One of the most fundamental challenges of daily commuting is managing your wardrobe without stinking out the office or clearing out the bank account.
Every day, more and more people jump on a bike, swapping crowded trains and creeping cars for the bliss of two-wheeled transport. And who can blame them? Commuting by bike is cheaper, often quicker, is good for the environment, good for your health and, on top of all that, it’s bloody good fun as well.
According to Transport for London, in 2011 there were 570,000 single trips completed by bicycle in the capital, a year-on-year increase of 5.2%; and a cumulative increase of 78.9% since 2001.
Separate data collected by TfL counting stations tell a similar, if not more pronounced, story – between 1976 and 2000, cycling journeys remained relatively flat before exploding in the last decade.
Of course, we know all of this. But what we also know is that while a doubling in the number of cyclists on our streets in little over a decade is undoubtedly a good thing, it doesn’t come without problems – dangerous riding, cold fingers, smelly offices, road rash, sore bums.
In this, the first, chapter of The Handbook we tackle one of the many complexities those travelling to the office by bike must master: the basics of wardrobe management – how to get to work on a bike and still look and smell respectable.
It may sound trifling, but mess up your wardrobe management and fail to avoid the stink and you’ll soon be sending your shiny new steed on a one-way trip to the garden shed.
(Not that the shed is a bad place for bikes, it just gets a little galling when bike bling that no doubt contributed quite handsomely to the profits of Evans Cycles is lying dormant in our nation’s back gardens.
It’s actually possible to collect a staggering amount of bike gear when commuting becomes a way of life, rather than an occasional feel-good activity. Tyres breed like rabbits, wheels and spokes come crashing to the floor every time you tentatively prize open the shed door and you’ll be finding old sprockets and chains and cables and brake pads till the day you die.
The fact is, it’s very hard to throw anything away. There’s still an annoying amount of rubber on an old tyre, still a hefty weight of steel in a worn chain, and buckled wheels with a few thousand miles on them still look agonisingly round to the naked eye.
Because of all this, it’s natural to hoard; difficult to justify a trip to the local tip.
Check out this blog post by Marcus Farley on BikeRadar.com. “I’m a terrible hoarder,” he writes. “Occasionally, my hoardes (sic) reap rewards. Take my new Control Tech handlebars, for instance. My trusted Ergon grips fit them, but the accompanying end caps don’t. A rummage here, and a rummage there, exposed some smaller old Hope end caps from a previous set of handlebars that fitted perfectly. Job done.”
What this illustrates is the beauty of hoarding, the unexpected sense of satisfaction you get from solving an annoying problem using only the contents of your shed. Satisfied and capable. Yes, that’s how hoarding bits of random bike gear makes you feel.)
Anyway, we digress. The practicalities of getting to and from work on a bicycle while remaining relatively sanitary and respectable can soon become complex, and a robust approach to wardrobe management, both on-the-bike rags and in-the-office glad rags, is essential.
Wardrobe Management I: Avoiding the pong
Depending on the length of your commute, it’s probably wise to travel in different clothes to those in which you intend to work. Your colleagues will thank you for it; after all, there’s nothing more off putting than sitting next to someone in a meeting who’s dressed head to toe in Assos. (Sitting next to someone who’s just ridden a few miles in their civvies can be a similarly unpleasant experience.)
As a result, some committed commuters will keep five sets of everything, using one each day until the end of the week then batch washing it all before repeating again the following week. This works, but it’s damaging to the piggy bank – especially if you choose Assos – and, frankly, a little unimaginative.
So, if you haven’t got the cash, the inclination or the wardrobe space for a quintuplet of cycling outfits (factor in the additional outfits to help cope with variations in weather, and a quintuplet of outfits soon becomes insufficient), or if you fancy a challenge, then you need to start thinking creatively. And here, merino wool is your friend.
According to Wikipedia, the Merino is an “economically influential breed of sheep”, a description which stands alone, unchallenged on Planet Stupid. How a creature as dim as a sheep can be considered “economically influential”, like the governor of the Bank of England or the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, is beyond us. Still, Merino Sheep produce very nice wool, so who are we to argue.
Here’s the rub: manmade fibres make you smell; merino wool doesn’t. Simple.
In our experience, it’s quite possible to wear the same merino wool jersey for an entire week’s commute without too much unpleasant pong. As soon as you start to build up the layers, the pong intensifies, but compared to your run of the mill manmade jersey, merino is quite literally a breath of fresh air.
Suggestion 1: Invest in merino jerseys, with base layers for the cooler months. The clever people who make cycling gear soon cottoned on (no pun intended) to the idea of a pongless fabric, meaning there are plenty of options available. Sportwool is a mix of merino and polyester and well worth the investment.
Wardrobe Management II: Flexibility is key
Professional riders crave on flexibility when it comes to clothing because of the variations in temperature and conditions that can be experienced over the course of a five-hour race. Thankfully, not many of us commuters will have to cope with the wildly unpredictable conditions of an Alpine stage in a single day’s commute, but we often do over the course of a year. As a result, flexibility, like a merino sheep, is your friend.
Here’s a list of kit that will serve you well over the course of a year:
Long sleeve jersey and base layer (x2) , short sleeve jersey (x2) and base layer (x1), padded shorts (x2), fleece overtights, knee warmers, arm warmers, gilet, winter jacket, rain jacket, fingerless mitts, winter gloves, hat.*
And this is how it might all be put to good use:
- Hot summer day: short sleeve jersey, padded shorts.
- Warm spring day: short sleeve jersey, arm warmers to guard against the morning chill, padded shorts.
- Cold autumn day: padded shorts, knee warmers, short-sleeved base layer, long-sleeved jersey, hat, winter gloves.
So far so obvious, but what a variety of kit provides is precious flexibility. The ability to ride into work with long sleeves and home with short, to keep vital organs toasty without overheating. It also increases your chances of commuting year round.
Suggestion 2: Invest in a wide variety of clothing to ensure you have a fighting chance of coping with a wide variety of weather.
* If you’re reading this anywhere near the equator, then the same list applies but without the following items: Long-sleeve jerseys and base layers, short sleeved base layer, fleece overtights, knee warmers, arm warmers, gilet, winter jacket, winter gloves, hat. In essence, shorts and a t-shirt.
Wardrobe Management III: The changeover
The next, and final, stage of the commute is often the most fraught, the most undignified. Forget wrestling with rush-hour traffic, dodging witless pedestrians and gormless bus drivers; just wait until you have to complete a sink shower in the office loos before your unsuspecting boss wanders in.
Of course, there are ways to get through this terrible process, with the most attractive being to work for the type of company that provides showers, changing facilities and fresh towels to their staff. The downside here is that you have to work for the type of company that provides showers, changing facilities and fresh towels to their staff, but at least you won’t smell when you’re still sitting at your desk at 8pm.
A close second is to be a member of a gym which provides similar facilities.
A distant third, and the situation the majority of commuters no doubt find themselves in, is where the company offers bugger all by way of facilities and the piggy bank, or inherent thriftiness of the commuter in question, makes a gym membership just as unlikely.
In such situations, it’s about preparation, skill and speed. It’s about a few key accessories, a routine and techniques that have been honed and perfected over many years. Baby wipes, kitchen roll, a well-practised shirt rolling system, a dedicated pair of work shoes that remain in the office at all times. Experience.
As we pointed out in the introduction to The Handbook, it’s entirely possible to dry oneself following a hasty sink shower with a single sheet of kitchen roll. This may seem unlikely, but the absorbent qualities of kitchen roll really are impressive – an important tip if your company chooses to replace its paper hand towels with Dyson hand driers (admittedly, a notable upgrade for the majority of staff, but a pain in the derriere for us hardy road warriors).
Suggestion 3: Pack a small pack of wipes, a bundle of kitchen roll, get rolling those shirts (iron first), move quickly. In summer, take the last half mile a bit easier to allow your core temperature to return to somewhere near normality. Plan, prepare, pack well. Keep deodorant at the office, and hair wax, and, for the metros among us, face cream. In short, plan, plan, plan.
With that, we’ve reached the end of the first installment of the Bicycle-Commute Handbook, but this is in no way an exhaustive solution to managing the commuters’ wardrobe.
Some experienced commuters get shirts washed and ironed at a launderette local to the office over the weekend, before picking them up on a Monday morning, others cycle in civvies regardless; some, I’m sure, live with the pong and be damned, while still others carry a great lump of clothes to the office on a Monday morning.
However, if you arm yourself with a few basic accessories and follow a few rules of thumb it’s relatively straight forward to cycle at maximum intensity for an hour on the way to work, then arrive at your desk 10 minutes later looking and smelling like you’ve just stepped out of a shower.
Who’s to know that it was really a sink shower…
We would love to hear your tips, tricks and tales for how you manage the daily commute wardrobe, so please get involved by replying to this post.
The next installment of The Handbook will focus on the thorny issue of etiquette.
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