The idea that bicycling is a sport is still deeply ingrained in the psyche of most Americans. Replacing a car with a bicycle is still seen as a bit odd, if not completely eccentric. And the idea of riding a bike slowly, and in street clothes, is unthinkable for many people, bicyclists and non-bicyclists alike. We still have some work to do!
The fear of cars tops many surveys asking why people are resistant to bike commuting, but the fear of sweat is always up there too. In talking to people around my office, you’d think perspiring only ever happens on a bicycle and that it’s something to be avoided at all costs. Well, I have a pair of secrets for you: 1) a little sweat never hurt anyone; and 2) it’s possible to ride a bicycle and perspire no more than if you were taking a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood.
I think it’s that bicycling=sport thing that trips up many potential bike commuters, especially those who don’t see themselves as athletes. In many areas outside of our few bicycling meccas (Davis, Portland, Boulder, Minneapolis, etc.) the majority of our role models are racers-in-training, consequently many people don’t believe it’s possible to ride a bike as an adult any way other than full-tilt and in full-kit.
Consider the following. The difference in effort required between averaging 10mph or 15mph on a bicycle is about equivalent to the difference between a casual walk or a jog/run. In other words, it’s the difference between barely sweating or really sweating. Now consider the average bike commute is somewhere around 5 miles either direction. At 10mph, the commute will take 30 minutes, and at 15mph the commute will take 20 minutes. So for a difference of 20 minutes out of a person’s day (10 minutes either direction), it’s possible to completely ameliorate the issue of sweat and bicycling. Seems like a reasonable trade-off to me.
Of course, there are times and places where no amount of “taking it easy” will prevent someone from perspiring (Arizona in August at high noon, for example), but I’d argue that even walking will cause someone to perspire in those conditions, so an easy bike ride is no worse. And if a person’s inclination is to ride hard, there are still ways to overcome the sweat issue including showers at work (if they’re available), sponge baths, and various hygiene products.
Sweat and bicycling do not necessarily go hand-in-hand! Perhaps potential street-clothes-commuters need to take a lesson out of racing’s playbook and start using heart rate monitors, not to set a high target for fitness, but a low ceiling to stay cool and sweat-free.