There’s nothing quite as freeing as biking, and coming home sweaty after a long ride is proof of a great workout. But if you’re biking to work, showing up already sweating a lot can leave you feeling (and looking) like a hot mess. Of course, sweat serves the essential biological function of regulating your body temperature, so you can’t eliminate it (nor would you want to). But there are plenty of ways to bike to work without showing up drenched in sweat, even in the likely case that your office or workplace doesn’t have showers. I’m a regular bike commuter, and while my ride is a short two miles, it’s a steady uphill climb the entire time. I’m no athlete, but I sweat like one, and I’ve managed to find ways to stay cool and relatively dry after my morning ride.
Biking to work has plenty of benefits. For one, you’re reducing traffic congestion and lessening your impact on the environment. In addition to helping the environment, not using gas helps your wallet, too. If you have a busy schedule, biking to work gives you a chance to get a workout in, while also getting you where you need to be. And perhaps most importantly, biking is fun. You’ll show up to work feeling energized rather than angry at the guy who cut you off in traffic. But one of the major factors keeping people from taking up biking is self-consciousness about looking too sweaty. If you have a long commute, biking to work might not be realistic. But plenty of people live within a few miles of their office, and these trips are ideal for replacing a car with a bike.
One small positive outcome of the pandemic was an increased interest in cycling, and there’s never been a better time to get on the saddle and head to work. Here’s everything I do to stay relatively sweat-free after my morning commute, including the bike accessories and products I use.
1. Slow Down
It may seem obvious, but the faster you go, the harder you work. And the harder you work, the sweatier you’ll be. If you have a good idea of your distance and how long it regularly takes you, bake an extra few minutes into your commute time, so you don’t feel like you have to rush. You won’t be doing your Strava average speed any favors, but you’ll be less sweaty. A leisurely pace will keep you from overexerting even if you’re climbing a steady grade. After all, the bicycle is the most energy-efficient mode of travel.
2. Plan Your Route in Advance
Two parallel streets may have substantially different grades, and one may be shadier than the other. Some streets also have better bike infrastructure, like protected bike lanes. In short, the most direct bike route isn’t always the one that’ll get you there the least sweaty. Try out a few ways, and find the one that feels the best, even if it takes a few extra minutes. The most direct route to my office is riddled with potholes and angry drivers, so I usually take a shadier, slightly more roundabout route on residential streets.
3. Wear the Right Clothes
My ride is short, and my office dress code is fairly casual, so I wear what I’m going to wear to work that day on the bike. But if your commute is longer or your dress code more rigid, carrying your clothes and changing at work can help keep you cool. And no, you don’t necessarily need tight-fitting spandex. Comfortable athletic shorts and a tee will more than suffice for most riders. If you are biking in your work clothes, lightweight and breathable is the way to go. A packable jacket is another great option for mornings that might be cold but where you’re likely to warm up quickly.
Adidas Aeroready Shorts
Adidas Aeroready shorts are specifically designed to keep you cool, and they’re made from recycled polyester. Plus, they have zippered pockets for securely storing your essentials. If you don’t want to bike in your work clothes but also don’t want a full cycling kit, then casual workout shorts are a great option.
Giro Agilis MIPS Bike Helmet
If you wear a bike helmet, it has to be the right one. As stylish as Thousand’s helmets are, they don’t offer as much ventilation. Giro’s helmet specifically combines vents and internal exhaust channels to keep sweat from accumulating in your hair or on your head. In short, look for a helmet with plenty of vents. I use a Bontrager helmet, but Giro’s helmets are well-reviewed for breathability. Bontrager and Giro helmets are admittedly more expensive. But a helmet is the kind of product worth investing in, not just for safety but for comfort.
4. Ditch the Backpack
In my opinion, the best way to keep from getting too sweaty is to ditch the backpack. Even if it’s hot and you’re sweating a lot, breathable clothing will allow sweat to evaporate. Wearing a backpack will trap sweat around your shoulders and back, making you feel sweatier and usually leaving sweat stains for a long time afterward. So how do you get your laptop, lunch bag and a change of clothes to work? The best way is with a pannier bag. If you’re buying a bike for commuting, make sure it has threading for installing a bike rack. A pannier will easily hold your daily essentials without weighing you down.
Planet Bike Eco Bike Rack
A rear bike rack is the easiest way to secure your everyday essentials, and you can add a basket or pannier. I also recommend carrying a bungee cord for securing anything else you want to carry when you don’t have a bag. Planet Bike’s Eco Rack is what I use, and it’s compatible with many different kinds of bikes and is economical.
Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic Panniers – Pair
Ortlieb’s panniers are admittedly very expensive, but they’re the gold standard for bike panniers. They’re spacious and have shoulder straps for easy carrying off the bike. The standout feature is the clip system that combines a secure fit with ease of access. The panniers won’t fall, but you can pull them off the bike by simply grabbing the handle. It’s an ingenious design that warrants its price tag.
Public Bikes Pannier Bag
The exact pannier bag I use is out of stock, but Public offers a similar option, which has a convenient shoulder strap and doesn’t look overly technical. The pannier clips also have a cover, so they won’t jut into you while carrying the bag.
Wald 582 Folding Rear Bicycle Basket
If you don’t want to invest in a bag specifically for your bike, get this Wald basket instead. It’s collapsible for easy storage and much cheaper than most pannier bags. You can put your backpack or work bag in the basket and secure it with a cargo net or bungee cord.
CamelBak Podium Bike Water Bottle
In addition to not carrying your backpack on your back, it’s also a good idea to keep a bottle of water easy to access. Hydrating can help regulate sweat. CamelBak’s Podium water bottle has a great cap design that’s leakproof when locked but flows easily when open. A water bottle cage will keep your bottle easy to access.
5. Keep a Desk Dopp Kit
Whether you have a desk with drawers or a locker, there’s probably somewhere where you can stash a small toiletry kit or a few essentials. For me, that’s a deodorant stick and face wipes, and I also keep other unrelated essentials like painkillers, mouth wash and hand lotion. It’s similar advice SPY’s managing editor Tim Werth gave, who, by his own admission, sweats a “ridiculous amount.”
Ursa Major Essential Face Wipes
These face wipes are biodegradable and made with natural ingredients, and they come individually wrapped for a quick and easy cleanse.
Burt’s Bees Facial Cleansing Towelettes – 30ct
These are an economical alternative to Ursa Major’s wipes. They’re made with repurposed cotton and have aloe vera for a refreshing feeling. They’re great for sensitive skin, too and are National Eczema Association accepted. I’m acne prone, and these wipes don’t aggravate my skin.
Native’s deodorant is aluminum-free, which won’t keep you from sweating. But it can help control odor after you get where you’re going. Keep some in your desk or in a bag to refresh after your bike ride.
6. Don’t Bike to Work
Too hot? Too lazy? Too hungover? Don’t bike. Seriously. I suspect many New Year’s resolutions fail because people treat them as an all-or-nothing proposition. The attitude is often that if you don’t go to the gym every day, you might as well give up entirely. Biking to work is the same. You don’t need to bike every single day to be a bike commuter. I certainly don’t. If you bike a few times a week, or even just once a week, you’re making a positive impact on your health and environment.
7. Get an E-Bike
E-bikes make short commutes more manageable and longer ones viable, and they make pedaling uphill much, much more manageable. Make sure you lock it up properly (or better yet, bring it inside your office if you’re allowed to).
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