Cycling to work, how do you manage clothes?
April 4, 2008 4:28 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for tips from people who ride a bike to work. I have the bike, and the work, what I'm looking for are the practicalities of coping with the sweatiness; showering, changing, keeping clothes at work, or travelling with them.

I have a casual office job at a local organisation. It's well within riding distance, there's plenty of space to store a bike and there are shower facilities but there's not a lot of room to hang clothes. Or should I be bringing them? How do you keep a shirt and trousers neat in a backpack? Do you drive on Monday with a week's worth of clothes?

I'm looking for tips when it comes to avoiding looking like I just rode into work for the first few hours of each day, then smelling like I just rode in to work for the rest of it. How do riders cope with the clothes thing?
posted by krisjohn to Work & Money (18 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
When I did it I used to just bike in 4 of the five days. On the off day I'd load myself up with clothes for the week. When I did bring clothes in a backpack, it was fairly easy keeping casual clothes looking OK: fold pants on the crease, then roll them up tightly. Shirts I never brought home: I had them laundered a place around the corner from my office, so they were all always downtown. Also keep a few pairs of shoes in the desk.

Surely there's a coat closet somewhere for hanging shirts? Or you could just get them boxed by the cleaners and keep them in your office.

You've got shower facilities -- what do you need to know about the sweatiness or the changing?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 4:37 AM on April 4, 2008

Old threads: 1 2 3 and probably more; Bike to Work forums.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:40 AM on April 4, 2008

You've got shower facilities -- what do you need to know about the sweatiness or the changing?
Someone might have a tip that involves riding in in work clothes and keeping them fresh in a way that doesn't need the shower...
posted by krisjohn at 4:51 AM on April 4, 2008

I think the new My Ask tab is inducing telepathy - this is on the post-it of Ask questions I'm going to ask. Good advice so far.

Is there anyone at your work who bikes in? Maybe they have location-specific tips?
posted by Happy Dave at 5:26 AM on April 4, 2008

More forums: Commuting at There are a few other Aussies on there too, so they might have recommendations specific to your climate.

My work is "business" casual and I bike 6.5 miles to work and just about always wear my work clothes. Oftentimes I'll ride at lunch too. How far is your commute?

If you are arriving sweatier than you like, first check to see if you are wearing too many layers in the first place. It might feel chilly when you get on the bike first thing in the morning, but once you get going you are generating a lot of heat. So, you can stop and remove a layer or just wear less and be a bit chilly at the beginning of the ride.

For example, as far down as 15F degrees this winter I wore just a cycling jacket over my work clothes and was fine (if it went below that I added an insulating undershirt). Once it gets above 40F I ditch the jacket and do fine in a long-sleeved shirt. Above 55 and a short-sleeved work shirt is fine.

If you are warm but it is still generally cool out when you get to work, just coast around the parking lot a few times. This helps air you out a bit. Of course another option is to go slower on the ride in.

In warmer weather, when I get to work I'll wipe down my face (and anyplace else very sweaty) with a cool cloth, to get rid of any sweat and generally cool off. I also have the option of a shower, or going into the server room for a while, where it is nice and cool.

We do have a shower here. I always keep a spare set of clothes in my desk drawer in case of rain/heat emergency.

We don't get much 90F+ degree days where I am, but on those days I sometimes just pack my work clothes and wear shorts. If you roll your clothes neatly they don't get any creases - especially on such a short ride. At the very least I'll pack shorts so you'll have a nicer ride on the way home.
posted by mikepop at 5:28 AM on April 4, 2008

I generally bring a second set of clothes. I also wait at least 15 minutes after I get to work so I know I've stopped sweating. Then I change. I do about an 8 mile ride. As far as I know it's tolerable to my colleagues.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:00 AM on April 4, 2008

When I rode to work, I kept trousers, shirts, and sweaters in my office. I began by bringing them each day, but never really felt like taking them home. Four pants, four shirts, and three sweaters winds up being plenty of work outfits, at least for me.

Start with a lycra shirt (a jersey), or something polypropelene. It's wicking and will keep you as cool as possible.

When you get to work, remove it. Wipe yourself down in the bathroom, and maybe add a quick wipe with cool water (and another to dry it down). Add deodorant, and fuss with your hair however you like to fuss with your hair. Have a glass of water, and change your clothes.

Good luck! Nothing's better.
posted by entropone at 6:00 AM on April 4, 2008

Oh right. There's a product called Rocket Shower - might be helpful.
posted by entropone at 6:00 AM on April 4, 2008

I am a sweaty man, and walk in the winter, bike in the summer, about 4 km one way. No shower, which is unfortunate.

My system is to have an "emergency suit" at the office just in case, but generally to wear gaiters in the winter (to prevent pant-splash -- and I'm thinking about trying one on my right (chain) leg this summer now too). I can then wear my work pants to work, then change shirts once I'm at the office. I keep a towel for "de-sweating" in the bathroom (and swap towels regularly to wash them at home), and that and some deodorant does me just fine.

I find that "movement sweat" -- from walking or cycling but not straining -- is not nearly as noxious as "effort sweat," which happens when I really strain during exercise. Maybe that's just me, though.
posted by Shepherd at 6:59 AM on April 4, 2008

On Sundays, I take shirts and pants to the office and hang them up. On Monday thru Friday, I ride to work and change in the office. I don't sweat too badly, so I keep perfume and deodorant in my desk drawer. I have a friend who showers when he gets there and then changes. I, too, will often wear the same pants I rode to work in.
posted by cachondeo45 at 7:03 AM on April 4, 2008

Every now and then I'll drive in with a duffel bag of clothes, though my office is really casual (in the summer, I might put on jeans instead of shorts if I'm feeling like dressing up) so I don't need to worry too much about things staying pressed, etc..

I'll generally take it easy on the ride in to minimize sweat and the flushed red "he's about to have a coronary" face I always get when I exercise, and push a bit harder on the way home - Baby wipes are a good, quick way to cool and clean off a bit. Those, along with some toiletries I keep here (deodorant, etc) I'd like to think I don't offend the co-workers.

You said space for clothes is tight, is there any type of coat closet? Three or four pressed shirts (with trousers underneath) on hangers shouldn't take up too space. Depending on your workspace, can you put a hook on your cube/office wall?
posted by jalexei at 7:15 AM on April 4, 2008

I have a nine mile ride to work. I keep toiletries and small towel in a desk drawer at work. Usually what I do is:
- Shower first at home
- Don cycling duds
- Put clothes in panniers (we're "work casual", so that's dockers, collared shirt, socks, underwear, shoes)
- Ride to work
- Take clothes, towel & toiletries bag to bathroom
- Towel dry or use baby wipes as needed, deodorant, cologne

Cycling duds hang dry out of sight. I haven't had any complaints yet. And regarding stinkiness... From what I've heard/read, as long as you dry off quickly, you won't stink. The stink comes from micro-organisms on your skin thriving in a wet/warm environment.

Also, I have really short hair, so brushing/combing isn't an issue.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 7:35 AM on April 4, 2008

I use to commute 16 miles 7 months out of the year in the Northeast. I used a bicycle with a rack and a bag to bring a change of underware, socks and a shirt every day. I kept a pair of pants at the office and shoes. I just kept them in a bag in my cube.

Now I ride about 2 miles but half of that is uphill. I have a low sweat, low stink body but this can be very strenuous if I try to go fast. So I just go slow. I drop into the lowest gear and take the hill at a walking pace.

When it rains all bets are off. Fenders are important. I use to get to work a mud covered mess, shower, and still have grit everywhere all day, that was with fenders.
posted by bdc34 at 7:44 AM on April 4, 2008

I also cycle commute in the Northeast, and personally, I almost always go in cycling kit (not necessarily full lycra superhero outfit, but all of my work clothes go in my messenger bag). I used to commute 14 miles one way and now go 6.5 miles one way. In either case, I sweat because I want the aerobic exercise.

I agree that stinkiness comes from prolonged sweat exposure. The main benefit of cycling clothing is to wick sweat away from you as you ride, so that it doesn't have a chance to build up odor. If you're good about changing as soon as you get in then the sweat on your cycling clothes won't get that smelly (resist the urge to get to your desk, check e-mail and get coffee before changing). It also helps to wear natural fibers like wool as this doesn't retain odor as much as, say polypro. Fleece also tends to be pretty odor-resistant if you're riding in the cold.

Usually my work outfit incorporates some kind of microfiber pants or jeans, which tend to hold up well if rolled up in a bag. Shirts are cotton twill rolled up around the pants and belt around the bundle to keep it together (nothing tight, just enough to make it a bundle. tight increases likelihood of shirt wrinkles.

Hang dry everything. Having a hair dryer around is nice if you're riding through a wet winter and your insulating layers are still wet when you finish up.

I always keep a pair of shoes at work, along with an 'emergency' pants and shirt.
posted by bl1nk at 8:38 AM on April 4, 2008

oh , and also, wicking sweat off your body is another reason to eschew messenger bags or backpacks and just port your kit around in panniers or a large saddlebag
posted by bl1nk at 8:40 AM on April 4, 2008

My ride's about 6 miles, and the only thing I typically keep at work is shoes because they're heavy to schlep around every day. I use a backpack to bring my clothes in - I can go "business casual" so I don't have to worry about pressed trousers or flawlessly unwrinkled shirts, but if that's a concern then keep some stuff at work and rotate it once a week or so.

And always keep a spare belt in your desk drawer. you'll be surprised how many times you ride off from home without a belt, and nothing throws your day off more than an unbelted pair of trousers.
posted by pdb at 8:58 AM on April 4, 2008

I ride 5 miles to a relatively dress-up environment (admin office for a small financial institution). I almost always wear a bike outfit, as bl1nk says, not "lycra superhero" but definitely comfortable, more wicking, etc. and ride mellow enough not to get too sweaty.

I have a pair of "bucket-style" panniers, usually I only need one with clothes for the day neatly folded. Panniers (or similar) are a must for keeping sweat off your back.

Last summer I used the showers at work; I have a full kit of bathroom "stuff" and a towel in one of my file drawers. I found a spot where I could lay the towel over the pannier that was out of sight, and it dried pretty quickly.

When it's chillier out, I just shower at home in the morning as usual, and sometimes fuss with my hair a bit when I get in. At this point, I'm not riding in the rain, so I can't speak to finding a place to dry off clothes.

Occasionally last year when I was riding a lot I'd stock up on clothes at the office so my day-to-day riding was less burdened. That worked particularly well if I had one day with an appointment or something that meant I had to drive.

After a few times of forgetting something important (OMG socks!) I also wrote up a list of stuff to take that I keep right by the door. It helps.
posted by epersonae at 1:23 PM on April 4, 2008

Coming back to this old thread as I've been biking in to work for a month now, and I've been using Pack-It Folders to very effectively carry in a week's worth of business casual clothes. The two boards keep five shirts and a pair of trousers nice and flat, and once they're on, they pretty much look freshly ironed (of course, you have to iron them before you put them in and be careful about the folding).

I also read a great hint on a biking forum, and this is how I manage things. It's cold where I am in London, meaning that I only really start sweating heavily when I walk into my warm office building. So what I do is have a shower before leaving the house, then when I get to work, have a quick mop-up with baby wipes followed by a dry towel (wiping off the baby wipe residue rather than sweat directly, so the towel doesn't stink) and change. This works because the odour is caused by bacteria on the skin, not the sweat itself, so a shower before you head to work minimises this.

The best thing about this routine is that I carry everything in on the Monday in a big courier bag which I keep under my desk and put used shirts in, then cycle back on the Friday with my laundry. The rest of the week, I don't need a bag, just a small saddlepack with keys, wallet and phone. Works a charm.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:13 AM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

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