It’s easy to work up a sweat when you’re bike commuting. And if you’re explicitly looking for exercise, then that’s a good thing!
But what if you don’t have time for showers or don’t have access to them at your destination? Does that mean you’ve got to ditch the bike or accept being a sweaty mess?
Not at all!
Finding the best way to bike commute without a shower comes down to minimizing sweat. Luckily, it’s (usually) not hard to do.
In fact, I’ve done so for several years—on a route that’s mostly uphill toward the office, no less. In doing so, I picked up a few tricks that are well worth sharing.
Below are the 7 best ways to bike commute without a shower.
1.Don’t ride harder than a brisk walk
Ever notice how you can keep up a brisk walk for quite some time while looking and feeling fresh, but after you break into a jog, the sweat comes in minutes?
Bike commuting is much the same. Backing off, say, 15% or 25% in effort can prevent 80% or 90% of the sweat. It’ll help to avoid large hills, of course, or even just to ride them a gear or two lower than usual.
Often, leaving just 5 minutes earlier will make up for the difference. And even if it’s a substantially slower commute, just think of all the tidying up time that you’ll save.
By the way, this applies even in cold climates. While we obviously sweat more when it’s warm, significant effort can make us damp in even sub-freezing weather, so a restrained effort is always the more dignified approach.
2. Before arriving, cruise around to cool down
Just like it takes a while to raise your body temperature and break a sweat, it also takes a while to lower your body temperature and stop sweating. Cool, fresh, outdoor air seems to expedite this process.
Take advantage of that fact by gently cruising the last several blocks, or even taking a few easy laps to dry out in nature’s air conditioning.
In my experience, even two or three minutes of cruising around makes an immense difference.
3. Shift your commute even to ride during cooler times
The temperature difference from right around sunrise until the sun gets up above trees and buildings is often 10° or 20° in a matter of minutes.
This of course depends on your climate, latitude, and commuting route. But for the most part, if you work fairly standard business hours, then it’s often possible to adjust your schedule by as little as half an hour or so to capitalize on the cooler spells.
From sliding the whole work day earlier or later, to extending your in-office days and shortening others, you might even find multiple ways to beat the swelter.
4. Wear moisture-wicking clothing that suits the office
Even if you barely perspire at all, cotton tends to retain every drop of it. That’s why bike commuters and anyone else who’s active en route to work will do well to choose moisture wicking clothing.
Now, moisture-wicking doesn’t have to mean workout apparel. Its polyester content is an odor problem—more on that in a bit. Besides, it looks so obviously out of place that it requires changing clothes, which undermines the convenience we’re trying to gain.
Instead, check out mainstream brands like Banana Republic, Athleta (women’s), Lululemon, or higher-end niche labels like Outlier (men’s) and Wool & Prince (men’s) for clever takes on business-casual staples.
Pants are one of the bigger challenges since they need to move freely and minimize sweat and withstand wear all at once. That’s worth an article of its own, but for starters, check out the Two Wheel Better guide to men’s cycling jeans.
5. Avoid stinky synthetic fabrics next to skin
As helpful as moisture wicking is, you do need to be careful about exactly which materials you wear.
The problem is that polyester wicks well but tends to stink terribly when it’s even a tiny bit sweaty. For some reason, the texture of polyester fibers is extremely easy for odor-causing bacteria to grow and multiply on.
The obvious solution is to avoid fabrics that are mostly (let alone entirely) made of polyester. Mind you, this doesn’t really matter for outerwear, but it’s critical for underwear and base layers—really anything that contacts your skin directly.
Among common synthetics, nylon tends to be far more odor-resistant. Merino wool is a marvelous natural alternative, albeit expensive for good quality.
Finally, companies like Lululemon have recently stared blending zinc treatments and silver strands into some of their nearly 100% polyester garments. Those metals are permanent, harmless to people, and highly effective at warding of stinky bacteria. They don’t come cheaply, but are great for daily bike commuting use, traveling, and active lifestyles in general.
6. Keep baby wipes and a stick of deodorant on hand
Even if the tips above help you avoid serious sweat, it’s still nice to feel totally fresh when you start your workday.
To that end, simply keep a pack of baby wipes at your desk, and bring one to the bathroom to freshen up as you see fit. In just a minute—literally—you’ll be close to that just-showered feeling without the massive hassle.
Throwing on a little more deodorant and a spray of fragrance, and you’ll feel and smell as clear as any of your colleagues.
7. Last resort: consider an e-bike or e-scooter
What we’ve covered so far should work for almost everyone who needs to bike commute without a shower.
But there are a few cases where it just isn’t possible. I’ve got to imagine a mid-morning summer commute in Houston, for instance, is a sweaty affair no matter how slowly you take it.
If that’s your situation—and showers are totally out of the question—then consider an e-bike or electric scooter (like the Ninebot Max I reviewed here) as a low-effort, low-sweat alternative to sitting in your car.
We’ve covered some simple ways to look and feel presentable without a shower by reducing sweat.
Taking it easy is the simplest and most effective tactic, but adjusting your commute time and clothing can both go a long way. That keeps it quick and effective just to tidy up with a baby wipe at the office.
And as a last resort, there’s always the option of motorized assistance.
Whatever it takes to get around these practical challenges, it’s well worth finding a way to make bike commuting a part of life!