Cycling Stinks

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.

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