You Stink, Biker!

Are potential bicycle commuters scared of city traffic? Of course! But they are terrified of their coworkers’ noses!

  [ Can A Nose Stop A Bicycle? ]

It never fails: tell someone that you ride a bike to work, and the next thing you are asked is: “Where do you shower?” The implication is that if you use a bike (or jog) for transportation, then you should smell bad. Therefore, if you don’t shower upon arrival to your place of work, you do smell bad.

Many workplaces (such as my own) do not have showers onsite. The fear of going through the day, oblivious to reality as the skunk Pepe LePew, ends the career of many bicycle commuters before they begin.

In this article, we are going to find out exactly why do people smell, and what can a bicycle commuter do about it?

Stinky Facts

Do a Google search on the term, “body odor,” and you soon find out that it is bacteria living on your skin, and not sweat itself, that gives off unpleasant odors. Sweat can act as a culture medium, activating the bacteria. Most of your sweat is a product of your skin’s eccrine glands. What comes out is basically water and salt, along with electrolytes. This stuff makes an okay, but not an ideal, home for bacteria.

Your scalp, underarms, and genitals have hair follicles. These follicles have apocrine glands that produce a fatty sweat that makes a great culture medium.  It is most often this odor that people find distracting.

There are many other things that can affect the smell of your sweat: your diet, general health, and unusual medical conditions. Regular bicycling, I hasten to add, can optimize all three. Just visit a couple of sport health sites to find out how.


If your office does not provide showers, you can take evasive action to avoid strong body odors:

bulletShower before you leave using an antibacterial soap. The trick is to reduce the bacteria on your body before you even leave your home. Use a deodorant to neutralize the apocrine sweat as it is produced.
bulletWash your hair regularly during the week.
bulletStart early, and control your pace. Personally, there are parts of my route that I just love to tear along as fast as I can go. But since I am in the saddle by 6:30 AM, I am usually riding in the coolest part of the day. Controlling physical stress for your body minimizes sweat.
bulletFinish your ride at a moderate or easy pace. This allows your heart rate to recover as the breeze evaporates sweat from your body.
bulletUse public transportation shortcuts. Here in Metro Washington DC, I can ride my bicycle to a far-away MetroRail station, and finish my trip by train. There is a MetroRail station less than a mile away from my home, but there are others four, seven, and ten miles away (the full distance to my job is fifteen miles one-way). By using a far-away station, I have an opportunity to control my exercise and my sweat volume. I also avoid having to use a particularly difficult obstacle, the overcrowded Potomac River Pedestrian Trail across the 14th Street Bridge.

Evasive action continues when you arrive to the office:

bulletTake off your helmet immediately on arrival. This will help cool your head and the rest of your body.
bulletRemove your riding clothes. Be sure to hang them up so that they will air out, but try to hang them up far away from you. Do not bundle them up and hide them in a drawer. Bacteria love dark, warm, and moist conditions.
bulletTowel yourself off, paying particular attention to your hair. Try to get the sweat off your body right away. Remember to provide yourself with a fresh towel every few days, and hang the towel up to air out, too.
bulletReapply deodorant. Actually, the physiological improvement is small (deodorant lasts a long time), but the psychological improvement is very helpful.
bulletRelax for a few minutes as you change clothes. If you have a private office, avoid checking email or using the phone as you cool down.
bulletDrink water, and eat a piece of fruit. This helps counteract electrolyte loss, and makes your skin slightly acidic. Bacteria do not grow well in an acidic environment.

Benchmark the Results

Are the evasive actions that I’ve listed above really working? Well … ask a coworker or a significant other. However, I recommend that you do a couple of trips before you bring it up. Many people are conditioned to believe exercise and body odor have a reflexive property. So make a couple of trips, and then ask around!

Return to There and Back Again Home Page

[ Is this man really committing suicide? ]
Smell or Be Well? Ask the Bluedevils!

A study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2002 reports that the byproducts of interaction  between chlorine and organic matter found in raw water may actually hurt you!

[ Ah, Mon Petite Anchovieee .... (Smack) (Smack) (Smack-Smack-Smack!) ]
Pepe LePew

The Your Inner Tweetie website describes Pepe LePew as being delusional, narcissistic, and vain ... not unlike many programmers that I know. 

[ This is Lance Armstong, Crosstraining ]
Eccrine vs. Apocrine

There are several sites that discuss sweating and body odor, but I like this discussion on the Walgreens Pharmacy site the best. Coworker Hints has good tips on body odor suppression. Just about all sites point out that coffee, colas, and chocolate  (all things with caffeine) promote the activity of apocrine sweat glands.

More Commuter Help
Washington D.C. has a very aggressive bicycle community. Visit the Commuter Connections Page, and the Washington Area Bicyclists Organization (WABA) for specific help.
[ Ask a friend how you're doing ... ]
Will Your Friends
Tell You?
Just in case the odor is not your problem, several web sites offer anonymous email services that notify coworkers of certain personal issues. Coworker Hints is one such site.