How cool is Steve McQueen on a bike? (Pic via RidesaBike.com)
How cool is Steve McQueen on a bike? Ice cool. (Pic via RidesaBike.com)

[REPOST] We all know biking is totally hot right now, and cyclists are total hotties in general. But there comes a time of year when this is a literal condition as well as a metaphorical one.

For some reason, Aucklanders always want to know how to ride in the rain, and we’re happy to share the knowledge on that score (be prepared… to love it). But what to do when the damp conditions are a little more, uh, up close and personal? Read on…

How do I avoid being sweaty after a bike ride?

A lot of people thinking about commuting by bike ask this question, and let’s be fair, it can be especially relevant on the hotter and muggier Auckland days of the year. Here are a couple of suggestions on how to avoid getting yourself sweat-stained (pick and choose what works for you):

  • Take it easy – riding your bike to work doesn’t have to be a race. Resist the temptation to turn it into a Tour de France, especially on hills. Hey, even getting off and pushing a bike up that steepest hill on your ride is a proud thing – you are doing so much more activity than the folks in the cars and buses…
  • Take a shortcut – if your ride is only 2-3 km, you should be able to avoid getting sweaty except on the very worst days of the year. But what if your work is much further away than that? Consider combining bike and train, or bike to the bus stop. Maybe you can leave a cheap bike locked up at the far end of your journey, or ride the trains outside of peak hours where it’s easier to fit a bike on the train, or some clever combo?
  • Be an early bird – not for everyone, but if your biological clock and your work schedules allow it, maybe get out of the house an hour earlier (which means you can go home an hour earlier too!). In the morning, this will help you avoid the worst of the heat, and in the afternoon, you can bike straight home and jump into a cold shower/ run through the garden sprinkler/ hit the beach!
  • Sit this one out – who says you HAVE to bike every day? If the humidity reaches 80-90%, and the sun is scorching the pavement, just chill out and take the bus (or even the car…). You want to associate cycling with fun and ease, not have it be a chore that leaves you feeling unfit for work. Be content with being a happy biker on the days of the year when sweat is way less of an issue.
  • "Go ahead: bike my day." Clint Eastwood cools off while shooting Rawhide (pic via RidesaBike.com)
    “Go ahead: bike my day.” Clint Eastwood cools off while shooting Rawhide (pic via RidesaBike.com)

    Avoid the hills – it’s scientific fact: natural environmental humidity TOTALLY concentrates near hills, and greedily latches onto you when you slow down to cycle uphill. Look at the worst hills on your route, and if you haven’t done so already, check surrounding streets to see if a slightly less direct route works better for you. (This mapping tool is very useful, although it doesn’t necessarily know which streets feel safer on a bike)

  • Get a boost – if your ride is longer, or you have some mean hills that can’t be avoided, an e-bike means you won’t have to work as hard, which helps you to stay cooler and drier.
  • Take a load off – ditch the backpack for a basket or some panniers, if you haven’t already. Takes a load off your shoulders and ensures your shirt doesn’t stick to your back.
  • [Updated]: Be a clean kiwi – as pointed out in the comments, sweat alone isn’t that smelly, it’s the bacteria on your skin. So even a shower before the ride (or even the evening before) will help keep you smelling fresh(er).
  • Dress for the conditions – which doesn’t necessarily mean Lycra. Start with a singlet, add shorts or a skirt – plus sunscreen for your other bits. Done. Enjoy the breeze!

How do I deal with it if I DID get sweaty after all?

Okay, so the above options didn’t work (or weren’t quite enough)? You still ended up sweaty – what to do, except drink lots of water to rehydrate? Well, again, there are a number of options:

  • "Hello? I'd like to order an ice-cream truck please. Lightpath, yes." Legendary pin-up Hilda handles the heat...
    “Hello? I’d like to order an ice-cream truck please. On Lightpath, yes.” Legendary pin-up Hilda handles the heat…

    Splash & Dash – It may not be perfect, but hey, using some deodorant is easy, and your workmates will certainly prefer it to nothing if you did end up working up a sweat. Talcum powder works too.

  • Switch & Dash – Take along (or keep at work) a change of clothes. Even if there’s no shower, you can do a quick change in the restroom. Whether it’s just changing your top or more, that’s up to you.
  • Wash & Dash – Easily combined with the above options. Take two small washcloths along on the ride. Wet one washcloth in the hand-basin, keep the other one dry. Then retire to a cubicle to wash off the worst sweat. Use the dry washcloth to towel off. As long as there’s a toilet you can easily borrow on the way in, this works both for your workplace and if you’re riding to meetings on a hot day. (Wet wipes are another option).
  • Full Service – For this, you really need a shower at work. Don’t have one? Consider asking your employer to put one in (or add another, if there’s always a queue). Pro-tip: Getting together with a couple of workmates and asking as a group is more likely to get something done.

What else works for you? Are you tempted to ask the city to install sprinklers along all the cycleways (those on the NW sometimes get lucky when passing the golf course at Chamberlain Park, or the wall of ferns at Te Atatu)? Any clever tricks with drinking fountains or actual fountains? We look forward to your best hot-weather survival tips in the comments below.

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  • Rhys

    Very helpful post. I also think we need a culture change so that arriving at work/meetings/etc hot and sweaty becomes more socially acceptable (or even desirable?)

    • Phil Moore

      Errr…..hope you work alone Rhys 🙁

    • Glen Koorey

      There seems to be a common belief that “sweaty” = “smelly”. If you shower regularly, then a bit of sweat won’t pong. Sweat itself is odourless; it’s the contact with bacteria on your skin that causes a smell. Also, if you apply an anti-perspirant well before you actually go out riding (even the night before!) they will be more effective than applying it immediately before/after you’ve been sweating.

  • Alicia

    I really enjoyed reading this post, it’s quite informative and contains good tips. Avoiding hills, though, it’s quite naive..in Auckland?? That’s impossible! We just need to embrace our city the way it is.

    • Max

      Not avoiding hills in the sense of “not going uphill at all”. Finding a way up them that has a gentler gradient! If you get set into your routine, you might miss the fact that a more winding route offers less grind…

  • Lisa

    Another tip, learned from the cycle touring advice lists: wear merino. It’s fantastic for wicking away sweat, lightweight, fast drying and doesn’t smell. Merino underwear, socks, as a base layer top etc.
    Also, any sort of loose-fitting top or shorts mean there’s automatic air-conditioning every time you glide down a hill!

  • Richard

    It’s not possible to stay cool on a hot day when wearing a plastic hat. Most heat exits the body through the head so a hat/cap of some sort to protect from the sun is necessary but the helmets we are made to wear, and are of debatable crash value, certainly increase body heat.

    Cycling without a helmet is actually an air cooled activity and cooler than driving a car without the air con working