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In most jobs, there is no obligation for employers to provide shower facilities. Offices with good workplace culture may have them, but many do not.
How do you bike to work with no shower at the other end? This article will give you strategies and suggest ways to clean up.
11 Ways To Ride To Work Without Having A Shower And Not Stink Out Your Workplace
If the lack of shower facilities at your workplace has been putting you off riding to work, consider the following tips and tricks:
1. Cycle Slowly
It may seem obvious, but cycling slowly on your commute will cause you to sweat a lot less. You don’t need to race other commuters between traffic lights.
What if you want a good workout? You still have the weekend or the odd evening perhaps for high-intensity intervals. It’s not like riding slowly does nothing.
You can cycle at a moderate pace and still reach your heart’s maximum stroke volume. This plateaus at about 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. At that point, your heart is pumping blood as hard as it can.
Riding for long periods at a slow pace can increase stroke volume, making your heart more efficient. It will reduce your resting and exercising heart rate.
Even at a slow pace, you are also increasing the volume and density of mitochondria in your muscle cells, which improves your endurance and aerobic fitness. The longer your slow ride to work the better in this regard.
If you can’t cycle slowly, ride slower towards the end of your ride so as not to accrue as much sweat and to allow existing perspiration to dry. At least that way you are not drenched as you enter your work premises.
2. Ditch The Backpack (Or Buy Carefully)
Courtesy: Sam Saunders on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Backpacks are popular items for commuters, and some may carry them on their backs for masochistic reasons. But they’re not good for sweat.
Not only does the extra weight of a backpack make you work harder, it will also make you sweat in the contact area with your back.
A bigger backpack with a waist strap allows you more scope for getting it away from your back. Placing heavier items at the base of the bag can cause the bag to arch outwards in the middle, creating a much-needed air channel.
If you’re determined to make hills harder by hauling a backpack, consider buying one that allows air flow to the back by design. This can be achieved in various ways by innovative manufacturers.
3. Clothing Choice
Closely related to the factors mentioned thus far is your choice of clothes when cycling to work. If you’re looking for a high-intensity workout, your clothes will get sweatier, so how do you combat this?
In fact, it’s not sweat that smells, per se. When we sweat, our sweat glands produce bacteria that break the sweat down into odorous fatty acids. How strong this smell becomes on our clothes varies from material to material.
Although polyester is an excellent material for cycling because of its wicking properties and breathability, it is not the best choice if you don’t want to smell. That’s unimportant when riding at home, but it makes a difference on a commute.
Cotton smells less sweaty than polyester, but it’s a poor choice of cycling material because of its absorbent qualities. It will quickly become wet and stay wet, which also makes it a poor insulator if you start to get cold.
A better choice of material if you don’t want sweat odor to be overpowering is wool. Merino wool will smell better than polyester after exercise, and it’s used to make cycling-specific base layers and jerseys.
Read more: How to pack clothes for work
4. Don’t Overdress
Unless you keep your bike indoors, you’ll often notice when walking to your bike in cycling kit (casual or athletic style) that you feel slightly cold. That sensation is the same whether you’re commuting, training, or riding for leisure.
There’s a temptation to layer up when you feel that cool early morning or evening air. But extra layers will make you sweat more, especially if you don’t own extremely breathable, high-end cycling apparel.
Clearly, you must use common sense on this. If there’s frost on car windscreens outside, go ahead and add layers, but a slight chill on your skin will soon disappear with the exertion of cycling and resulting increase in core temperature.
5. Packable Waterproofs
On those days when it might rain or it might not rain, you could be tempted into wearing a waterproof jacket to work to be on the safe side. But even expensive waterproof jackets tend to compromise on breathability to some degree.
A packable water-resistant jacket, if it’s half decent, will usually fend off average rainfall for two to three hours. Only a complete deluge will penetrate such a garment quickly. You can stuff a packable jacket into a jersey pocket or your commuter backpack and ride with peace of mind (+ less sweat).
Bear in mind that a cheap packable waterproof poncho is probably going to make you sweat profusely even on a slow ride. Buy something more performance oriented, which should be more bearable. Read peer reviews on the item’s breathability.
6. Install A Bike Rack (for a Non-Drenched Back)
Having discussed how carrying a backpack is likely to make you sweatier one way or another, why would you carry one? Okay, to keep your road bike looking cool and for a better workout, but these items aren’t on everyone’s agenda.
A bike rack is so convenient for taking the weight of your commuting luggage. Granted, the weight will still make hills a little tougher going, but you won’t have to worry about arriving to work with a soaking back.
In fact, bike racks come in more than one guise. You can buy discreet road-bike models that attach to the seatpost. A sturdier option is a rack that attaches to the seat post and the seat stays simultaneously, even without any eyelets on the bike.
There’s also front bike racks to consider.
7. Carry A Change Of Clothes
Related to bike racks and luggage is a change of clothes. The way many commuters avoid the pole-cat effect at work is to carry work clothes separately. In doing that, they can ride as intensely as they want and even target a few Strava segments.
Whether you’d want to carry a change of clothes or not may depend on how self-conscious you feel about wearing Lycra to work. But there are plenty of casual cycling garments that are hard to distinguish from “civvies” if you feel that way.
You might want to bring a change of cycling attire with you on a commute, too, since bacteria doesn’t die as soon as you remove your gear. Try not to store your worn cycling clothes in a screwed-up bundle – let them air.
8. Laundry Habits
Like damp towels, cycling clothes are a magnet for bacteria. And bacteria can live on clothes for months at a time independently from your body.
Types of bacteria typically found on sports clothing include micrococcus, E. coli, salmonella, C. difficile and MRSA.
If you want to avoid all your other clothes from smelling even after a wash, store cycling clothes separately when dirty and wash them separately. Otherwise, you’ll end up changing clothes at work and still smelling stale.
One way to kill bacteria in clothes if you notice they start to smell is to soak them in a water/vinegar solution before washing. It’s hard to banish this smell in a normal wash because sports gear cannot be washed at a high enough temperature.
Washing solutions with “hygienilac” as an active ingredient (e.g., Halo Sports Wash) are effective in killing bacteria. Conveniently, this can be added to a 30°C cool wash.
9. The Baby Wipe Method
In the absence of shower facilities at work, some cyclists clean themselves up with baby wipes. (These can also be used to clean a bike for cyclists that don’t have space to do this with a sponge and water.)
It should go without saying that you’ll need several different wipes to cleanse different parts of your body. A suggestion:
- Face and forehead
- Neck, ears, chest, and abdomen
- Arms, sides of your torso, armpits
- Legs from thighs to ankle
- Perineum and neighboring regions (multiple wipes)
Eco-conscious cyclists might like to choose their wipes carefully, since many of them are made from microplastics and are not truly biodegradable. It is possible to buy 100% compostable wipes.
10. Shower At A Nearby Gym
When showering at work isn’t possible and you don’t fancy the alternatives, consider joining a nearby gym so you can use its shower facilities.
The cost of gym membership varies significantly, but some gyms are not exorbitantly priced. The Planet Fitness chain in the U.S., for instance, gives you access to a local gym for as little as $10 per month.
Of course, the gym must be near enough that you don’t build up another sweat getting to work. If it’s walking distance so much the better.
Maybe there will also be Wattbikes or spinning classes, so it needn’t be just a shower facility for you. Yoga is also greatly beneficial to cyclists.
11. Pick Your Route Strategically
If you don’t want to sweat profusely on your bike commute, choose the path of least resistance. In other words, travel by the easiest, flattest route.
In case you don’t know all the possible routes or easiest ones, websites like plotaroute.com, Garmin Connect, Google Maps or Strava will help.
Although the intensity of your ride will be reduced doing this, it may also be longer. Going back to Point #1 and the benefits of easy cycling, you’ll still get a fitness boost just by pedaling. If your commute is short, add a few extra miles for fun.
Read more: What is too far to ride to work?
Shower To The People: Conclusion
Did you enjoy this article? Please feel free to comment, add ideas of your own or share.
By following some of the tips in this article, you can enjoy your daily biking commute without worrying about funky odors at work. You can always lobby your bosses for better facilities, too.
Read more: Bicycle commuting tips guide