Beat the heat: Tips for looking and riding cool

You can bike to work in hot and humid weather without changing clothes and still smell fresh as a daisy if you follow a few simple tips.

Commuting by bicycle in your work clothes when the weather is hot and humid can be done.  Of course you can always wear shorts and a T-shirt or jersey and change when you get to the office, but I prefer to roll Cyclechic in my nice work clothes rather than change. While showers and changing rooms at work are a fabulous amenity if your workplace has them, almost nobody in Europe changes clothes to ride a bike to work.

Leaving early (if you can) allows you to beat most of the heat.

My system to arrive at work looking presentable has several components.  First I try to leave home before it heats up.  I was on the road at 5:30am this morning.  I knew I had to make a few stops on the way to the Bike Fed office and leaving early meant it was still in the 70s when I began my ride.

A linen dress shirt with the collar unbuttoned and sleeves rolled up along with trousers made from a lightweight fabrics are key to riding comfortably in humid weather.

Today I wore a pair of lightweight vintage shark skin trousers and a white dress shirt.  I rolled up the sleeves, unbuttoned the collar and left my tie in my pannier.  If I had to wear a jacket too, I would roll it up loosely and put it in the pannier as well.  I find rolling leaves fewer wrinkles than folding.

As I ride, I take it easy and coast as much as topography allows rather than pushing for speed.  It is amazing how much a slow pace reduces the amount I perspire, even on humid days.  The intermittent coasting works like a breeze to keep me cool. Stopping at red lights is where the internal heat kicks in.  The more you can slow and roll, timing your trip to hit the greens, the better.

I can't recommend a desktop cooling station highly enough to quickly cool you down.

When I get to the office I have two final tricks.  The first thing I do when I sit down is turn on my little desktop “Hawaiian Breeze” fan.  This dramatically increases how fast I cool down and stop perspiring.  The final trick is to wipe off with a bit of scented hand sanitizer. The alcohol base evaporates quickly, which further cools me down and eliminates the need for a towel.  The sanitizer also eliminates odor causing bacteria which makes me a more popular with my co-workers.

These are just my tricks and my preferences for dressing for the heat.  How has your commute been going since the summer sizzle began?  Do you roll slow in regular clothes like me or do you change when you get to work?  I very curious if many readers take advantage of showers and changing rooms at work.  Let me know via comments.

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About daveschlabowske

Cyclechic advocate from Milwaukee
This entry was posted in commuting, Cyclechic, How to and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to Beat the heat: Tips for looking and riding cool

  1. Steve Salt says:

    merino wool. stylish, cooling, and naturally anti-bacterial.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      The original high tech sports fabric! I love wool jerseys and you are right, they do fight odors naturally.

  2. I suppose it’s a matter of genetics, or maybe diet, but I also find showers overrated.

    When I get to work, I read my email in my bike clothes as I cool off, then go the men’s room to change into my work clothes (including socks and underwear). I’ve always used rubbing alcohol as a deodorant, so I pour a bit into my palms and apply it that way.

    If you’re feeling damp down below, try some baby powder.

    No complaints so far…

  3. maxbenign says:

    I’m lucky enough to be able to wear shorts to work, so bare legs helps a lot.

    Slowing my roll also makes a big difference — moving just quickly enough to catch a breeze without getting too caught up in the thrill of going fast. The worst moment is when I arrive at work and have to lock up my bike while standing in the sun. My body immediately begins to sweat, and there’s really nothing to do about it.

    I’ve considered using a bandana to help keep my collars fresher. Much as I love ascots, I’m not sure I can pull off the look without looking (even more) goofy though.

    The sanitizer trick seems like a good one; will try that.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Yeah, if I stop for even a moment and the internal heat makes me perspire. I like the sanitizer, but the little fan is even more important when I go into my cube and sit.

  4. Larry Weingarten says:

    I find this subject fascinating, for some reason–maybe because I hear so many would-be bike commuters cite clothes/shower/sweat logistics as why they don’t ride to work. I don’t try to pressure folks with whom I discuss this issue, but I do try to encourage anyone to try riding to work, and share my experiences.

    I am firmly in the ride in work clothes camp. My current gig is pretty casual: a polo or sport shirt and slacks. For the pants, I tend to favor “dress” styles over khakis, in that I find the poly/microfiber fabrics hold up better than cotton. If it’s a button-up shirt I’ll leave it to flap in the breeze on the ride in, and tuck and button when I arrive. We (the guys anyway) have an extremely handy shower near the bike racks, but I haven’t used it since last summer. If I decide to do an extra 20 miles on the way in some morning, I’ll bring clothes in an Eagle Creek “Pack-It Folder” (http://tinyurl.com/44n9frn) and take a shower before heading up to the cube.

    At my previous job I wore a tie most days, and went through a phase of always packing the work outfit in the “folder.” There weren’t showers available, so I would wipe down in the men’s room before getting dressed. After a while I found that routine tedious, and just started riding in the work outfit.

    Many people tell me they sweat so profusely that they just have to take a shower. I think I sweat as much as anybody, but I find that if a take a shower in the morning and put on clean clothes, when I get into the air-conditioned office I dry out pretty quickly without lingering funk–“fresh as a daisy by 10 o’clock.”

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Valuable advice considering it comes from the man voted best dressed during bike to work week! How do you carry that Eagle Creek thing on your bike Larry?

      • Larry Weingarten says:

        It fits in my briefcase, when I am riding a bike with a front basket. When I ride the road bike, I use a backpack. It would work great in a pannier.

  5. You mention that you try to coast as much as possible when you cycle to work to minimize sweating. Was purposely slow riding a hard thing to become accustomed to?

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Hey Cullen, I think that riding an upright bicycle helps keep me in a slow groove. My commuter bikes all have swept back “priest” style bars and a very upright position. It is my guess that when people get more bent over in drops or bullhorns, that position sends a subconscious “go fast” message from the brain to the legs. Or maybe it is just that I am getting old and slow ;)

  6. d'Andre says:

    Last summer I rode in capris and a polo shirt instead of the “athletic clothes” I wore in previous seasons, but now having made a nearly complete transition to riding in my work clothes (thanks for the inspiration, Dave!), I am working on my summer duds. I find that summer is actually the time it’s harder than the other seasons – not impossible, but for me it takes a little more thought. First challenge is summer skirts….I don’t wear skirts in the rest of the year, so for summer I am seriously looking at getting a skirt guard, because in a few test rides around the block this “riding with a skirt” thing seems doable, but I haven’t taken the jump to trying to get all the way downtown in one without the skirtguard. Too worried about what happens if the lightweight flouncy summer fabric gets caught in the spokes. So for those days I slip on a pair of capris and change to the skirt in the bike room. Second challenge is perspiration – even with firmly embracing the “take it easy” mantra, I find that certain tops don’t show well with even the least bit of perspiration, plus I have to be careful not to get chilled when going straight into the office A/C. Quick drying fabrics seem to work best in both cases. So I’m choosing more carefully and have a put a few blouses away for only those days that I can’t ride my bike. Totally agree with Larry and others about not needing the shower….and I think my coworkers agree as well. ;-)

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Fabric choices are so much easier in the winter. People always wonder at me when I commute on really cold days, but hot days are actually much more difficult to arrive looking presentable. When it is cold, you can always add another layer, but you can only take off so much before you get arrested (or are on the underwear ride).

      • Jennifer says:

        This is probably easier in states beyond the Deep South (I’m in FL). It’s already hot and humid by 5:30 am–because it never cooled off during the night. I wish we had showers at our office, I’ll be honest; I don’t just sweat, I get stinky!

      • daveschlabowske says:

        Well, changing clothes is probably your best bet. Do you use the baby wipes or hand sanitizer idea to clean up without a shower? Both seem to work really well at cleaning, killing future funk and cooling a person down.

  7. Jon Nass says:

    When I commute by bike it’s a 20+ mile trip from the East Side to Pewaukee, so I personally wear athletic clothes and take my road bike so that I can bike at a faster pace. I don’t have a shower at work but fortunately we have a bathroom/cleaning closet where I can clean up at my own pace. On really sweaty days like this week, I’ll wash my face, hair, etc. to cool down and clean up. I keep deodorant and fresh clothes at work to avoid any unpleasant smells. I feel comfortable and refreshed after my clean-up. A shower would be nice but I don’t think that it’s necessary. I haven’t gotten any complaints from my coworkers, so hopefully I’m cleaning up ok.

    My wife has a similar situation with her bike commute from the East Side to Brown Deer. She rides at a more moderate pace and brings her clothes in her panniers. She doesn’t have a shower but she says she feels fine with her clean-up.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Yeah, a 20 mile commute in the summer warrants whatever clothes and bike get you there fastest. That is about the upper limit of commute distances. I used to commute 28 miles each way to Waterford, but I eventually quit that job because the long commute would have required I get a car once my daughter started half-day kindergarten. My last commute was just barely 5 miles the direct route, so I added some by taking the Hank Aaron. If 5 is too little and 28 is too big, I think a 13-15 mile commute is just right.

  8. I work the 3-11pm shift, so for me, I’m gonna be riding in at the hottest part of the day. Riding SLOW would be the best way not to get all sweated up, but since I always seem to be running late, I DO arrive at work pretty sweaty. I work at a hospital and get to wear the hospital scrubs, so THAT works out well….I don’t hafta worry about bringing dress clothes to work. I keep extra socks and underwear in my locker for a quick change if need be, and always have a set of dry clothes (for both cool and warm temps) for the ride home (because my sweated up clothes I came IN with are still damp at the end of my shift, being stored in a locker all day with no ventillation)….also because it’s cooler at night on the ride home. I bring extra clothes, towels, etc., in with me when it rains and I drive the car to work, and bring the extras home each night in my backpack I hang from the seat back of my recumbent bike. I also keep a package of baby wipes (instant shower), a dry towel and deodorant in my locker. Works for me! Of course, I’m in house-keeping, and usually sweating again as soon as I start working! Oh well! I’m just happy to ride to and from work…..especially FROM, when it’s nice and cool….little traffic, and such a great way to unwind after a stressful day!

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Sounds like you have a great system Colleen. People’s work scenarios and personal tastes vary, but by sharing our different tips, we can all learn from each other. Thanks for the insight into your commute.

  9. Alan Selk says:

    It’s easy for me as I work a blue collar job and it’s only a few miles. No one cares if I come in a bit sweaty. One trick I learned though is wearing a broad brimmed hat in the summer. There are a number of brands that have good ventilation and a strap to keep it from blowing off. It’s my official summer head gear with all my bike commuting.

    I initially started using one to prevent scorching my shiny dome (bald head), and of course it works well for that. But I also found it keeps me cooler.

  10. Tim says:

    I actually do use our work shower, at least on days when it is very hot and humid. Appreciative at least knowing I have that option if I get extra funky.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      I agree, it is a great amenity to have at a work place. I used to work somewhere that had a swimming pool. Get to work, jump in the pool, change into my coveralls and hang the shorts and jersey to dry. That was pretty sweet.

  11. maxbenign says:

    I’ve considered wearing bike shorts as an underlayer beneath work clothes instead of cotton undies, which can get swampy on days like today. I think you’d have to change once you got to work though. Anyone tried that?

    • daveschlabowske says:

      I have become something of an underwear snob. I now only wear Ex Officio quick dry underwear. It is expensive, but worth it to me. It dries very fast. It is sold as travel underwear, with the idea that you only need to carry one (or two) pair to travel the world. Just wash in a sink at night, leave to hang dry and you are good to go the next day. Because it is expensive, I used to do that when I first bought one pair. Over the years I have continued to buy additional pairs when I find them on sale at REI or Sierra Trading. I am up to five pair now, so I still need to wash and hang dry a couple nights a week if I only do laundry once a week. That or ride commando (I know, TMI already).

      • maxbenign says:

        Underwear snob, eh? Is that like Bike Snob? The url BVDSnobMKE.com is available…

      • daveschlabowske says:

        LOL

      • d'Andre says:

        Hah, this thread reminds me of one of the biggest benefits of wearing your work clothes on the bike on your way to work…..you can’t forget to bring parts of your wardrobe! Before I quit wearing bike shorts I did have the occaisional day of *having* to wear them under my work clothes for lack of certain important undergarments. But I bet maxbenign wasn’t talking about wearing that combination all day long.

      • Doug Poland says:

        Great post, Dave. I couldn’t agree more that riding slowly is the key. I also have taken to wearing only Ex Officio and REI brand synthetic underwear for commuting. The only other tip that I can offer is that I keep an REI camp towel in my office. They are light, very absorbent, and dry quickly: http://www.rei.com/product/783078/rei-multitowel-lite-medium-towel-255-x-155

      • daveschlabowske says:

        Another great suggestion, thanks Doug.

  12. Marion says:

    I’ve found that riding is a skirt is a comfortable hot weather option. Today though, I did a complete change, as it’s simply too humid and gross. Generally I need to change my bra as it gets soaked no matter the weather. Perhaps this will be less the case as my fitness improves, but I’ve always been sweaty so I’m not betting on it. I may have to look into some “quick-dry” bra options. I’ve also been wearing boxer shorts under breezier skirts. So I wear a comfy shirt and sports bra that get changed and usual work clothes on bottom. I also do an additional application of deodorant when I change, although I’m not sure this is necessary in not-hellacious weather.

    My colleagues that bike to work run the gamut from full change of clothes to not at all. Nobody smells bad, so I think it’s a matter of individual needs really.

  13. C. Lawrence says:

    Since its been heating up the past few weeks I wear a white shirt (I have no idea what its made of) and roll up my slacks and put my tie in my back pocket or bag. Today I wore my straw fadora and rode at a easier paste. When I got to work I actually felt better then most days. I think the hat made the difference. My co-worker’s desk fan is my best friend when I arrive.

    btw…..I’ll take 0 degrees in January over July humidity any day!

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Sounds like great minds think alike. I have a straw fedora as well. Thanks for letting us in on your system.

  14. Tom says:

    Commuting 16 miles each way in Orlando FL on my road bike in full kit…there is no way I can imagine staying dry here and covering that distance in work clothes. We have a gym across the street from the office and get a very nice discount, so I grab a quick shower there in the morning. The tricky part was where to leave the bike while I showered…I was afraid of leaving it outside with no rack/corral, but the staff lets me store it in the office (I’m in and out before the business office actually opens in the morning, but it is still a very nice thing for them to do). I actually get sweaty again crossing the parking lot and street to the office…I’ve got to pick up a fan and try the sanitizer trick.

    The facilities folks just did a poll of what we would like improve the office, and I voted for showers.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Yeah, long commutes are tough. I have the added bonus of my morning commute being mostly downhill. Good luck on getting the showers.

  15. lyn says:

    My concern about riding to work isn’t only sweating when I arrive, as much as it is not having the ability to ever cool down. I’m a teacher and there is no AC–we start back Aug. 15. Not only do I want to STOP sweating when I teach, but I don’t want to be red-faced with wet-hair either! Any suggestions?

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Hi Lyn, I feel your pain. My wife is a teacher in a gorgeous old Milwaukee school, but no A/C. She now has a very short commute, but used to have to ride about 4 miles. I know she used to ride with two other teachers and they both changed. My wife always just rode in her teaching clothes. Perhaps she doesn’t sweat, she just glows ;) Seriously though, I will ask her to respond.

  16. Rob Hofmann aka Sugs says:

    I’m very fortunate to have ride-in basement bike parking and a fitness center with locker room and showers at my work. My commute is 17 miles from Brookfield to Downtown, which as someone stated earlier usually has me pushing the pace a bit to get back & forth quickly. This year I’ve stopped wearing full on bike gear and now wear regular shorts (above 55-60 Deg F) or knickers most any other temps. Now back to the shower thing; an added benefit for me showering at work is the cost savings from my water bill and the soap that I’m no longer paying for. I know some may think that is insignificant but I’m cheap and yet so privileged to be able to take advantage of this work benefit.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Saving on my water bill at home, hmm, now you are tempting my cheap South Side Pollock sensibilities…

  17. Dave's wife says:

    Hi Lyn,
    I gotta say that my previous bike commute was pretty much downhill on the way to work so I lucked out in the sweat dept. Also, I got to work around 7am so I’d open all the windows and crank the fans. Nowadays I only have that short commute so it’s a non-issue. Wearing skirts IS beneficial for getting some circulation below the waist… solidarity, girl!

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