Summary: Much of the impetus behind cycling-specific clothing (e.g. lycra) is due to heightened anxiety about sweat and showering. Urban cyclists, (especially commuters) should be aware that there are alternate solutions for when showering and changing clothes is inconvenient.
cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Alexandra Moss
1. Established urban cycling cultures don't view showers and changing clothes as required
Mikael Colville-Andersen identifies the particular Anglo-Saxon commuting sub-culture here: Bicycle Commuting or Bicycle Culture? in which sweat is a big concern and showering and changing clothes at work is vital. However, this is originally/primarily driven by hard-core (long-distance, fast) male commuters. As he notes the mainstream view of established mass-cycling countries is different:
<< Then there's the focus on having showers at work. Something that people in established bicycle cultures find to be rather odd. Not having showers at work - I know many people here in Copenhagen who ride long distances and who have showers and changing rooms at work - but it really is a tiny minority. >>
2. Dress in light, breathable clothing and ride at a pace where you don't sweat significantly
- For short to medium distances it should be possible to to ride at a pace where you don't sweat significantly and where the air flow through your clothing keeps your body cool. The short, sharp exertions (e.g. maintaining speed climbing a hill) are usually when the sweat is generated.
- If you need more layers you can carry the extra ones around you or in a small carrier.
3. Don't carry a backpack
- A major cause of sweat are backpacks (which likely has the change of outfit you may not need). If you can get rid of this you will deal with one of the biggest problems. Try fitting essentials into saddle bags and carriers on racks, handlebars or the frame.
4. Use washroom paper towels and deodorant
- Many commuters don't need a second full shower (having had one at home) and any sweat they do generate can be handled in a washroom with paper towels and deodorant.
5. Use an undershirt you can take off at work
- If you need to, you should be able to use an undershirt/top under your work clothes which you can remove at work and put on again for the ride home.
6. Don't sweat irrational norms
- If your workplace has sufficient showers and you need one after your ride, have one. But if it doesn't have sufficient facilities and you can ride in your work clothes and operate within the options above, then that is perfectly acceptable.
- Most people on the planet sweat a little during their typical day without causing social distress - including everyone who walks around during a warm day. The Anglo-Saxon cultures are the weird ones with their special sweat anxiety issues.