Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What to do if you sweat too much on your bike commute

Have you had a problem with arriving to work sweaty? You will find plenty of advice what to do about it. The options usually are:
  1. Ignore it and address the issue once you arrive at your destination. You can shower (if available), wash up and change clothes.
  2. Dress lighter. Less clothing means more ventilation. The general rule is to dress for the end of your ride, not the beginning. This means that if you leave your house and feel toasty warm - you're overdressed. It's better to feel cold during the first few miles and warm up on your ride, than to arrive drenched in sweat.
  3. Dress differently. Still wearing that rainshell? Yes, it blocks the wind but it also makes you sweat underneath. Why not try something lighter? A vest? A heavier sweater maybe?
  4. Ride slowly. Maybe you're sweating simply because you're riding too fast? Slowing down should help.
Arriving sweaty again? (Source: yehudamoon.com)
So these are the typical advice you will hear. But there is one more thing. Something I haven't read about anywhere on Internet. Option #5 is this - if you don't want to get sweaty, change your riding position. I noticed that even if I consider options 2, 3 and 4, I still can get a bit sweaty on my upper back, especially in humid weather. This is because while riding a bicycle, I have to lean forward to hold the handlebars and that makes the shirt stick to my back. This applies to most bicycles I use. The lack of air gap between the clothing and my back reduces ventilation and makes me sweat. The solution is to ride in a much more upright position. Once I tried it, I immediately noticed the improvement. The shirt now simply drops down loosely from my shoulders, creating a generous pocket of air between clothing and my back, increasing ventilation and reducing sweat.
When I thought more about it, I realized that this is far from revolutionary. The Dutch and Danes surely have it in their Urban Cycling 101 handbook. Most people in Amsterdam or Copenhagen ride on urban bicycles, sitting very upright. Most of them move relatively slowly and travel short distances - both things helping them not being sweaty while cycling. But because they can keep their clothing loose, they can wear ordinary clothing and still stay dry. Have you ever seen a Dutch person wearing lycra in the center of Amsterdam? Me neither.


  1. I agree with your points in general. But depending on what the weather and landscape are like where you live, an upright bike does not always stop the sweating problem. When the winds are really bad here in N Ireland, riding upright bikes can leave me drenched in sweat from the sheer effort of pushing against a headwind, whereas on my roadbike I can exert myself a lot less in the more aerodynamic position. So ironically, sometimes I must ride my roadbike to look more presentable upon arrival.

  2. You've got the point. I was referring to urban setting - I have no experience with riding in rural, windy countryside, but I bet I would sweat a lot trying to fight with the wind.

  3. I have another theory. Aggressive riding position make us stand on muscles. Contrary to upright position that we could stand on bones. And sure we can ride more relaxed on upright position. But riding with aggressive position and being sweaty is easier to my 25 mile daily commute.