'I don't want to arrive all sweaty and dishevelled…' That's one of the reasons given by women and men for not cycling to work. Yet it's straightforward to ride to work and still get your desk looking (and smelling!) like you mean business.
The key thing is to allow a little extra time. Don't base your commute on the minimum time it will take to cycle from door to door. An extra 10 or 15 minutes will give you time to freshen up or to ride at a gentler pace so that you don't get sweaty in the first place.
The essential shower?
Showers at work are not essential for commuting. They do, however, make life easy. You can cycle to work as energetically as you like, in any weather, even on a bike without mudguards, and as long as you've got clothes to change into, you'll be fine.
If showers are a deal-breaker for you and your employer doesn't have them, or you're not aware of any, contact the human resources department first. There may be some in a different building, or your employer may be about to install some - especially if lots of employees have asked for them!
Some employers have deals with local gyms or leisure centres, which their employees can join for a reduced rate. You could take advantage of such discount membership solely to use the showers there. That's possible without discounts too but clearly makes a morning shower expensive.
'Cycle hubs', with secure cycle parking, lockers, and showers, are starting to crop up in some cities. There's H2 in central London (www.h2bikerun.co.uk) and the a couple of Cycle Hubs in Greater Manchester (http://cycling.tfgm.com/join-a-hub.htm). You pay a monthly or annual fee to use these facilities.
If you're not able to have a shower when you get to work, simply showering before you set off is a good alternative. Fresh sweat smells relatively little; it's stale sweat – especially stale sweat in clothes – that niffs.
But if you absolutely, positively must have a shower when you get off your bike, and there are no showers at or near work, there's still a way to enjoy commuting. It's easiest with a folding bike. Simply take your bike to work by train or bus and only cycle home.
Shower-free spruce ups
Cycling generates heat and continues to do so for a short while after you've stopped. You can feel suddenly hot after you've finished a ride. So don't rush to get changed. Give yourself a few minutes. Cool down with a glass of water.
Then it's off to the loo. You can have a 'bird bath' wash using a sink, soap and a flannel (carried to/from work in a plastic bag). Or you can use wet wipes – unscented ones are best. Either way, wash face, armpits and groin, then towel off; travel towels or even just J-cloths work fine and pack small.
Apply deodorant and, if used, makeup. As cycling can dry out the skin, you may want to use lip salve and a moisturiser too, either before or after riding. That applies to men as well as women, particularly those who wet-shave before riding to work.
'Helmet hair' is an issue that's easily dealt with by whatever styling products you'd normally use – comb, spray/gel, hair straighteners; these can be kept at work. Longer hair can be kept more manageable on the bike with a pony tail or with a bandana or headscarf (even under a helmet).
A cooler way to cycle
If you're cycling only a handful of miles, why not cycle to work in the clothes you'll wear at work? So long as you ride at a pace slow enough that you don't sweat, there's no need to change clothes. That will save you door-to-desk time, so it won't matter that you're cycling slower. How slow should you go? Slow enough that you could hold a normal conversation, like you could if you were walking.
It is crucial that your bike has full length mudguards to keep your clothes clean. A chainguard is helpful, and if you plan to ride a long skirt or long coat then you will want skirtguards too. All these guards are standard issue on Continental-style town bikes, while mudguards can be fitted to almost any bike. For inspiration on the kind of everyday, normal attire you can comfortably cycle in – given the right bike – see www.copenhagencyclechic.com.
Don't overdress on the bike; you don't need the same insulation that you would on foot. Be prepared to stop and remove that jersey or jacket if you feel yourself getting warm. It's not a race.
To avoid getting a sweaty back, use panniers rather rather than a backpack or courier bag. There's no point having a cool cotton shirt or blouse, or a breathable jacket, if you then cover it up with a big bag.
If you're worried about arriving in a lather on a particularly hot or wet day, you don't need much in the way of a contingency plan. Have a few essentials at work - such as spare underwear, deodorant, wet wipes, maybe shoes - or carry them with you in your commuter bag, along with your rain-gear. In a worst case scenario, you can dry out clothing with a hot air hand-dryer… eventually.
In the end, cycling to work makes you ready for work: you'll arrive on time, wide awake, with a healthy glow and leaner figure that carefully-groomed, sedentary-commuters can only envy.
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