View Full Version : Dealing with sweat

05-17-2009, 09:23 PM
Having been enjoying using my bike for basic transportation (errands and so on), I've started to notice a not-so-subtle problem (for those around me at the very least). I'm talking about sweat - more specifically, body odor.

I do carry a bandanna with me on errand runs so I can mop up any sweat before I run into a place, but that only helps cosmetically a bit. Another catch-22 I find is that those polypro wicking t-shirts dry quickly but make your sweat smell much worse/stronger. Cotton, on the other hand, doesn't stink as much but will make me sweat even more, and then I have obvious sweat blotches on me that take a long time to go away.

If I had a ton of money, I suppose light wool shirts would be an option, but merino wool is very expensive and a pain to wash. Is there another miracle material I can find on a reasonable budget or techniques I can to use to avoid sweating so much? Finally - do most of you hardcore car-free folks shower a few times a day?

Thanks for any advice,


steve knight
05-17-2009, 09:30 PM
I found a 50/50 or 80/20 cotton/ poly tee's work better. they are cooler they dry fast and don't seem to have as much stink. you can get them pretty cheap.

05-18-2009, 12:35 AM
Well, I can't speak for the odor, as I've been told by those around me that I don't have much body odor even after cycling over 150 miles in two days in the same clothes without showering. That was probably thanks to my Smartwool microweight crew (https://www.smartwool.com/#/Mens/Apparel/Baselayer/_/703/) (and socks (https://www.smartwool.com/#/Mens/Socks/_/_/701/)) along with my Ibex Fausto jersey (http://www.ibexwear.com/shop/ProductDetail.php?GID=980) (unfortunately discontinued). At $60 and ~$125, at REI and Clever Cycles, respectfully, they weren't cheap, but mile for mile, I think they're definitely worth it. If I had to start cycling from scratch, the Smartwool crew would be the first thing I would buy. Just by itself, it makes for a great cycling top—roll the sleeves up or down and you've got two jerseys in one for about one forth of the price. Do what I did and wait until you have a good coupon for REI. I got mine for only $48. Unless you're a member, save the receipt and you can always return it thanks to REI's 100% guarantee.

As for your notion that wool is hard to wash, it certainly doesn't apply to this merino. Not only is it the most comfortable fabric I know of, it's also machine washable. Just throw it in for a cold gentle cycle, and let it lay or hang dry in a few hours, and you're good to go. Heck, with as little odor as I have, and the fact that merino wool is naturally antimicrobial, I went the first eight months without once washing my jersey. I thought that my nose had to be broken, but others could pleasantly breath through it without noticing a stench. It wasn't until this past weekend's 80° weather that I finally decided to wash the small amount of salt residue off.

Don't take my word for it. Take the thousands of miles I've put on my bike in that wool.

In short: buy the Smartwool microweight crew at REI. They've got black and white (Smartwool calls it silver). I've got silver and it will hide the salts, but not the sweat, so I might be tempted to try black if it wasn't warmer in the sun. Take your pick and ride with it. If you're not satisfied, just return it for a refund.

05-18-2009, 08:11 AM
Try bathing more that once a month.......... :)

I know what you mean about the synth shirts. Two things I have found. Besure to wash that sucker in HOT water when you do. Only wear it once before washing. Dry with a nice smelling dryer sheet. I have two shirts I rotate, on the off day if I don't have a full load I just hand wash my shirt while I take a shower. Easy to do and in the summer shirts dry fast.

Also I have been known to take the deoderant along and aply when needed at a stop. Besure to swip the shirt at the pits (inside) as well as your pits.

If you don't want to deal with washing shirts everyday go to the Nike outlet store on MLK and buy 5 synthetic running shirts. Then you have one for everyday and do the loads when you wash your weekly loads.

05-18-2009, 09:34 AM
Wool and synthetic are both going to absorb odors faster than cotton. Washing synthetics in hot water, or worse, using a dryer sheet will wear them out fast. I think a stick of deoderant is your best bet, and do your best not to overdress.

05-18-2009, 09:51 AM
Thanks for the replies so far. Just to clarify, I have no problems washing my polypro shirts after a day of use, and they smell fine after being washed. It's just that a single commute to downtown in warm weather kicks up enough of a stink that I find myself getting whiffs of it every so often.

jr, I agree that merino wool shirts like those from Smartwool are the best solution. I found a couple of Nike long-sleeve golf shirts on Ebay and I can't get them to stink after weeks of use without washing. Maybe I'll just have to bite the bullet and scour Ebay for some cheap or used merino wool t-shirts.

I'll also check out those 50/50 t-shirts mentioned above. That could be enough of a compromise to work.



05-18-2009, 03:52 PM
Joneswares (http://www.joneswares.com)makes nice wool baselayers and shirts as well.

the Wumpus
05-18-2009, 08:14 PM
I'm too much of a cheapskate for smartwool... But that aside, I've snagged a little wool from Goodwill and have also attempted to find the borders of funkiness. The wool slacks are awesome in the winter, never clingy or clammy, warm but not humid, and only need washing when they actually get visibly dirty. I'm assuming this also applies to other wool goodies.

I've also moved to light button up shirts for warmer weather. Rayon will vaporize sweat fast, and doesn't seem to have the same funk factor as polyester. Silk gets a little clingy when it's really soaked, but also dries out so fast it is rarely an issue. Light cotton also gets clingy, doesn't dry out as quick, but a button up cotton shirt beats a t shirt any day. Any of these block the sun better than the technical poly shirts! Bonus points for Hawaiian prints.

If you're riding to work, the single serving wet wipes and a travel size deodorant are a really easy preventative on those especially sweaty days. You know, like when it's still 70-something out at dawn and you have a tailwind matching your speed all the way in! Not all tailwinds are benevolent...

But mostly it seems like riding and sweating a little every day keeps things flushed out and less likely to leave an olfactory tribute. Some people say they sweat less after a while. Maybe the body learns to be more efficient and prioritize that water somewhere else. Maybe our noses quit working and our friends get used to it?

05-19-2009, 09:12 AM
The Rivendell Bicycles folks swear by cotton seersucker for the warmer weather.

the Wumpus
05-20-2009, 06:56 AM
But no Hawaiian prints! (which provide a HIF* of 3-8 degrees, dependant mostly on brightness) Boooo.

*-Heat Indifference Factor

05-20-2009, 01:28 PM
recumbent riders favor the Hawaiian prints :) I am not making this up. Just ask my friend (and recumbent rider) Slug Dave, who just finished a ride clear across the country...

05-21-2009, 10:22 AM
Ok a couple things to do to minimize the sweat & stink. First off when you get inside and sit your body is going to try & cool you off ASAP, which means sweat. Get to the bathroom and get some cold water on your head & neck. Next, to deal with any smell you have to change the shirt, but another miracle is baby-wipes. They do an amazing job when a full-blown shower isn't an option. Also, keep your body hair trimmed as it will absorb your personal smell. You don't have to go all Pink Floyd and shave your body or anything, but trim it close... especially your arm pits. If you have stinky pits apply deodorant the night before you ride and again in the morning.

And wool is the king of fabrics as far as I'm concerned. A fine merino wool tee-shirt will last forever and I can go 4 days in a row without washing mine and it still doesn't stink. Just make sure you let it dry overnight and not ball up in the corner.

Last thing... always wear clean bike shorts. Bacteria in bike shorts will lead to all sorts of "saddle sores" and you don't want that. Keep them clean and don't be shy with the vaseline. Sounds slimy & gross, but the stuff is great. Here is an article at rivbike on saddle sores: http://www.rivbike.com/article/misc/saddle_sores

05-21-2009, 12:29 PM
i'll second the vaseline recommendation.... after being forced off the bike for two weeks by a saddle sore last fall i never go without. it has literally saved my ass. :)

06-02-2009, 11:15 AM
Steve, thanks a million for that 50/50 t-shirt recommendation and link. I ordered a few of them and they arrived the next day (the company is based in WA). They're incredibly cheap and look and feel comfortable. I think they should do the trick just fine.