8 tips to cope with summer sweat on a bicycle

photo: velojoy

Can we talk perspiration? Or, as a friend of mine from the South used to call it “glow.” Sweating is often cited by women as a barrier to riding a bicycle for transportation. You may have seen the gender gap article in the New York Times last week that cited appearance issues in this fashion-obsessed town right behind safety as key barriers to attracting more women to the bike lanes.

I wish articles like that would include interviews with cyclists who ride happily in all kinds of weather. Maybe it would help encourage more women to explore the everyday pleasures of city cycling.

As temperatures in New York City reached into the 90s this week, I thought I’d share some of my own simple strategies for coping with perspiration when biking in hot weather:

Loving the ride, even in summer heat.
    • Be prepared – Traveling anywhere in New York City requires planning, no matter what the mode of transportation. So, I pick clothing both for comfort on the ride and to look put-together at my destination. In the heat, that sometimes means folding a fresh blouse or a T-shirt (or two) into a plastic bag that I tuck into my tote.
    • Strip down – If I don’t have to “dress” for work, then I choose a light-colored top with thin straps worn with a skirt or shorts, and sandals or canvas sneakers for my ride. If I’m going to a meeting, I fold my suit jacket into my basket, wear the lightest possible top with a skirt or pants, then change into a fresh shirt at my destination. I don’t bother with swapping shoes: my mid-height heels are fine on a bike.
    • Slow up – When it’s hot, I allow extra time for my ride. Pedaling more slowly not only cuts down on perspiring, but also feels more relaxed.
    • Skip the shoulder bag – Messenger bags and backpacks make my back sweat, so I never carry them in hot weather. Ditto wide belts; I put them on after I get off the bike. I carry a regular purse and lightweight tote in my bike basket.
    • The ladies room is your locker room – Fortunate are the few who can count on a shower at their destinations. That’s usually not an option, so I head straight to the ladies room. I use a paper towel and cool water or moist towelettes to freshen up in a stall before changing my top.
    • Hold off on applying makeup – If it’s really hot and I have a professional or social commitment, I wear sunglasses and lipstick on my ride and wait until reaching my destination to apply makeup.
    • Pack helmet-hair fixes – In addition to carrying cosmetics and perfume, I keep some hair accessories and a small bottle of a frizz-fighting smoother in my bag. If it’s a casual day, I clip a straw fedora to my bag to wear after I take off my helmet.
    • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate – Dehydration is a real threat when you’re active in hot weather. I carry a water bottle in my basket and refill it often.

What are your personal strategies for staying fresh and comfortable on your summer ride? Please share your comments for an additional post on this topic!

photos: velojoy

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  • this is great advice not just for the biker chics…but for all of us — navigating the subway, or even getting in and out of taxis in this heat is no joy ride!!

    only thing to add…prepare for the arctic winds of overly air conditioned destinations..a wrap or cotton sweater worth the extra sweat to carry!

    thank you as always susi…ga

    • GA, cleverly expressed, as always! Carrying a light wrap or sweater to “adjust” to AC is a great suggestion. Thanks!

  • I saw a guy riding on the greenway one summer morning in his boxer shorts only. Take a tip from him. wear a tank and bike shorts riding, throw a dress or a skirt & top over it and your done. This could even be done on the sidewalk after locking up your bike.

    • Vision of the guy riding the green way in boxers made me smile. Bike shorts under a skirt or dress contribute to ease on the bike and provide a comfort bonus on longer commutes. Thanks!

  • I am so thrilled to read this! after reading that article in the Times about women not wanting to be sweaty and the review of Adeline Adeline hoping to attract females with a disdain for spandex I am more than delighted to read an article that recommends on appropriate ways to cycle in the heat that does not recommend riding on a 1,100 Kate spade bike in a dress and heels to capture a European vibe. All good advice! happy to not read horror stories to only further scare women who need to feel safe.
    Kudos, happy cycling and let’s sweat! (you go girl)

  • I have a set of cheap jersey material dresses that I wear over a sports bra and shorts whenever I bike to work to keep cool and not worry about getting bike grease on my office wear. I pack my work clothes in my bike basket to change into once I’m there. I also leave wash cloth, towel, deodorant, hairbrush, and sunscreen (for the return trip) at my desk. I take a quick “hobo bath” in the restroom and I’m good to go. Having a wash cloth and towel on hand is worlds better than cheap office paper towels. This regimine seems to be the only way I can bike to work every day and not feel like a smelly slob.

    • Thanks for sharing these suggestions. Sounds like you’ve got an excellent routine down. I like the idea of keeping a stash of necessities for freshening up at work. Also appreciate the reminder re applying sunscreen!

  • I just wear shorts and a tank or T-shirt to get there, and keep small closet of clothes at the office. It’s NYC – you can have them dry-cleaned near your office, and never have to carry them.

  • All the suggestions here are excellent. I have to look presentable for work and still bike most days. For hot weather, I wear a-line dresses or ones with full skirts that are hand or machine washable. I commute 4 miles each way, take it easy and stay in the shade where possible. I carry a hat, cardigan and paper towels in my basket and wear bike gloves (which solves the locking up and grease issue and keeps me from getting sunburned). No one at work should be getting close enough to smell me, so I just don’t worry if I got sweaty or not. As hot as it’s been some days so far, I don’t think I look any sweatier than people getting off the subway. And I’m in a better mood, too.

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