A Note from Fatty: The LiveStrong Blog has posted an interview they did with me about what it’s like to be a caregiver to someone fighting cancer. Check it out here.
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.
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.