Cycling Stinks

11.28.2005 | 7:04 pm

I love biking. I love mountain biking. I love road biking. I have a sneaking suspicion I’m going to love track racing.

I love getting ready for a big ride. I love the rhythm of riding on the road. I love picking a line on new singletrack. I love riding rocky jeep roads. I love the way I feel after a big workout.

I love the way bikes look. I love the way bikes sound. I love talking about bikes and telling biking stories, and I love hearing other cyclists’ stories.

To recap: I love biking. And yet, there is one inescapable truth about cycling that I do not love:

Practically everything about cycling stinks.



It’s easy to tell whether a person on a bike is a cyclist, or just a person who happens to own a bike. Just look at what he’s wearing. T-shirt? Person. Brightly-colored polyester skintight jersey with a zip-up front and pockets in the back? Cyclist.

The benefits of jerseys are many: they help you be seen by traffic. They give you a place to carry food and a phone. They evaporate sweat, so you don’t feel like you’re riding with a big ol’ soaked sponge for a shirt.

But that last bit — that bit about evaporating sweat — is a two-edged sword. Because while your jersey is doing a fantastic job of getting rid of the water part of the sweat, it’s doing an equally fantastic job of holding on to the stink part of the sweat. The fibers of biking jerseys are, in fact, specially designed to trap every little molecule of stench your upper body excretes, compound it by a factor of seven, and then time-release that smell for the next eon or so.

As a young, naïve cyclist, I used to think washing a jersey would get rid of that smell. It doesn’t. Washing it again doesn’t help, either. And in fact, if you wash the jersey too many times, you’ll just make the washing machine start to stink.

Special Note to everybody who is about to leave a comment describing how they use vinegar, lemon juice ammonia, or sulfuric acid to good effect in combating the “jersey stink” phenomenon: Feel free to go ahead and leave your comment, but please realize that I already know about your so-called remedy, and have the following observations to make:

  • Your remedy actually only masks the smell, and an argument can be made that a stinky jersey with a hint of rancid lemon is even worse than plain ol’ stinky jersey.
  • Even if your remedy does work, I don’t care. I’m barely organized enough to wash my jerseys at all. There’s no way I’m going to remember to start using time-consuming anti-stink potions every time I do the wash.


My head starts sweating well before the rest of my body. And the straps and little pads in my helmet are nowhere near as easy to clean as my jersey. Back in arid Utah, this meant that within a few hours after a ride, my helmet straps would dry out, becoming stiff, crusty, and above all, stinky.

Here in Washington, though, the humidity keeps the straps from drying out so quickly. In fact, if you ride your bike more than twice a week, your helmet straps will never dry out. This means that instead of your straps becoming stiff, crusty, and stinky, they become dank, cold, and above all, stinky.

Interesting aside: You’d think that mildew would grow on constantly damp straps like this, but it doesn’t. My theory is that this is because the stench frightens the mildew monsters away.

Unlike jerseys, it’s possible to clean helmet straps and pads so they don’t stink. Unfortunately, to reap this benefit, you must in fact clean your helmet straps and pads. This is such a time-consuming, awkward process — which is immediately negated the next time you go out on a ride — that nobody in the history of cycling has done it more than once.



I just found out about this recently, and admit I was astounded. Yes, my beloved Oakley Racing Jackets — the ones with the expensive frames and super-expensive prescription lenses — stink. I discovered this when my wife asked me to keep my glasses in the garage, because they smelled up our bedroom. Challenging her, I put the frames under my nose and inhaled deeply.

Wow. So I guess thousands of miles-worth of dripping sweat can permeate anything.


More, More, More

Really, I could go on. My messenger bag stinks, which is a problem since that’s what I use to carry my clean clothes to work. My biking shoes stink, which is probably the least surprising thing I’ve ever written. My biking shorts stink, which dogs seem to really appreciate. My Camelbak stinks, although — as near as I can tell — that stench hasn’t yet penetrated the bladder. This may, however, just be because Camelbak bladders have a stink (and taste) of their own.

So I have a theory: the main reason people don’t get into cycling is because they smell us before they ride with us.


Post-Ride Stench

The thing is, this residual stink — the smell that clings to all your cycling stuff — is only a tiny part of the problem. The only thing worse than the smell of a cyclist after a ride is a group of cyclists after a ride. Or at least, that’s what my wife tells me, and my kids won’t come near me when I get home from work ‘til after I clean up.

But you know what’s even worse than a group of cyclists after a ride? A group of cyclists after an epic ride, in a car, for an extended period of time. Why? Well, without getting too explicit, when one is on one’s bike for a long time, eating unusual food, one’s digestive system, well, reacts. And while most people have the most polite intentions in the world, at some point physics takes over.

And, in short, seven stinky guys with gas in a car for an extended period of time can reduce a vehicle’s resale value by 18%.


Danger of Becoming Desensitized

If you’re an avid cyclist, there’s a good chance you haven’t recently thought about the stink you make. This is not a good sign, because it means you have contracted Cycling Stench Desensitization Syndrome (CSDS). Here are common symptoms:

  • You think your bike clothes don’t stink
  • You keep any of your bike stuff in any place other than the garage
  • You wonder why nobody ever wants to be near you

It’s entirely possible that CSDS is incurable, but the symptoms are treatable. You must simply realize that just because you don’t notice the smell doesn’t mean it’s not there. Every bike-related item you own must be isolated from everything else you own, and treated much the same as if it were radioactive waste.

Or at least, that’s what all of you have to do. My bike stuff smells just fine.


Winner of the Banjo Brothers Messenger Bag

OK, I’ve got to admit I’ve got mixed feelings about calling this story the winner. I mean, it’s a great story, and it’s well-told, but what JuvenileTim-D describes himself doing goes way, way, way beyond stupid. Which, I guess, is why he wins with this entry: 

When we were kids, the town we lived in had a marine lake, a boating lake that was separated from the sea by a low wall. Most of the year, this wall was just about at sea level, with the sea just washing over to keep the lake full. It also keeps the wall covered in slimy green algae.

One of the big tests was to ride your bike around the wall. At low tide, you risked either sliding into the lake or sliding off the wall 8 feet down to the rocks. At high tide, the fall was replaced by a dip in the strong currents of the estuary. People drowned here every year, were not talking Bike Mike Bondai rip currents, just strong tidal flows that dragged you out into the main channel. Spring and autumn, we had very high tides coupled with storm force winds. It was always exciting to go down to the sea front and watch the waves crash over the car.

One autumn we had particularly high tides, with very strong winds. Sections of the promenade, large concrete and iron sections, just disappeared. A friend who lived further up the coast woke up to find a large sailboat buried in his living room window. Cars parked on the seafront disappeared.

My friend Dave and I decided we would have to ride the marine lake wall at high tide. We met at the appointed time at the town end of the lake and the wall was already awash and waves were crashing over the promenade where we waited. High tide. I went first, followed by Dave. The first third was the worst. The wall was under about a foot of water, with five and six foot wave crashing over the breakwater just beyond the lake wall.

We got round the first third without mishap, but soaked to the skin. The second third was running with the wind and the tide. We had no idea where the edges of the wall were, only guessing from the changes to the colour and run of the waves. We made it through, with Dave closing. Final third, cutting back across the wind, but with the lake sheltering us from the tide, the easy bit. Half way through, a freak combination of wind and waves caught us both in a torrent of falling water. When did water get so heavy? We were batted into the ground. I went down left, Dave right. I went into the lake, Dave into the sea. I managed to get loose from my toeclips and was just about able to swim to the launch slip and safety. I called out the inshore lifeboat, which went looking unsuccessfully for Dave.

He eventually washed up, literally, about three miles down the estuary, his life saved by an off-duty fireman, who fished his unconscious body out of the water and made sure he was breathing.

We never recovered either bike, but we had to go back and ride the wall.

Congratulations, JuvenileTim-D. And by the way, you are insane.


  1. Comment by Unknown | 11.28.2005 | 7:15 pm

    embrace the stink. it means you’re in the club. live the stink. love it.and let’s face it, you’ve reached the point in your career where you could just buy a new batch of jerseys every week or month. do that, problem solved.and your lawn is looking a bit yellow. water it again.

  2. Comment by Unknown | 11.28.2005 | 7:28 pm

    As the non-bonking sweathog of this comments section, I can only say one thing about my jerseys: they may smell bad, but at least they don’t smell like… Assos.

  3. Comment by Unknown | 11.28.2005 | 8:13 pm

    Hey, I’m a winner. Some details left out of the original. Neither Dave nor I admitted to the authorities what we had done. Both independently came up with the same cover story of going down the the seafront to watch the waves and got sucked of the promedade by a particularly large wave. We were still held up as roll-models of stupidity just for being on the prom. If we’d actually admitted to what we tried, we would have been declared insane. I got a new (to me) bike to replace the missing one.

  4. Comment by Tim | 11.28.2005 | 8:34 pm

    If your jersey stinks after a ride you must not have discovered the benefits of Merino wool – – Icebreaker gear is the bomb!

  5. Comment by Unknown | 11.28.2005 | 8:36 pm

    Ewwwwwwwwwwwww!And congratulations to Tim-D. I think.Hugs,MuMo

  6. Comment by Unknown | 11.28.2005 | 8:44 pm

    I have just realised that of the 60+ people commenting on Fatty’s blog, I am the most stupid. Wow, what an achievement.

  7. Comment by Unknown | 11.28.2005 | 8:49 pm

    i knew wool would come up. whenever talk of stink comes up, wool is always touted as the answer. however. remember this. wool will eventually make your nipples bleed. and in the end, bleeding nipples suck more than stinky jerseys.

  8. Comment by Nina | 11.28.2005 | 9:12 pm

    I know I’m inviting snarky comments by mentioning running on this blog but I just have to say that running clothes get pretty stink too. When you couple the 10K Peachtree Road Race in July (in Atlanta) and what seems like 40,000 people trying to cram into the subway to get back home, you get a pretty stinky situation. No amounts of vinegar, lemon juice or ammonia can get that kind of stank out of the trains (and they’re pretty smelly to begin with).Oh, don’t forget the wristband of your HRM. I don’t have the thingy that lets you put it on your bike so it can get stinky too. Yeah, and I guess the chest strap too, no matter how clean you try to keep it.

  9. Comment by Zed | 11.28.2005 | 9:24 pm

    Fatty: No word on whether it works yet. I guess we’ll find out.The most important lesson of this whole thing is to get the heck out of your cycling clothes as quickly as possible, shower, and then stick them nasty spandex duds all in one stinky corner of your house where no one needs to smell ‘em.Or you could cover yourself in armpit deoderant. Heck, it might even make you more aerodynamic.

  10. Comment by Tim | 11.28.2005 | 9:26 pm

    No, no, dug – not wool, but Merino! Quite a fundamental difference in the Merino doesn’t itch like normal wool. wear my Icebreaker jerseys on long endurance events and never suffer from discomfort that you discribe. It’s miracle stuff… I just wish I had shares in the company…

  11. Comment by Unknown | 11.28.2005 | 9:48 pm

    The most disconcerting thing is the sweat explosion. While riding, the wind is enough to keep the sweat down. Once you stop, it doesn’t mak its presence felt straight away, it lingers just under the skin for a short while. How short a while depends on the proximity of a loved one. I can come in from a ride when no-one is home, and not break a sweat. However, if my wife is home, I can come in, put my bike away, take my jacket and helmet of, then as soon as I am within 3 feet of her, boom, or rather splat, I am covered in sweat. Not just a bit damp under the arms, but copious amounts of water from every pore.I once got to work and took my jacket off, turning it inside out. A female collegue brushed against it and asked if it was raining outside. "No, thats sweat!"

  12. Comment by tayfuryagci | 11.28.2005 | 9:50 pm

    "embrace the stink. it means you’re in the club. live the stink. love it."dugthats exactly what I do.tim was bound to win. thats gotta be one of the stupidest things I’ve heard done.merino means wool from a different kind of sheep called "merinos sheep" they mostly live in aegean areas. I just wish there was a second and third and maybe fourth placer list.

  13. Comment by Unknown | 11.28.2005 | 9:52 pm

    Ok, so one thing you neglected to clarify in all your glorious details about cycling stink: Girl cyclists do NOT stink nearly as bad as guys! I swear it’s true! Our sweat stink is there, but it’s only faintly, delicately, barely perceptible… so perhaps the answer to your stinky problems is just to ride with all girls all the time! Oh wait, the girls won’t like that…. well anyway, you should clarify that what you wrote about stink only really applies to guys!

  14. Comment by Tom Stormcrowe | 11.28.2005 | 10:12 pm

    This summer, early on, I was still weighing in around 400 pounds and riding in Indiana Mugly weather that heavy in weight, you don’t sweat, you S*W*E*A*T! I would look like a rainstorm in progress! If I stood in one place long enough, there would be a wet spot under me from the sweat dripping. I would come in from a ride and my wife would threaten to wear a gas mask until I got my duds wrapped in a plastic bag and showered! Once, my jersey crawled itself into the washer and complained that since it was sleeveless, it couldn’t turn on the washer. I’m kidding of course, but I came home wit’ da FUNK when I rode this summer, and have found that oxygen based bleach added to the wash as well as a triple dose of springtime fresh dryer sheets can make the cycling clothes tolerable for others to be around.

  15. Comment by Unknown | 11.28.2005 | 10:47 pm

    One glaring oversight in the stinkiness dissertation–gloves. Eeeeewwwww. I have a closet at work that is downstairs by the showers. I can’t store gloves in there because the tend to funk up the whole basement.Three cool things:0) Juvey-Tim is dumb and now it has been proven in blog landia1) You used the word "excrete"2) dug brought up the nipples and wool story again–there’s a good reason why belly dancers don’t wear woolI’ll bet Al and I could compare some stories. I get sweat striations and small landforms on my jerseys that are with me too long. Mine, however, are not of the odiferous variety, since volume overrides concentration.

  16. Comment by Unknown | 11.28.2005 | 10:49 pm

    t1mm0, yes, merino is indeed softer than the wool my grandma used to knit sweaters. but that’s like saying black bears are less dangerous than grizzley bears, so go ahead and tease them with hunks of summer sausage, they won’t bug you.however. those icebreaker folks do have some nice marketing tactics, and i’m reminded, in the best possible way, of our friends at assos. check this out:’m pretty sure the maidenhood of that sheep is in serious jeapardy. but my money’s on the sheep.

  17. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 11.28.2005 | 10:57 pm

    JuvenileTim-D – to be the stupedist in this crowd is quite an tri girl – all girls smell. It has nothing to do with exercise. It’s an inalienable fact. Just ask any 10 year old boy.If your jersey stinks you aren’t riding hard enough. If you are truly working hard, you sweat so profusely that your garments are flushed clean with the shear volume of fluid flooding out of your pores. Either that, or I stink too and have CSDS.

  18. Comment by Julie | 11.28.2005 | 11:40 pm

    LOL!! Thanks everyone for all your comments. After the day I have had -this has been the highlight of my day. Thanks again Fatty for writing articles that I can totally relate to. Keep up the good work.

  19. Comment by pete | 11.28.2005 | 11:49 pm

    Nice one. As I was reading today’s post, I was thinking "Poo. My gloves certainly stink. Especially the ones with leather palms that I you can’t ever wash, but just stick on top of the radiator so they’re dry for tomorrow." Then Rocky beat me to it. He must have even smellier gloves.Dug – that sheep is also far better on steep mountain tracks than a normal bike. Clearly feeling undermined by the Icebreaker sheep, our old friends at Assos have had to resort to this old trick to try and shift a few more sets of ridiculously overpriced tights:

  20. Comment by Unknown | 11.29.2005 | 12:13 am

    I must admit that The Cosh’s marketing tactic is a smidge more attractive than is dug’s (see the links in their comments), but I still assert that bellydancers do not wear wool for a very good reason–even if they are layering and even if it is mereno.

  21. Comment by Fat Cyclist | 11.29.2005 | 12:20 am

    dug – i want to embrace the stink, but i just can’t. i have issues with closeness. juvenileTim-D – yeah, there may be a backhandedness to that compliment. still, take what you can get. by the way, email me your address. i’ve never asked the good folks at banjo brothers how they feel about shipping internationally; i guess we’ll find out now.T1mm0 – i do wear wool, for my socks. the trouble i’ve had with wool jerseys is it shrinks, stretches, bleeds, and makes me bleed. you sound like you’re sold on it, though. if the good folks at icebreaker would like to send me a jersey, i’ll be happy to review it and give the least biased review i can. that site is freaky, though. mumo – i should have put some kind of warning at the top of this entry, shouldn’t i?ninacan – i’d guess that every sport has its own odor. i imagine, for example, that golf smells like money.caloi – as a bonus, you can also use your jersey to make super-pure drinking water!tayfur – you know, i’ve always wondered what the "merino" part of "merino wool" meant. thanks, man. az tri girl – you’re right. when women sweat, they give off the aroma of cinnamon and vanilla. it is heavenly.stormcrowe – you know what else helps take the stink out of biking clothes? incinerating them.rocky – you will be happy to know that as i wrote the word "excrete," i was imagining you popping an m&m out of your chin.dug – nice use of the word "maidenhood." you don’t see that every day. alas.BIG mike – i believe that the excretion of stinkiness is a function of time in the saddle, not volume of sweat.cyclingchix – what is the world coming to when an article about cycle stink can be the highlight of someone’s day? the_cosh – that woman seems angry — justifiably so — that someone stole her jersey and then took a picture of her. man, i’d be TORQUED if someone took a picture of me topless.rocky – so, um, what DO belly dancers wear? and do you have a jersey made out of that material?

  22. Comment by Big Guy on a Bicycle | 11.29.2005 | 12:51 am

    I consider it bad luck to wash my helmet pads and straps. No, not really, but that’s better than admitting that I’m too lazy, uh, busy to do it.Maybe mildew can’t grow in that high of a concentration of salt? I’d be willing to accept a government reasearch grant to study the issue. $15,000,000 should do it.

  23. Comment by Tom Stormcrowe | 11.29.2005 | 12:55 am

    I see that everyone is talking about bike clothes and items that stink. Stormcrowe’s is enough for me to have a constant bonfire. That is of his clothes of course. We now keep his biking items in the back of our van to get to the laundry after he goes for his rides. I applaud all of the wives out there that have the guts to let them stay inside the house. I am not that brave. It would be the next thing to having chemical warfare being done in your own home. Loved all the posts keep them up. The Mrs.

  24. Comment by Unknown | 11.29.2005 | 1:13 am

    dug–I especially like how underneath the way the ram and naked guy (in need of a hug?) it says "touch me". That is really excellent advertising. I’m sure it took a group of 15 people 30 days to come up with it.Botched

  25. Comment by Unknown | 11.29.2005 | 2:43 am

    My stink solution is to douse my stuff with spray and wash or some such product–the spary version, not the stick rub on stuff. I guess if my cycling clothes were dipped in a bucket of liquid soap before going into the wash, that might do the trick as well.

  26. Comment by Unknown | 11.29.2005 | 5:07 am

    Assos/b3sti6lity/sh33p jokes aside, nothing is nastier than my jerseys after a long, hot ride during which I’ve maintained good hydration. I have started doing a spoke ride that entails 8-10 300+ meter hills, in succession, with a couple long stretches of 15-18% grades, total climbs usually lasting around 3-4 miles per hill horizontal distance, mostly gentle uphill with quarter to half mile stretches that are brutal. When I finish, I feel as if I’ve been beaten, major muscle pain and exhaustion, like a heavy lifting workout. When I rode this in the warmer weather, I noticed that when I ditched my jersey in the back of my pickup truck, flies would swarm on it. I knew the hills were killing me but I didn’t think my flesh was actually decaying and sticking to the jersey as I rode. This only seems to happen on hill rides. It could have something to do with pre-ride pastries, or it could just be that I stink. Thoughts? (Other than the obvious – that I’m disgusting to be near, post-ride…)

  27. Comment by Ariane | 11.29.2005 | 6:01 am

    Argh…. Was it Rocky who mentioned the gloves? Oh good groovin’ gawd, man. And you’d think, given that the most offensive stuff in my diet is Muesli (cereal)… But, whew. My gloves…I mean, it’s just not right. I went to wipe my nose a couple days ago and even with my nostrils FROZEN, I had to fight back a gag.

  28. Comment by Unknown | 11.29.2005 | 6:41 am

    I have noticed that when I am consuming my daily pint of Ben and Jerry’s (summertime), the sweat has more stench than usual. Is dairy the key to odiferous sweat? Pastries have dairy in them–at least the cheese danish that I so love, do. And Muesli with milk. Dairy air. Dairy air. Derriere. Hmmm.

  29. Comment by Fixed | 11.29.2005 | 10:16 am

    Merino wool. Swobo, Ibex, Woolistic, Kucharik, Icebreaker…Wear the same jersey on more than one ride! Save on laundry, good if you are lazy like me. Merino wool base layers. Soft and snuggly, don’t stink. It’s the synthetic fabric. Wool has natural antibacterial properties. Wash it with Kookaburra wool wash. Have fun.

  30. Comment by tayfuryagci | 11.29.2005 | 2:48 pm

    you’re welcome fatty! man I love to eat fruits. autumn is a great season. ( what are you talking about man! )

  31. Comment by Unknown | 11.29.2005 | 3:20 pm

    You guys don’t know what stink is! I have played hockey for more years than I care to admit, and when I start comparing the stench of my riding apparel to that of my hockey gear, now that is smelly! Hockey gear is the benchmark by which all athletic odors should be measured. The only time it doesn’t smell is when you are in the locker room with your teammates who smell equally as bad.

  32. Comment by Unknown | 11.29.2005 | 3:46 pm

    Your, "you" bullets rock the cazbah.

  33. Comment by Unknown | 11.29.2005 | 4:10 pm

    We all know what odor is, but Toad’s post brought it home that there is another kind of stink, not just sweat, but accumulated bad smell tied to physical manifestations. This smell is in a whole ‘nother dimension of bad odors, an order of magnitude worse than a sweat stained jersey. It’s the Funk. I met this funk this morning, when I opened one of my water bottles that I forgot to wash out after my last group ride, the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Mmmm… a *steeeenky* jet black penicillin farm. And what is up with the glove? One good honk, and it looks like a snail exploded on the back of my hand. Combine frozen glove snot with the winter riding clothing induced profuse sweats – a flood of which ensues at each of the 8 stoplights that I catch after finishing the 13 mile top gear spin portion of my commute – and you have an odor that just doesn’t quit. Store the gloves in a dark locker at work every day, and by the time I get into my pickup truck to finish the commute… turn the heater on… Mmmmmm. Funky like James Brown’s armpit. And the leather MTB shoes I use for my often damp commute, spin class, and high output fixie riding… nasty. It would probably help if I cleaned the rotting bits of vegetation and the dog dung out of the useful waffle sole. Useful, that is, if you are trying to collect rotting bits of vegetation and dog dung. But the best stank of all is the stank of old school unsealed hubs and bottom brackets, when you first crack ‘em open and some water runs out. Yikes! The creature that lived in the big trash compactor in the first Star Wars flick wouldn’t swim in that stuff.

  34. Comment by Juliet | 11.29.2005 | 7:38 pm

    I’m a girl so I don’t stink – but I live with someone who does so I’m invested in fighting the funk. Here’s the formula. Very hot water. Gain detergent (specifically). Half a box of baking soda or half a cup if you buy it at the wholesale store in a 10 pound bag (like I do) and 2 or three times the recommended dose of Oxyclean (or other oxygen based bleach). use this every time and the sitnk will go away.


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