Even your best friends won’t tell you. You smell. It’s counter-intuitive to realise there’s something negative about cycling in to work. The positives are legion. It’s healthy, it keeps motor traffic down, it’s cheaper than train or bus and it sets you up for the day, buzzing from a pleasing endorphin rush. But unless you have a carefully-planned, post-ride strategy you run the risk of alienating work colleagues and having them whisper grumpily about you behind your back.
The first determinant in how well you will cope with entering the workplace dripping sweat and road debris onto the corporate carpet, is whether or not your employers provide any facilities for the two wheeled-worker.
More than twenty years ago, this wasn’t even a question you could ask. There were no work changing rooms or showers in those days. You had to stand at the sink, in the toilets - often on tiptoes - trying to swab as much of your torso clean as you could manage in the cramped conditions.
The issue of cycle clothing was also a big problem. To my shame I remember draping sodden t-shirt, towel and shorts (Addidas running shorts, not Lycra) on the struts underneath my desk so that they’d be dry by the time I was ready to go home. This haphazard tent of sweat-drenched cotton and polyester positively hummed beneath my desk. The alternative was to stuff the ball of soiled garments into my bag, meaning it would still be wet, clammy and – let’s be honest – putrid, when I put it back on for the commute home. Thankfully, my sense of smell is very poor but I can’t say the same for my work mates at the time. And to them I offer my heartfelt and sheepish apologies! Yes, that mysterious, sickening smell was my fault all the time.
We have moved on. My use of normal sports kit and casual t-shirts died a slow but inevitable death. I’m now a fully-fledged Lycra lout – and it helps. Cycling jerseys, shorts and socks may seem so synthetic that they’d go up in flames in the blink of eye, were a match applied. But they are not called ‘technical’ garments for nothing. One of the benefits of their ‘wicking’ properties is that they dry out relatively quickly. There’s even a natural fibre which dries perfectly and betrays very little sweat odour even after strenuous use. Merino wool is truly a miracle-fabric.
My current employer (let’s just say one of the UK’s biggest broadcasters) has embraced the wave of cycling popularity with enthusiasm. Not only do they provide lockers and ample showers, there’s even a secure underground car park which has been transformed into a bike-lockup facility, with racks installed. Bliss.
There’s now no excuse for me to terrorise my unwitting work fellows with assaults on their nostrils. I can duck into the showers before even reaching my desk. Ironically, I come up smelling of roses even more than those who have not sweated buckets spinning their pedals through the grime and pollution of London, like I have. Commuting by train, Tube or bus in a city like the UK capital does not lend itself to a person staying as fresh as the daisy they were when they tripped out of the shower that morning, before their journey.
Having all these cyclist-friendly assets to use means that a new set of problems inevitably arises. Having graduated away from training shoes and cotton t-shirts to cleats and Lycra, I realise that the walk from the lockup to the office is causing undue wear and tear on the plastic heels of my Mavics. The solution is simple, although it does add weight to my rucksack. I start carrying slip-on plastic sandals (commonly referred to by the fashionistas as ‘sliders’) and change into them when locking up my bike. I’ve extended the life of my cycling shoes but have to factor in leaving for work that bit earlier, to allow time for the shoe change. It’s getting so I could do with a spread sheet just to help get me into the office punctually.
Remembering the combination for my locker padlock is another issue which I didn’t have to worry about in the pre-shower days. But how likely is that you’ll forget your own date of birth?
As for drying out my clothes, my love of cooking has helped come up with an answer. Sounds unlikely – to mention unpalatable - but the metal hooks we used to use to hang ladles, fish slices and slotted spoons from a rail on our kitchen wall have a cycling-related application too. Our lockers are wire mesh affairs containing a single built-in hook. This limits the locker’s drying capabilities as you need to suspend your wet Lycra stretched out so the air can get at it. Cue my cookery hooks. With six of these placed inside the locker, I can independently suspend my jersey, base layer and bib shorts, giving them more chance of drying out, more or less, by home time.
Needless to say there is still an unpleasant, often overpowering aroma in the changing rooms. With about 50 lockers in each it’s not surprising. So obsessed with airing out soggy kit are my fellow cyclists that the area is positively festooned with bacteria-infused bunting, hung from every conceivable protruberance. At least – unlike the case during my guilty under-the-desk-drying days - I am not the sole culprit.