Look smart? No sweat.

Cyclescheme, 19.07.2012

Look smart? No sweat.

Cycling to work needn't mean sitting at your desk looking dishevelled, even in the sweaty heat – or pouring rain – of a British summer.

You don't need showers at work to be smart and odour-free after you've cycled there. If there are showers, great: you can ride to work at any speed, on any bike, in any weather, and still look businesslike so long as you've got a towel and a change of clothes.

But you don't need them, not even if you ride to work on a road race bike at 20mph. There are essentially two strategies to looking tidy and smelling sweet: tortoise and hare. Ride slowly enough that you won't work up a sweat, so you can wear on the bike what you wear at work; or ride harder and get changed and spruced up when you arrive.

Tortoise tactics

1: Slow down

Resist that inner demon that tells you to cycle faster, especially when another cyclist overtakes. Cycling doesn't have to be like jogging; it can be like walking. If you can't hold a conversation while riding along in your work shirt and smart trousers, you're trying to hard. You especially need to slow down when you're wearing waterproofs in summer rain, as they will readily become boil-in-the-bag however breathable they are.

2: Give yourself time

Commuting by bike offers predictable journey times. If you know your journey takes 30 minutes, don't force yourself to do it 26 minutes by running late. You'll do it, sure, but you'll arrive in a lather.


3: Guard against dirt

Full-length mudguards, with a mud-flap on the front one, will stop any water or muck on the road from spraying over your socks, shoes, trousers, and up your back. Consider them essential. A chain guard will keep oil off your trousers. If you don't have one, use cycle clips or (better for suit trousers) stretchy Velcro straps such as Respro Ankle Bands (£16.99, www.respro.com).

4: Load your bike, not your back

On anything other than short journeys, a rucksack or courier bag will make your back sweat. Put the bag on the bike and you'll stay cooler and sweat less. If your bike won't accept a rack to attach waterproof panniers, you can fit a commuting load – even a laptop – in a Carradice SQR Slim or Camper Longflap (from £70, including seatpost bracket, www.carradice.co.uk).

5: Change your bike, not your clothes

For short journeys, nothing beats the convenience of a town bike. You can hop on it in whatever you're wearing, even a long skirt if the bike has a skirt guard, and you'll stay comfortable and clean. The more sedate riding position (and extra weight!) will dissuade you from racing.

Hare solutions

1: Start fresh

In the unlikely event that you don't already: have a shower before you set off. Sweating when you're already sparkling clean smells a lot less than sweating when you're not.

2: Lighten your load

The less you carry, the less of a strain it will be and the fresher you'll be when you arrive. Be rigorous with what you take. Leave what you can at work. Avoid carrying a laptop by putting important documents on a smartphone, USB drive or online (e.g. Google Docs) - or use a pocket-sized portable hard drive as your 'home' folder.

3: A change of clothes

It's sweat in clothes that smells worst, especially stale sweat. Change out of your bike gear and into your work gear, top to toe. You may be able to leave some of your work clothes at work, e.g. shoes, jacket, trousers, and only have to carry with you a fresh shirt and underwear. Or maybe you can leave five shirts at work at the start of the week? If you have to carry everything, bag shoes separately, fold-and-roll clothes and don't put anything heavy on top of them.

4: Rub down

Carry wet wipes with you. Bigger packets from supermarket baby aisles are cheaper than travel packs. When you get out of your bike gear in the office loo, rub down sweatier areas (e.g. face, armpits, groin) before getting dressed. A flannel is a more environmentally friendly alternative, and you can carry a second one or a J-cloth as a towel.

5: Spruce up

Keep a wash-bag with essentials either at work or in your bike bag, including lip salve in case you get dry or chapped lips en route. Apply deodorant and, if you use it, make up. (Lip gloss will catch flies like fly paper, incidentally, so it's better applied at work.) Brush hair and you're good to go. If you had to fix your bike on the way to work, follow our guide to keeping your hands clean before you start sprucing up.

You don't need to follow these approaches exclusively. Mix and match to suit. The key is to give yourself time, either to ride there more slowly or to smarten yourself up when you get there. Think door to desk, not door to door.

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