Monday, August 06, 2007

Tricks of the trade: So Fresh and So Clean

One of the things that keeps people from riding their bikes to work is the sweat factor. How does one combat the sweat, the body odor, the helmet hair, and all that mess?

This isn't such a big deal if you're riding your bike to work construction, or you'll be outdoors or otherwise getting hot and sweaty all day. Those aren't the kind of people who are letting sweat and lack of cleanliness hold them back, either.

Plenty of would-be bike commuters have to be dressed in business casual (or more formal) attire. Accountants, programmers, businesspeople, managers, secretaries are among them. Not smelling like a primate usually goes with the territory, too.

Locker rooms and showers
Some employers have showers and locker rooms for associates to use. This is commonplace for "green" companies that actively support alternative transportation to work, as well as companies who have a workout center on-site. Other times, you may be able to pick up a membership to a nearby gym or fitness center to accomplish this task -- with the added benefit of being able to cross-train and get a better total-body workout before or after work, or over lunch.

That's great, but...
What about those of us (like me) who don't have showers or locker rooms, and don't really wish to buy a gym membership? There are two health clubs within walking distance of my office. My apartment complex offers a 24-hour fitness center, pool, and hot tub to all residents. Paying for a gym membership downtown just for a shower would be a waste of cash.

Let's face it. Not all of us have a hot shower accessible to us, and some do not have the means nor the desire to buy a gym membership. There are a few different options for the rest of us.

Plan "B"... for Baby Wipes!
Baby wipes?! No, I'm not joking. Not all of them smell like baby powder, either. Baby wipes have a mild soap solution, sometimes with aloe, alcohol, or other cleansing or moisturizing agents as well. They do a good job of absorbing sweat and killing the germs that can cause body odor.

You can quickly dart into a handicap bathroom stall, take off your sweaty clothes, wipe down with a few baby wipes (face, arms, underarms, chest, and *ahem* anywhere else sweaty), apply some deodorant, cool off for a few minutes, and put your work clothes on. Go to the bathroom sink to splash some water through your hair and style it as needed. Use hair spray or other hair products if that's your thing. A small hand towel is nice to have, to blot your face if you're still sweating.

A small valet bag with wipes (in a resealable sandwich bag), deodorant, hair product, a small towel and a comb is often all you need.

The art of the sink shower
My personal favorite method of preparing ideally requires an isolated bathroom -- preferably with a locking door. The only supplies needed in addition to the above list is a wash rag and possibly your own soap (liquid or bar form) if you don't feel like washing off with the hand soap supplied in the bathroom.

Get into your birthday suit. Soak the wash rag, soap it up LIGHTLY, and scrub down. Rinse the rag out. Wipe the soap off; this may take a few rinses of the rag to accomplish. Use the hand towel to dry off. Cool down and hop into your work clothes. Fix your hair, and that's all there is to it.

Some final thoughts
If your head got ultra-sweaty on your way to work, you may wish to run some handfulls of water through it to rinse out the sweat and cool your head before you start the other parts of your preparation. Similarly, you can avoid a few extra steps if you have really short hair or none at all!

What do you do with the wet washcloths and towels? You can wring out the washcloth really well. Both the cloth and towel air dry by hanging them up somewhere. A warm place such as a utility/boiler closet, or laying on top of your warm computer monitor will work, just make sure they're dry enough to not drip any water on electronics first! This method also works for drying out your cycling clothes.

A really small baggie with minimal supplies is all you have to worry about, and the trade-off is huge. You could pack these supplies in a lunch bag or in a freezer storage resealable bag, or tuck your cleaning stuff into a jersey pocket. I personally use a small valet bag in one of my panniers.

In conclusion: If you have a place to go to the bathroom, you have a place to clean yourself up before work. Don't let summer heat and sweat keep you from experiencing the benefits of bicycle commuting!


Jamie said...

Here's how I handle the sweat issue: I shower and put on deodorant before I leave home (yes, before my ride).

Take it easy on your ride to work, that'll cause you to sweat less.

If you can find a wool t-shirt for your ride, wear that. Yes, wool - it won't make you itchy and make you super-warm, but it will wick your sweat away without creating the odor that cotton products do. It's just a natural property of wool to do that.

Bring a change of clothes with you in a pannier or something like that. Leave a pair of work shoes at your job and wear some shoes while cycling that are well-ventilated. I just wear a pair of Teva sandals to ride, they work great and keep my feet cool. Then change shoes when you get to work, putting on the ones you keep there.

Have some deodorant waiting for you at work, too... put some more on while you're changing into your work clothes.

Hang up whatever shirt you wore to ride, and let it dry out as much as possible.

Get a small desk fan and when you're at your desk, checking the morning email and such, turn it on and cool down.

Get a cool drink - water or whatever - while you're in front of the fan. You should be rehydrating after your ride anyway!

Noah said...

Thanks for bringing that up! All are very valid points. No one could ride my commute without sweating, though. Not with wool. Not with taking it easy.

I definitely leave my work shoes at work. I also have a spare "everything" in case I forget something like pants. I only dip into the clothes I keep locked up at work if I forget something or in case something happens like my work clothes get soiled, wet, or somehow stolen.

I agree with all of your points, but sometimes you just can't help but sweat, and it's no cause for alarm. You can always wipe down or sink shower at work :)

The little fan on my desk is a life saver! Amen!

Doug said...

I, too, work for a small company without shower facilities. The method you describe is exactly what I do. For me it was a carryover from thousands of miles of backpacking. That's how I cleaned up on the trail when a shower was 10-14 days away. But I don't use "baby wipes". I use the travel size wet wipes you can buy with all the minature travel toilitries at Target. I use a bandana instead of a small towel. AND....I always shower just before leaving for work. You have to start clean with as little odor causing bacteria on your body as possible.

Noah said...

Yes, showering as close to the start of your commute as possible is also a must.

I also avoid antiperspirant-style deodorant sticks like the plague. I have heard good things about the Crystal deodorant that uses minerals and salts to kill off odor-causing bacteria. I haven't found it or tried it yet.

Sweat has no smell. Bacteria thrive on it and make the bad smell. Stopping the sweat isn't always possible, so any edge you can get on keeping bacteria at bay is a good thing.

amidnightrider said...

There is always a way to shower. Take this couple
This coupleriding their bikes from Beijing to Paris

Frogman said...

Wipes also come in small packs that are closeable/resealable. They might not be in the same section as the larger bulk packs, and they cost more over all, of course, but the convenience is great. Sometimes they might be in a pharmacy section, or in a different part of a kids section from the regular baby wipes/diapers.

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