Cycling Stinks

03.5.2010 | 6:36 am

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.

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.


  1. Comment by Mark Kynaston | 03.5.2010 | 6:49 am

    How come this sight isn’t called the Stinky Fat Cyclist ?

    Is the url available ? I so Its mine!

  2. Comment by beerbiker | 03.5.2010 | 7:13 am

    Smelly FAT (cat) smelly FAT (cat) what are they feeding you?
    3/3/10 Looked good – enjoy


  3. Comment by Greg @ Greg Rides Trails | 03.5.2010 | 7:22 am

    Awesome post Fatty! I’ve never thought about the smell I create in such a philosophically insightful way before.

    I generally just tend to revel in the odor. The noxious scent of cycling brings to mind all of the awesome times had cranking the pedals. And so my immediate psychological reaction to the stink is pleasure.

    Is that weird or what?

  4. Comment by Steve | 03.5.2010 | 7:28 am

    This reminds me of one of my favorite cycling tales. This was during PBP 2007 – the ‘epicly’ wet one. My buddy and I were tired of eating control food and we decided to stop in a small pizzeria. We were immediately seated away from all other patrons and the waitress opened the window near us (even though it was only about 60F outside.) At that point, I realized that we smelled so bad that we even offended the French!

  5. Comment by El Negro | 03.5.2010 | 7:32 am

    On one of my bike tours, I stank so bad my partner wouldn’t draft behind me…

  6. Comment by ant1 | 03.5.2010 | 7:37 am

    helmet cleaning tip – take it in the shower with you, when you have shampoo in your hair (sorry fatty), put the helmet on and move it around your head. rinse and repeat.

  7. Comment by FHFR436 | 03.5.2010 | 7:39 am

    Just this weekend, my wife washed my stuff after I hung it up to dry after a ride. The nerve! The ride was less than 2-hours. I figure that if I can ride for 4-hours without changing, then I can do 8 half-hour rides before throwing it in the laundry, right? Hey, I’m an engineer, not an industrial hygenist.

  8. Comment by Drdave | 03.5.2010 | 7:52 am

    What they need to do is what the manufacturers of hunting clothing have done. Silver fibers are suppose to be antibacterial, so they somehow have these fibers imbedded in the threads, thus making them impervious to bacterial growth. Seems to work for the stinky hunting folk like me. My gear has never smelled.
    Its just a suggestion to all you jersey, tights, legging, shorts, helmet and sunglasses manufacturers out there. Try it, they may like it!

  9. Comment by Cyclin' Missy | 03.5.2010 | 7:53 am

    “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.”

    It’s just a conspiracy by the manufacturers of bike apparel to get us to buy more of their over-priced merchandise. *sigh*

  10. Comment by Allie | 03.5.2010 | 7:55 am

    I just sat here, after a super short ride, wondering why my jersey stank so badly. At least it’s not JUST me!!!

  11. Comment by kiwi | 03.5.2010 | 8:23 am

    okay if you wash your cycling jersey the same day you ride(with in 24hours)no stink!
    Being on the bike never stinks , ride down wind just in case!


  12. Comment by Penina | 03.5.2010 | 8:24 am

    LOL….that’s one of the pet peeves I had with newfangled running/gym clothes too. The stench is eternal (even with WIN detergent, eventually the bacteria win)

  13. Comment by Joe | 03.5.2010 | 8:35 am

    The answer to this is wool! SmartWool’s cycling jerseys are super thin, keep you cool, and I wear mine for days and days without any stink problems. I also keep all my bike stuff with my normal stuff. Oh, no, textbook CSDS!

  14. Comment by dc | 03.5.2010 | 8:38 am

    It’s easy to tell whether a person on a bike is a cyclist, or just a person who happens to own a bike.

    Ugh. It’s too bad that so many people actually think this way, which is why I refuse to fred it up with the matching kit and duck shoes. I’m just a dude who likes to ride, what I wear really doesn’t make that much of a difference in the experience. Gimme a helmet, whatever shirt strikes my fancy, a pair of gym shorts, and SPD sandals and let’s go crank out 60 or 80 miles. Why does everyone seem to fall into the cliquey cycling attire trap so willingly?

    Oh, and quit lubing up your nethers too. Powder works fine. :)

  15. Comment by nic | 03.5.2010 | 8:40 am

    I second the recommendation of wool. I get all my merino from howies being in the UK, but I am sure there are good sources in the states?

  16. Comment by Kate | 03.5.2010 | 8:40 am

    At least you have a garage to keep your stinky clothes in… I live in a studio apartment in downtown Madrid where my 3 square meters of free space is taken up with the road bike. It also double as a clothes-dryer for my bike clothes. At least I keep it by the open window?

  17. Comment by Eric W. | 03.5.2010 | 9:06 am

    Optimistic cure for “CSDS” – get more people riding bikes, then we’ll all smell, but we won’t smell it!

  18. Comment by Lucas | 03.5.2010 | 9:22 am

    Diet!! Diet is one of the biggest contributing factors to body sting and aroma. Less processed everything (including those fancy powerbar thingies) and more “natural, tree-hugging” friendliness… oh, and less onions. Garlic is fine, though… but don’t breathe on anyone.

  19. Comment by Lucas | 03.5.2010 | 9:22 am

    sting = stink

  20. Comment by NYCCarlos | 03.5.2010 | 9:29 am

    There’s a product on the market for cleaning up pet accidents in the home called Nature’s miracle. I read on the bottle that it also takes out blood and other organic stains and odors, so one day I tried it on my hockey gear – if you’ve ever played hockey, you know that there is no stench worse than hockey gear, not even the lucky shorts you wear on every century ride – and it significantly reduced the smell! I can actually keep my hockey gear in my oppressively small New York City apartment. I would venture to guess this works on cycling gear, although with the fabric designed to keep in the odor like it is, it’s very possible that it wouldn’t work.

  21. Comment by MattC | 03.5.2010 | 9:35 am

    My bikes, gear and clothes have taken over the farthest point in the garage that is still actually IN the garage. I never thought about it till now why it’s all that far away from everything else. I guess I must have CSDS bad…cuz I’ve never noticed any stink at all. I just thought my wife wanted all my stuff to be near the garage door for MY convenience!

  22. Comment by Jot | 03.5.2010 | 10:00 am

    My wife has come up with a good way to sort clothes. She has a special place just for my workout clothes.
    It’s called “outside”. :)


  23. Comment by skippy | 03.5.2010 | 10:09 am

    Another great post solving some of the three week smells that i suffer!
    Whilst Fatty has been away i have enjoyed some of the blogs of the commenters. Great range of subjects and some new recipes to try out, thanks!

  24. Comment by Franky | 03.5.2010 | 10:20 am

    Maybe I’m different but my clothes don’t really smell that bad. Just clean under your arms / lower region before going on a ride and bacteria doesn’t have time to build up.

    Unfortunately not everybody at my Saturday group ride is as diligent so you have to watch out who’s in front of you.

  25. Comment by TimD | 03.5.2010 | 10:31 am

    I was headed home yesterday and tucked my gloves under my chin while I zipped up my jacket. I thought to myself “something stinks out here” then I realised it was my gloves.

  26. Comment by The Lone Roller | 03.5.2010 | 10:34 am

    You want stink? Try playing hockey!

  27. Comment by Boopoo | 03.5.2010 | 10:35 am

    You think that’s bad. You should try playing hockey!

  28. Comment by Steelcycling | 03.5.2010 | 11:07 am

    Remember to wash that HR monitor as well, the straps get stinky like nobody’s business. Chest strap means upper body sweat collector.

    I just blame the smell on everyone else. Does that count as CSDS?

    Regarding potions: I like Oxyclean.

  29. Comment by Amy | 03.5.2010 | 11:17 am

    Put about a 1/4 cup white vinegar in the wash with your stinky stuff…gets rid of the stench..seriously…try it.

  30. Comment by Nick | 03.5.2010 | 12:16 pm

    I have a 35ish mile commute into work that I ride a lot in the summer. I have a dilemma with said commute. After I change, if I leave all of my bike clothes in my bag they are still wet and extra-special-stinky when I put them on again to ride home. If I hang them out to dry on my bike in my office the stench is not as bad but the looks from co-workers as they pass my door are not exactly accommodating. Please advise.

  31. Comment by Franky | 03.5.2010 | 12:26 pm

    @ Nick For a while I did the same distance to work. What helped was taking a shower before leaving so your clothes don’t really smell. It also helps to slow down the last 5 miles, unzip the jersey and let the air dry your clothing. I also hung the clothing in my cubicle above a fan to let them dry and there wasn’t really any smell. Not eating garlic the might before does help as well:)

  32. Comment by Nogocyclist | 03.5.2010 | 12:52 pm

    I want the problem of smelling my cycling clothes.
    In 2005 I experienced a head trauma. After this, I could not even smell a skunk spraying.

    Believe me or not, one who has not smelled anything in over 4 years would love to smell anything. I was told that my smell might return, but if it did not within a year, it probably never would.

    That first year, I tried to smell my clothes after a ride. I tried to smell even skunk de “roadkill” on my rides.

    I often imagine smelling strong awful smells, and try to catch a second whiff. Someday ……. Oh to smell even my own body odor.

  33. Comment by Marrock | 03.5.2010 | 1:07 pm

    Only 18%…?

    I think your math is off by about a factor of 10.

  34. Comment by Pete | 03.5.2010 | 1:27 pm

    Another vote for wool jerseys. As far as the helmet thing goes, I always have two helmets in rotation. One is always on my head while riding, and the other is waiting in front of the dehumidifier to be swapped out for the next day.

  35. Comment by Eljimador | 03.5.2010 | 1:31 pm

    I just wash all my cycling clothes in HOT water as soon as possible after riding and air dry. I have one jersey I have used almost daily in spin classes for 5 years and it doesn’t stink (as far as I can tell).

  36. Comment by MattC | 03.5.2010 | 2:12 pm

    @ Ehjimador….sounds like classic CSDS to me.

  37. Comment by ToddTheWetSprocket | 03.5.2010 | 2:50 pm

    I find that when the stink of my bike clothes becomes permanent (permastink as my wife calls it), is about the time they need to be replaced. But I don’t use deodorant, so go figure!

  38. Comment by Mike C | 03.5.2010 | 3:43 pm

    You know you are being desensitized to you own stinkness when:

    1. Cat is always trying to pee on your bike bag.

    2. Kids don’t want to ride in the car anymore.

    3. Kids tell you how bad the car smells.

    4. If you do a load of cycling laundry and accidently leave it in the washing machine over night it is like opening the gates of hell when you take it out.

    5. Nobody takes the bike next to you in spin class

  39. Comment by gsplsngr | 03.5.2010 | 5:02 pm

    Sometimes I ride into work and when I do, I also find it necessary to hang my various layers of clothing to dry in my cubicle. The one thing I don’t hang however is my shorts. I have found that when wearing my MTB shorts that if I don’t wash them regularly, that the spot between my waist and just above my butt crack has this strange animalistic musk that most assuredly makes me attractive to wild beast.

  40. Comment by Chris | 03.5.2010 | 5:18 pm

    I have finished rides and strapped my gloves to the handlebars on the bike rack rather than putting them in the car with me! I guess I am not totally desensitized!

    That was before my beloved wife found something on the Cabella site. It is “Sport wash” Designed for hunters so their poor defenseless prey can’t smell them. It is insanely good! Mixed half and half with regular detergent and even my gloves are now welcome in the house!

    Oh, and that same wife declares that my kid’s rock climbing stink is way worse than cycling. Maybe I am desensitized more than I thought.

  41. Comment by Sasha | 03.5.2010 | 5:33 pm

    Hahaha! Hilarious! Not sure if you’ll have time to read all the posts once you get back from the honeymoon, but just in case…

    I have one to add to your stinky list: biking in Hawaii. I had to wash my Fatty jersey and my Novara jersey after one ride each because they stunk so bad and I’m not usually stinky. There is something about an Alaskan riding in Hawaii (and Kona isn’t humid) that brings out the stink. I’m used to riding in mid-70 degree temps max – usually in the mid-60’s which is quite pleasant. Whew. I could smell them without having to bring the material to my face. And I’m a girl so girl + stinky funky jersey = no way I’m going to ride today. Which actually was a pretty good excuse to find another Hawaiian activity like swimming or snorkeling that didn’t involve copious amounts of Alaskan-in-Hawaii sweat. :)

  42. Comment by Charisa | 03.5.2010 | 6:45 pm

    I don’t know what you’re talking about – all my cycling stuff smells AWESOME!

  43. Comment by roan | 03.5.2010 | 7:02 pm

    Hey kiwi, you can ride down wind, but your speed is such that it is less than or equal to the wind speed thus you will always be in the funk ! Turn around and ride up-wind at least you will get some fresh air…wait…kiwi…you are right, things are the opposite downunder…HEH !

  44. Comment by Dr. J | 03.5.2010 | 7:15 pm

    The worst part of it all is that you put on a great smelling jersey right before you leave on a ride and I swear the fabric has a memory. It knows how it is supposed to smell during a ride and 2 minutes into the ride, BAM, it smells like you just finished a century ride. I think that the army should look into this ability that spandex has and use it to fight the taliban.

  45. Comment by aaron | 03.5.2010 | 7:30 pm

    No brews or strang mixes here. I read recently that simply pouring about a tablespoon or so (I never measure it personally) of hydrogen peroxide every wash or every few washes will kill that stink. I tried it last summer and every wash since then. Works like a charm. It’s cheap. It’s easy.

  46. Comment by Big Mike In Oz | 03.5.2010 | 10:03 pm

    I don’t mind the aroma exuding from my kit.

    My fitness stinks. I really want to know how to fix that.

  47. Comment by Paul | 03.5.2010 | 11:21 pm

    Google WIN detergent. I read an article about it a while back, it’s supposed to solve the problem of athlete stink.

  48. Comment by Matthew | 03.6.2010 | 12:25 am

    Right on, Fatty! The odor from unwashed helmet staps is absolutely horrendous. During the summer I will take my helmet into the shower with me, once a week, and scrub away. Although I am paranoid about over washing my jerseys and shorts because I want them to last as long as possible.

  49. Comment by toujoursraison | 03.6.2010 | 1:13 am

    Okay I’m #231 to comment so i don’t expect anyone to read this comment

    To remove the stink out of my jersey, I simple put them in the freezer (-40) when they are still water-wet.

    I works very well!

  50. Comment by Global_explorer | 03.6.2010 | 1:51 am

    Hey, #231!

    I don’t have a freezer that goes to -40 either Fahrenheit or Celsius, so I just sent all my stinky stuff by air freight to Yakutsk, Russia to try out your theory. I am assuming if I get them back (freight collect) that your idea does not work. But I might have to wait until mid-summer when everything thaws for 15 minutes before summer ends again.

    Wait! I have another theory. If you put your cycling clothes on still frozen, there is distinct possibility that you never sweat anyway.

  51. Comment by Jenn | 03.6.2010 | 2:23 am

    WIN totally does not work, don’t waste your money. I’ve been successful with a good vinegar soak (half hour or more). White vinegar – don’t go all Iron Chef and use balsamic or champagne or something!

    Great, considered, helpful responses in that interview, Elden. Made me cry, again.

  52. Comment by Anne | 03.6.2010 | 2:35 am

    Hee hee.Hilarious! I have a BIG smile on my face.

    So true about the jerseys. The only way to get rid of the swell is frequently change jerseys. Bear in mind that can be a very expensive solution though.

  53. Comment by bmichaelcycle | 03.6.2010 | 8:28 am

    Hey Fatty,

    I use a detergent called ProWash. It is available from Amazon. It is the best I’ve found. It eliminated all the stench from my biking and workout gear. One more clue. I don’t use the dryer for performance fabrics. Try it out. You’ll be amazed.

  54. Comment by Chris Deacon | 03.6.2010 | 11:14 am

    Merino wool cycle Jersey all the rage here in the UK.

  55. Comment by onabike | 03.7.2010 | 7:22 am

    I’m also all for wool. I have some wonderful SmartWool jerseys that don’t stink and stand up pretty well in the washing machine. Why are polyester jerseys and “tech tees” being sold everywhere, while wool can be hard to find? Has capitalism failed us?

  56. Comment by kalli@fitandfortysomething | 03.7.2010 | 8:39 am

    Love this post as always…..the jersey thing and the stink thing really hit home!

  57. Comment by Scott | 03.7.2010 | 5:39 pm

    From Scott’s Wife: Use SOAP man! After reading your blog, I ran to the laundry room to see if I’ve missed something all these years. I picked up the lastest biking clothes to come through, and guess what? They smelled like fresh spring breeze. I’d sleep in them and have sweet dreams. So I’ll keep it simple: Gone for bike ride? Take a shower and use SOAP. Take all clothes and launder them with SOAP. Then line dry to save the spandex. And yes, you’ll need more than one pair of biking clothes, and a drawer just for them. And just so you know…hubby rides about 10,000 miles/year. I know stink! I plug my nose and kiss him hello. The cat hisses when he enters the room. But SOAP is all it takes. OMG! Wash your clothes!…with SOAP!

  58. Comment by Richard | 03.7.2010 | 9:04 pm

    I can see a PhD Thesis in the darwinian evolutionary aspects of the stinkiness of cyclists and the impulse to ride and drink coffee in groups and the impact on global climate change.

  59. Comment by Tracy | 03.7.2010 | 11:10 pm

    Double Rinse. Baking soda in the second rinse. Hot water. Nuff said.

  60. Comment by BionicCyclist | 03.8.2010 | 1:13 am

    Clothing pin to nose, problem solved.

  61. Comment by Dave | 03.8.2010 | 7:18 am

    This article really hit home. My Giro E2 helmet hasn’t had it’s straps cleaned or it’s padding replaced since I bought the thing in 2003.
    After reading your post I took the time to clean the straps and whack in a fresh set of pads and it’s like new again. Still stinks of course but feels a lot better!
    Thankx Fatty!

  62. Comment by Brian | 03.8.2010 | 6:44 pm

    Until you start downhilling and wearing knee pads you really have no idea on how bad something can smell.

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