommodations on their property, but there might be places that are more or less secure or more or less packed so investigate that beforehand if possible. If there aren't actual racks and you have to lock up to a street sign, always look at the base of the sign. Many signs use simple nuts and bolts to affix them to the base, and thieves a known to remove the bolts altogether, lift the sign out from the lock and take the bike. Look for posts that are more permanently affixed either in concrete or into the ground or use bolts that don't use normal nuts to hold them. Also, don't use quick-release skewers on your wheels and even better, consider getting something like PinHeadz which are a type of special skewers you use to attach your wheels and seat. They require a unique key to remove them so thieves can't take your wheels. Just remember to register your key with the company should you lose it and keep the key with you at all times in case you get a flat.

    • "carry all of your stuff on your bike, not on you"

      THIS. I have a cheapo Target milk crate strapped to the back of my bike, and it can hold a surprising amount – like my entire weekly grocery shopping trip (if I don't buy something like juice or milk). No more sweaty back!

    • "carry all of your stuff on your bike, not on you." YES! This was the difference between arriving at work sweaty and sore and arriving feeling like I'd just had a quiet, refreshing wander before work.

      I use a dish rack – not kidding – a metal dish rack that I found at the Warehouse that was painted the same colour as my bike, and I attach it to the rear rack of the bike with zipties and keep a bungy cord over the top to hold my bag in properly. My new bike also has a rack on the front that's properly attached to the frame of the bike and can hold masses of stuff…

      Also – if your bike doesn't have mud guards yet, you should get them. Especially for the day *after* it's rained when there's still puddles around, but you're not wearing rain gear. They'll keep mud off of your stuff too.

      I'm the crowd of people who bike, really slowly, in my regular work clothes and haven't ever had trouble with feeling gross for the rest of the day. BUT the right clothes do help. I wear a lot of merino and cotton and I tend to wear stretch fabrics that won't crumple.

    • That is a great point about carrying your stuff on your bike rather than your body. Whenever I see someone riding wearing a backpack, I think, "You're doing it wrong." I prefer a back basket to a front one, especially if you're going to carry much weight. The front basket makes me feel off balance. I have a collapsible basket that cost about $20 and installed in 5 minutes. Because I also carry a laptop (that belongs to my job, not to me) back and forth to work, I also invested in a bike bag/pannier thing that's specifically for carrying a computer. It was a little pricey, but it paid for itself the one time I wiped out like the clumsy idiot I am.

  7. I am one of those people who usually stinks at the end of the day – whether I workout or just sat still all day. I also HATE deodorant because I always had rashes, and I literally had to scrape my pits clean at the end of the day.

    At least before I finally ordered this a week or so ago:
    Kiss My Face Liquid Rock Roll-On Deodorant, Fragrance Free

    Thanks to another post here on Offbeat I tried this and I'm SOOOOO much better. No rash, no ingrown hairs, no scraping deodorant residue off my skin, no washing shirts twice to get the deodorant off of them.

    AND I SMELL WAY BETTER!!

    So – maybe I'm not as stinky as I thought I was for my whole life? Maybe I was just using a product my body REALLY didn't like? Maybe if you're like me, and just resigned to being the stinky kid, you could try this too??

    • I'm not a bike to worker (yet!) But I've found the one deoderant that doesn't make me smell worse at the end of the day is my homemade coconut oil deoderant. I use the recipe from passionate homemakinghttp://www.passionatehomemaking.com/2013/01/homemade-all-natural-deodorant.html I've actually had friends smell my armpits at the end of the day and amazingly I wasn't stinky!

  8. If your destination has a single-stall washroom, it's a great place to change / freshen up β€” you have more space to move around than in the average washroom stall, and everything is right there with you in privacy β€” sink, paper towel, soap. I often carry a washcloth with me if I'm going to be riding far or hard and needing to look presentable after arriving. A full change of clothes (don't forget any undergarments you like to wear, and footwear!) is nice if you're expecting to be really sweaty; if it's a short(ish) flat(ish) commute and you don't really push it, you can probably get away with wearing relatively forgiving presentable clothes (I love my merino wool for this β€” I have some shirts and sweaters that are perfectly work-appropriate, but also are fine for bicycling), and then doing a quick touch-up once you arrive (wash your face, deal with any helmet-hair issues and style your hair if that's your thing, do your makeup if that's your thing).

    • I would be the person more likely to bring a change of undies than a full change of work clothes. Sweaty workout undies are no fun, and smell a bit ripe. I would hate to sit around the office all day smelling from that. I find that my pants and shirt just don't get as sweaty.

  9. EXTRA TIME! I love to ride my bike, and six miles is totally doable… but I'm one of the sweatiest people on the planet (and I live in California, so it's not even like I have humidity to deal with here) and I'm drenched even after the one mile commute it used to take me to get to class. When I did choir camp in New Jersey and biked two and a half miles every morning in July, I was absolutely miserable and disgusting. The way I dealt with it was to allow a ton of extra time– so I would leave with enough time that I would be off my bike and at my destination at least half an hour (or longer) before I actually had to go to class. That way I could run to the bathroom, mop up all the sweat with paper towels (I'd use a real towel now, because I hate how wasteful paper towels are), apply new deodorant, change clothes if needed (although usually towels and more deodorant did the trick), wipe off any unsightly marks that may have gotten on my legs from chain grease or whatever, and chug plenty of water and cool down after my ride. Merely allowing the extra time to hit up the bathroom and cool off really makes a big difference.

    ETA: And yes, ditch the backpack for panniers or a basket (I prefer panniers because mine have zippers so I don't worry about stuff falling out) and keep your change of clothes etc in there, it will keep you 50% cooler (or at least, it feels like it).

  10. I commute almost every day by bike and these three things have made for an enjoyable non sweaty ride:
    1. Get yourself a few Levi's Commuter Jeans (http://us.levi.com/family/index.jsp?categoryId=11844101&sr=1&origkw=Commuter). Seriously one of the best investments I've made! These not only look and feel great and have nice reflective safety features but are coated with Water-resistant and dirt-repellent NanoSphere. They hardly ever need to be washed and literally do NOT capture smell!

    2. Second best investment is a rear bike rack and pannier bag so that "my bike carries all my stuff and not me". I used to carry items by backpack and would have a sweaty back, now with the rack and pannier bag is to much better. I really recommend the Thule Pack N Pedal Commuter Pannier bag (http://www.thule.com/en-us/us/products/luggage-and-bags/bike-bags-and-racks/pannier-bags/thule-pack-n-pedal-commuter-pannier—right-_-pp_100008). It's an amazing bag, well thought out, all the right features and very stylish!

    3. It's been said many times but I need to reiterate it, "take your time, it's not a race". Put on a nice audio book and plan accordingly, give yourself 30 min to ride your 6 miles and ride a little more leisurely. Over time your commute will get easier and you can pick up the pace, but this is a great way not to break a sweat.

    • Talk to me a little bit about the Audio Book / Music thing please.

      I am afraid if I can't hear what's going on around me or if I get lost in what's happening in my headphones that I'll get into an accident. And an accident on a bike sounds a LOT worse than an accident in a car….Am I just being paranoid?

      • You're not paranoid – accidents on bikes ARE frequently much worse, for you, than they are in a car. Listening to music or books, especially anything that's going to take a lot of your attention away from the road is something to be justifiably careful about. That said: a big chunk of my commute is on a quiet, dedicated and separate cycle path. In that space, I'm comfortable having music on in one ear – I like to have at least one ear available for hearing a racer coming up behind me, or for dogs about to jump out onto the path up ahead – and my partner who cycles heaps often listens to books or podcasts on his commute.

        If you're new to cycling, though, I'd wait a bit, until you're more comfortable and more experienced.

        • I don't blast or blare the audio books so you can still hear street noise. I am also aware of my surrounding and you really have to be. Noise cancelling headphones are probably not what you want when riding. If it's also a huge concern you could get some Airbudz (http://www.safesoundproducts.com/airbudz.html). Which were created for the safety conscious.

    • Levi, unfourtunately, seems to believe only men commute by bike and don't make that line in women's sizes. But there are a lot of women-specific commuter built clothing designers around these days, even if some of it is extremely pricey.

      • You should email them and request them to get creating some women commuter clothing. It is really worth it as water rolls right off and these things can be worn through the day and really don't smell! I haven't washed these jeans since I bought them 1.5 months ago.

    • In many places, it's illegal to ride a bike with headphones on. Even if it's legal where you live, it's not a smart idea. If you're going to listen to an audiobook, only wear one headphone, keep the volume down, and pay attention to your surroundings. Cars aren't always looking for cyclists, and your ears are sometimes the only warning you get that something's wrong– do NOT put yourself in danger.

      When I ride, I enjoy the sounds of nature/passing noises, or I sing and create my own music. I would never ride with headphones.

  11. I ride 9kms to work and back everyday and absolutely refuse to wear Lycra and I work in a cooperate office. My motto is if I'm wearing it I rode in it, this includes my shoes and no I don't live in flats. So my tips
    1. Plan you trip to take back streets, you'll feel less pressure to race and keep up with cars
    2. If you're like me and want to wear everyday clothes on your bike step through bikes are way easier to mamveur on in a skirt (little tip skirts are nice and cool breezy on a bike )
    3. When you know hot days are coming fill your water bottle half way and freeze over night then top up before leaving. Ta-da you have icey water to cool you from the inside and a nice ice pack to hold on you if you're feeling a little warm while waiting at the lights.
    3. At the other end have the following "equip" baby wipes, use them on any offending areas, spray anti persperant deodorant (the spray feels cool on the skin and in this format you can use it on more then you armpits, think feet and back), on really hot days I sometimes sap my normal top for a singlet when on the bike, if you don't want to do your make up at work face powder will take the sheen off you face and keep everything in place, one other thing I have is one of those paper

  12. I ride 9kms to work and back everyday and absolutely refuse to wear Lycra and I work in a cooperate office. My motto is if I'm wearing it I rode in it, this includes my shoes and no I don't live in flats. So my tips
    1. Plan you trip to take back streets, you'll feel less pressure to race and keep up with cars
    2. If you're like me and want to wear everyday clothes on your bike step through bikes are way easier to mamveur on in a skirt (little tip skirts are nice and cool breezy on a bike )
    3. When you know hot days are coming fill your water bottle half way and freeze over night then top up before leaving. Ta-da you have icey water to cool you from the inside and a nice ice pack to hold on you if you're feeling a little warm while waiting at the lights.
    3. At the other end have the following "equip" baby wipes, use them on any offending areas, spray anti persperant deodorant (the spray feels cool on the skin and in this format you can use it on more then you armpits, think feet and back), on really hot days I sometimes sap my normal top for a singlet when on the bike, if you don't want to do your make up at work face powder will take the sheen off you face and keep everything in place, one other thing I have is one of those paper folding fans in my purse because I find I feel the hottest when I stop cycling and I like fanning myself off
    4. Personally I live in Sydney Australia which is not bike friendly terrain so I have an electric assist bike for my commuting trips, I cycle for fun and freedom not excerise but I still get my heart going I just have the option of taking it easy to get up to speed on the hills.

  13. I used to commute via bike to work. I packed a change of clothes (I also kept a couple of pairs of shoes at my desk since my feet are so big they took valuable space in my sack) Dry shampoo is excellent. And Baby Wipes! extra deodorant is good too just in case.

    More time is also good too. Actually everyone's suggestions were all great. You probably won't get too sweaty depending on the ride and where you are, traffic etc. We have no bike lanes or side walks where I am so my commute was a bit on the scary side sometimes. Safe travels!

  14. Corporate bike commuters – the Henty Wingman http://henty.cc/shop/wingman/ is the most epic piece of kit I've ever invested in. Panniers are a must of course, but the wingman doesn't sweat you up as bad as a backpack, and more importantly it keeps your fancy duds uncreased and good to go. For regular riders who also bed to meet a dress standard, it's the best there is I swear. Also leaves plenty of room in my panniers for food, my big winter jackets, shoes and other crap πŸ˜‰

  15. I'm a bit late, I know, but oh well. My bike commuting/middle of the day exercising best trick is hand sanitizer. Nothing but nothing kills the stinky pits as effectively, for me. I cringe sometimes at the thought, because I hate sanitizer on principle, but at least no one cringes when I sit down next to them at the lunch table this way! The usual quick routine is to go into the bathroom stall, wipe down what needs to be wiped down with baby wipes– usually one for my underarms and chest, and one for the nether regions (though I am a fan of the face cloth in a baggie idea, and may have to adopt that instead!), change into a fresh pair of underwear, and put a dollop of sanitizer under each arm. It dries almost instantly, and then I put on fresh deodorant/anti-antiperspirant. Depending on the day's weather, I might wear a sports bra and bring my regular bra to change into, because clammy bra is gross. But that's really my only clothing concession to cycling. I don't tend to wear heels often, but find that dressy flats are fine for the sort of stop-and-go city commuting that I do. I am a fairly light sweater in metro-Boston, where I'll generally commute between 3 and 10 miles one way in anything from mid-20s to rather humid mid-70s. YMMV.

    Getting any load you're carrying off your back also makes a HUGE difference in minimizing sweatiness. I usually commute on a late-60s Raleigh Sports, which has a rat-trap rack on the back, with Wald folding baskets on each side. I like the baskets, because they fold up tidily when not in use and allow me to use whatever bag(s) I'd normally carry. I have another bike with a rack, and use the Ballard Market Pannier from Detours, which I like quite a bit.

    Have fun! I love bike commuting.

  16. I'm a bit late to the party, but I have several friends who bike commute and they echo many of the same tips: Baby wipes, go slow, and plan your ride so you arrive early so you can cool down. But here are a few I didn't see mentioned: Look for a nearby gym and see if they'll let you shower there for a small monthly fee. Pack up your changes of clothes for the week and carry them in all at once (this helps eliminate the dreaded "forgotten item syndrome" so many bike commuters talk about. Or, if there are days you can't commute by bike, you can always use those days to haul all your stuff into the office. Keep a few pairs of shoes at the office, as well, since those are heavy. Also, make sure you have a spare tube, pump, tire levers, etc with you at all times…as well as a backup plan for severe weather.

  17. I am a super sweaty person and it takes me a long time to cool down and stop sweating, so I always try to arrive at work about 20 minutes early so I have time to stop sweating before I change. Also, investing in a bunch of small washcloths is a great way to save the environment from too many baby wipes. Wet them before you leave home and put them in a reusable plastic cosmetic case. You can use them when you get to work for a quick clean up.

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