Let's Talk about Sweat

February 21, 2015

Downton Abbey and air conditioning explain much of our attitudes about sweat. Farmer Drewe sweats because he works. Lord Grantham and Lady Mary don’t sweat unless they want to, as part of a quail hunt or steeplechase or something. And then when they’re done, their valet or ladies’ maid helps them change into their sixth outfit of the day. Aristocrats successfully confine sweat to recreation and keep it out of the everyday. That seems to be what everybody still aspires to. Air conditioned homes, cars, and office buildings make it easy for us to keep sweat in the gym.

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Sweat? Never.

When I chose to start commuting by bike, I had to give up on that ideal. I know many commuters who wear special bike clothes on their ride and shower as soon as they get to work. I’m not one of those. I wear my normal clothes on my bike, and when I arrive at work I go straight to my desk and start working. I know that by being sweaty around other people, I’m violating one of the Crowley’s taboos, but this decision makes biking to work practical. If the thought of showering and changing every day keeps you from choosing an active commute, you should consider breaking this taboo, too. After all, we like to laugh at Downton Abbey’s outdated standards of clothing, class, and rigid propriety… why don’t we make its views on sweat equally outdated?

Taboo aside: I’ve learned a few things about staying comfortable when sweat is part of everyday life again.

  • I dress like it’s 10 degrees warmer than it actually is: I’m cold when I start biking, but I’m always warm when I’m done climbing Ravenna Boulevard. If I was warm when I started, I’d overheat on the way in to work. 
  • Two shirts are more comfortable than one. Merino t-shirts are awesome because they don’t feel clammy next to my skin, then a cotton shirt over that pulls moisture further away from my skin. 
  • I’ve fallen in love with biking caps. They soak up sweat; when I peel the cap off at the end of the ride, the sweat comes off with it. 
  • Bandannas are awesome. I always have one with me.

The single most important thing I’ve learned: Sweat dries. Try it… you’ll see.