Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cycling in a Heatwave... Making Friends with Florals

There are many websites out there with excellent advice on cycling in hot weather. Suggestions include cycling slowly, wearing breathable fabrics, drinking plenty of water, applying sunscreen, and using baby wipes - all of which I do. And there tends to be a consensus that once the heat and humidity get past a certain point (yesterday's 100F weather would probably qualify!), there is just nothing that can be done other than bringing a change of clothes to work, particularly if one works in an environment with a dress code.

While this is good advice for some, changing upon arrival is not an option in my line of work. I have meetings in different parts of the city in the course of the workday, and there is no reasonable opportunity to change upon arrival prior to joining the meetings. Plus, I am on a tight schedule and changing a half a dozen times a day would be ludicrous.

So, what to do? Well, the Boston Globe and Bike Snob have already quoted me on this, but I've never actually written it in a Lovely Bicycle post: I wear fabrics with prints, which helps to disguise the one part of commuting in the heat we cannot control - sweat! "Eww gross!" - I know. But a reality none the less!

The best sort of prints for this purpose are small and detailed with some tonal variation - such as florals. This tricks the eye into not noticing additional tonal variations that happen from sweat stains. Stripes, polka dots, and other busy prints can work as well - but micro-florals and paisleys are particularly effective, because the patterns they form are organic. It may seem too simple of a solution, but this really is an amazing technique at making a sweat-soaked blouse, skirt, or dress look no different from a dry one.

I wore this dress to a meeting after cycling in it for 30 minutes in intense heat and humidity. Can you tell it's wet and disgusting? My colleagues could not, and complimented me on staying so cool in the heat. Yeah, right! Well, at least I can fake it with florals.

28 comments:

  1. Great tip, even for those of us who don't cycle to work meetings, but are just outside in this weather.

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  2. Good idea! Actually, I always hated myself sweating and many times when I came back home I wanted to have a cold shower straight away. Only recently I was told that the sweat "will go away" by itself. And it did. No more showering just because of sweating. Feels surprisingly good. But one should avoid to leave marks on clothes, so that is a very smart tip of yours.

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  3. It was 103 where I am yesterday.

    Same problem - I have to go between meetings by bike. I'm a guy and we are suppose to dress heavier - yeech. So I have a thin silk shirt over a wicking t-shirt and tropical pants - not bad.

    But my real savior is that I took my bike with the Bionx electric assist on it. VERY nice in a heat wave. I don't care if people say it is "cheating". The extra speed gets that nice blast furnance effect going.

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  4. I just can't do florals. Love them on others, they look stupid on me, or perhaps I just feel ridiculous in them. Anyway, I find that layers work too, particularly in the refrigerated conditions of my office. Cycle to work in a tank top and flirty skirt, add a lightweight wrap sweater once I get inside.

    You look cute in florals!

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  5. Very funny :)

    But what about guys? How can we dress?

    I'm a business journalist. I have many meetings during the day and I use my bike for at least 20 km/ day. Any advice?

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  6. When I sweat it soon ruins the "formal" outfits with salt stains and the fabric becomes noticeably unpleasant. Fortunately, my ride to work is very short, about 2 miles. If I had a longer ride, or had to go to meetings, I am not sure what I would do.

    Right now, in this heat wave, I have a dedicated set of clothes for riding on those days when I don't have to go to work.

    Hopefully it will cool down, or at least become less humid, and we'll be back to regular summer cycling.

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  7. @anna I think sweat doesn't just go away quite the same with men as with women - I get pretty smelly after a hot, sweaty ride home from work :) My wife often wants me to take a shower when I get home :) Maybe it has to do with the body hair, I don't know.

    I've noticed this same thing - that the few shirts I have that are light colors and have busy prints don't show sweat as well, and also that if I wear an under-shirt, I have to get pretty sweaty before it will peek through. If the shirt is just a little baggier, and doesn't fold up directly in my armpits when my arms are down at my sides, the pits obviously don't get sweaty nearly as fast.

    One of the things that kind of sucks about living in a culture where most people are driving private automobiles, is getting sweaty is less socially acceptable.

    We were in Tokyo a couple summers ago in July, and it was averaging about 95 with like 90% humidity, and walking and riding the trains around there, *everyone* was soaking wet all the time - guys walking around with towels around their necks and wet backs and armpits showing through their shirts. It was kind of nice, because nobody cared. It was still uncomfortably hot and humid, but at least there wasn't the added social pressure.

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  8. I remembered that you had mentioned this in a previous post, and tried it out over the weekend. You are right! It worked out great. :) So, got any tips on hair? Bangs in particular? Mine are always sweaty and standing up (from the wind) after rides in the heat. :/

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  9. love the dress and love the tip, will keep it in mind :D I am particularly loyal to cotton and linen in summer, which helps keep me cool and as I cycle it does dry quickly too :)

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  10. Amy - My bangs actually get less wet than the rest of my hair, because they flutter and keep my forehead breezy. I know ladies who wear headbands, and that seems to keep the forehead dry as well. The rest of my hair I will often clip up in a bun. But sometimes I just leave it, because if it sort of flutters behind me it can act as a ventilator for my neck and shoulders!

    Emillian - Something like this and this and this should work. Also, do you know about seersucker? It is a special "puckery" cotton fabric that is very good in the heat.

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  11. Lisa - Even on days I do not have meetings, I just don't like the idea of wearing one outfit on the bike and then changing at the office. I am too lazy and don't have the time : )

    LC - I am loyal to natural fibers as well; can't wear anything synthetic. I like cotton, linen and raw silk. The dress in the pictures is silk and holds up pretty well.

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  12. not a question related to heat but to bicycles in general...now that you have quite the stable (flotilla?) and have had the opportunity to ride others, how about a post of favourite bikes in different categories and at different price points?

    Naturally one is always a bit loyal to one's babies but knowing what you know now, what would you buy for Boston and environs for the different sorts of bicycling you do? and how do your bikes fit in?

    many thanks

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  13. oh that dress looks so cool and nice.

    So hot here. Over the weekend I biked to the July 4th parade in wellfleet. I wore a light white dress with a full skirt. People passed me by while I was stadning telling me I looked cool. However after I rode my daughter home on the xtra ( she had arrived with her dad with healing broken ankle by car but wanted to come home with me) I arrived at home so hot and bothered I prompty threw off the white dress for something even more comfy. Dress was cotton and more tailored... blech I hate the heat.

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  14. For the gentlemen there is always paisley...

    Also lighter colors may not show wetness stains as quickly as lighter colors.

    We are at 103 here today with the index around 105, not really as bad as some days. Humidity has been unseasonably low which helps a lot.

    Aaron

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  15. Anon - Thanks for the suggestion, and I have considered discussing this topic. There are several "problems" though. One is that my skills and preferences evolve, and my tastes change with them. The other, is that I honestly believe that different bikes are suitable for different people. I would feel guilty if someone bought a bike because of me and then did not like it. I will think of how to get around these issues and still write the post.

    Vee - Sounds familiar. During the past couple of weeks I have been peeling off my sweat-soaked clothes and showering 3 times a day!

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  16. I'm a layers guy... Luckily for me, I work at a pretty casual office. I keep a jacket (DK Gold Label single breasted I got at the local thrift shop - screaming deal!), wool pants and a button down oxford at the office for when a client stops by unexpected.

    For rides on hot days, I wear a light colored wool t-shirt and wool shorts. Packed in my saddle bag is a light-colored, striped button down oxford and light cotton pants. In a pinch, I can slip these on over the woolies. Wool keeps you amazingly cool in hot weather. The wool drys fast and, being under the cotton, any sweat that is there doesn't show - at least at first :-)

    ~charles

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  17. MDI, i just go to work in the same clothes i ride in... even on days like today, averaging 14mph. ;-)

    my tips for guys (aside from perhaps wearing hawaiian floral shirts to hide sweat stains?) would be to avoid carrying anything on your body when riding-- no messenger bag, no backpack. even empty out your pockets, and store everything in a pannier bag or saddlebag. keep your pants bottoms rolled up for air flow around your lower legs. and wear layers. it really does make a difference. an undershirt underneath a light weaved short-sleeve shirt will go a long way in preventing sweat stains.

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  18. Sweat, you have to approach it like Kate of "What I Saw Riding My Bike Around Today". She rides in New Oleans and seems to enjoy sweating in the humid south.

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  19. You look tres fresh! Whatever French is for fresh :) I love the idea of using floral patterns to mask sweat. And I love that you're talking about sweat. I sweat so much, it's ridiculous. I don't have many patterned clothes, but my favorite summer dress for riding is flowery. Another secret weapon against looking chic in the summer is a dress or skirt with a built-in slip. The slip sops up the sweat before it can mar my clothes.

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  20. I'm cycling here in Tokyo where it's super hot and humid all summer long. I've taken to wearing a decent tank top with a summer blouse. When I ride, I take the blouse off and fold it in my basket so when I get to my destination, it's still dry, even if my under-layer is not.
    Doesn't work with dresses, but skirt/blouse combos have become my saviour.

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  21. Excellent tip! I just bought a thrifted patterned dress and noticed that the print covered a multitude of issues. And now, sweat as well! Thanks--

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  22. It's stifling hot in Toronto right now and has been for three days. Fortunately I've been off on vacation so I haven't had to ride to work but I have been running errands on my bike and I've been wearing a linen sundress everywhere because it is off white linen with a little striping on it and disguises any telltale sweat stains. Linen is very breathable and dries quickly too.

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  23. I keep a set of dress clothes at the office so I can wear shorts and a t-shirt while commuting. I resupply when I drive my car to work. I ride ten miles each way so I cannot ride too slowly but I do take it easier in the morning when it is also cooler so the arrival sweat is not too bad. I will have to make an effort to look for shirts that do nto show the wetness as much, good post!

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  24. Jealous! Looks like you're having fun and BY THE WAY - I love the new look of your site! LOVELY indeed!

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  25. one of the ladies I work with puts disposable panty liners in the armpits of her shirts.. it would also work for those sweaty men, always with wings... great for those hot days... they fit in your helmet too... unfortunately you'd have pad head instead of helmet hair.

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  26. Great idea! The place I live is always hot & has 80% humidity. Thanks!

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  27. I live in S.W. Texas and I ride a Raleigh Sports or a Schwinn Speedster to work. Both are 3 speeds. The winters here are very nice and it make bicycle riding a joy, but the summers can be murder. The heat can go above 100 degrees and it sometimes lasts from May to the begining of September. I pack my work shirt folded nice an neatly and ride in the morning with a T-shirt and my work clothes. The mornings can be about 80 degrees. When I go home in the late afternoons I am going home so it does not matter if I get sweaty, but I do hydrate and wear wrap around sunglasses to keep the dry air and UV rays out of my eyes. I like your article. Thank you.

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  28. Something you might find helpful is to wear a cotton undershirt. I wear cotton camisoles under my shirt every day, even when it's 100+ degF out, and while I'm not any cooler, the sweat is absorbed by the camisole, leaving the shirt dry.

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