Man vs. Towelette: Commuting to a Showerless Workplace

Bob CaravonaTo paraphrase John Wayne, “I see you talk the talk but do ride the ride?”

Bob Caravona is an Urban Planner and an amateur triathlete who not only talks the talk, but also swims the swim, bikes the bike, and runs the run. He strives for local government to follow through with the same conviction.

When mentioning to co-workers I was considering something so bold as bike commuting, my co-workers’ immediate reaction was shock, followed by feigned expressions of concern for my office hygiene.

“You can’t do that! Where will you shower?”

“Don’t you worry about stinking?”

“Oh, I would bike commute to work but I’m concerned about my professional image. Maybe, you could get away with it, but I can’t.”

Bob Caravona Breezer Jumping
'My bike commuting life began and set me free."

Well, yes. I do care. In fact, I cared so much that my caring co-workers’ words affected my behavior a number of years. I never followed through with bike commuting to work. On congested city streets or traffic jammed highways, I was entombed in a car crawling along listening to sophomoric D.J. jokes as daylight vanished.

What should have been a fifteen or twenty minute drive, often took over an hour – one way. Bored, I calculated my wasted, auto-commuting life – 10 hours a week, 520 hours a year or 13,000 hours over the next 25 years. Yikes, 541 days of my work life would be lived in car, commuting to work! I felt this lengthy commute was robbing me of my life. Something had to change.

If you are considering becoming a bike commuter, do not tell or listen to your co-workers! Their responses were never meant for you. Rather, their words provided them an excuse not to bike and keep you repressed.

Baby Wet Wipes
It's not happening.

Approximately three years ago when I joined the “Bike to Work Week,” my bike commuting life began and set me free. No doubt about it, my commute to and from work has never been more enjoyable – being outdoors, exploring cafes or stopping for drink with my wife… and stink free!

Although it would be nice to have a shower at work, it is not necessary. Bike commuters are resourceful and generally prepared for all events and circumstance – rain, shine, flats and occasional grease and filth.

My first week of “Bike to Work Week”, I overcompensated and tried to towel wash in the public bathroom but received some odd looks. (Hint: never use brown paper towel dispenser to wash oneself as for the rest of the day you smell like cheap bathroom soap and cardboard.)

Recalling my childhood days, my mother was always prepared for my ‘filth’ with Wet Wipes. She would violently scrub the orange, Popsicle, dirty smile off my eight-year-old face. Why wouldn’t these Wet Wipes work today on a grinning cyclist?

Office Stash
Personal Cupboard at the Office

Probably much like you and those non-bike-commuting office workers, I have a special cupboard or drawer stocked with personal supplies and food: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, sweetener, coffee, chocolate, etc. When I became a bike commuter, I now include in this stash Wet Wipes or other variety of personal showers in a cupboard!

Walgreen's Towelettes
Walgreen's Towelettes

Walgreen’s Ultra Antibacterial Towelettes, have been my inexpensive stand-by as the plastic container, when properly closed, and keeps the towelettes moist for months. The citrus scent is strong and seems to clean-up the gunk. I can’t claim that I notice the benefits of the vitamin E and natural aloe – I am a guy after all. Forty sheets per container is generous but I found myself usually using three to six towelettes per use.

As a guy, saying and using “towelettes” really isn’t that manly. However, anything called “Anti Monkey Butt-Safari Towels” gets my attention, especially a resealable, package with a grinning, red-butt monkey, fishing, four-wheeling and hiking.

After my commute on an unusually hot and humid morning, I put the Safari Towel to the test to clean an especially, sweaty Bob.

Removing the gigantic, pillowy-soft towel — 14 by 24 inches — it was man-sized!

Within this resealable package, there are three of these man-sized towels, which could be conveniently stowed in a pannier, jacket packet, briefcase or portfolio, a BIG plus in maintaining your manly image rather than being a momma’s boy with a big, plastic wipe dispenser.

Both the Walgreen’s Ultra and Anti Monkey Butt Safari Towels have Aloe and Vitamin E, yet once again being a guy, this is lost upon me. Appreciated is that the Safari Towels are lightly scented. Perfect.

After running a half-marathon this week-end, I reached for the Safari Towel to clean my monkey butt up, well before changing clothes and going for post-race pancakes. No one ran out the restaurant.

Qwik Shower Gym Class Wipes and Anti Monkey Butt Safari Towels
Qwik Shower Gym Class Wipes and Anti Monkey Butt Safari Towels

Somewhere between an Anti Monkey Butt Safari Towel’s size and Walgreen’s Ultra’s Moist Towelettes, lies QWIK Shower Gym Class Wipes balanced in moisture, clean smelling, and appropriately sized. Like the other products, Aloe Vera is introduced to protect one’s skin; yet again, lost upon me. Unfortunately, the QWIK Wipes are gritty, almost sandpaper-like. These wipes are individually packaged, which may mean having a lot of loose packets floating around your cupboard, pannier or backpack. Three to four wipes per packet would be my preference so that there is less clutter.

The most important test that you could do, as a bike commuter, is find the right towel wipe for you. How do you do this? Get on your bike begin your bike commuting journey. If you work up a light sweat or need to remove the occasional road grim, great! Test these products and ask a co-worker, girl or boyfriend or spouse, “Which smells the best?” Then, proceed to purchase and stock your personal cupboard and enjoy your bike commuting life.

Anti Monkey Butt Safari Towels sell for $2.99 US for single package of 3, or $14.95 US for 6 packages of 3.

Qwick Shower Gym Class Wipes sell for $1.00 US each, and less per towel if purchased in higher quantities.

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27 thoughts on “Man vs. Towelette: Commuting to a Showerless Workplace”

  1. Celsius1414 says:

    Another good item to have in the office drawer or cabinet is a small bottle of Febreze — a quick spray takes any smells out of clothing.

  2. Rusty Wright says:

    The other important item is the time of day when you shower at home. If you shower in the evenings and not in the mornings, then when you get to work you’re going to stink a lot more, regardless of the towelettes.

    If you’re an evening showerer, when you commute to work you should change showering schedule and shower in the mornings, before you go to work.

    If you don’t like the idea of getting into bed without having showered, take another one; you can save your skin and some water by not using soap, and having a separate towel to dry off after the evening shower.

  3. Rusty Wright says:

    Followup to my previous remark:

    If you’re really concerned about water conservation, when you take your morning regular shower you could make it what’s called a “Navy” shower. Turn on the water, wet yourself down, turn off the water, lather up with the soap, then turn the water back on and rinse off. We did this when I was in the Navy on the ship.

    You could also do that for the evening shower and use soap, as long as the two soapings don’t dry your skin.

  4. Tal says:

    What about just using a plain old cotton towel? All the benefit, choose your own size and skip the landfill waste. Or head to your local outdoor store and pick up a quick dry camping towel. They are absorbent, dry quickly and pack down to almost nothing.

  5. John says:

    Oh so true this story, never laughed so much in a long time over a bike commute tale!
    Apart from the avid petrol heads your spot on about the ones who say you can’t because….they do really mean this is my excuse for not doing it.
    Funny how it’s ok though for a few fellow workers to go to the gym after work and stand around truly sweating as a measure of ‘look how hard i trained tonight’ but if you walk through the door with a bead of sweat on you after riding the bike it’s!!!!!

  6. Aaron says:

    I’d also recommend wearing merino wool. They don’t stink after a ride like synthetic fabrics do so you have less smell to clean off your body.

    As for baby wipes/towelettes and their effectiveness. Let’s just say that if I use them on my nether regions after a ride, my wife doesn’t notice the difference between that and a shower when we are, ahem, intimate.

  7. Cori says:

    I moved from car loving Detroit to Bike Friendly Toronto last fall. I figured, what better time than now to start bike commuting. Being a girl, the biggest problem was always my hair…hard to rinse/wash and style your hair in a public bathroom! Any tips for this, bike commuting ladies??? While I ended up taking public transit through the winter, I sort of solved my problem by moving even closer to work, so that even in the most inclimate weather, I can usually get to work looking pretty decent 🙂

  8. Ted Johnson says:

    This post spent all morning with “towelette” spelled incorrectly in the title. That was my fault, not Bob’s — in case anyone noticed.

    Sorry, Bob.

  9. Gene @ BU says:

    Tal, I agree. A good old wash cloth and towel does the trick plus they’re reusable and inexpensive. I wash with cold water to cool my body down quicker. Also Gold Bond body power does the job after a quick clean up. I’m lucky in that I can wash up in the building maintenance locker room in the basement. If I’m really hot and sweaty I take a shower at the local “Y” just down the street but that adds another 30 minutes to the work day.

  10. camp7NdN says:

    Hey @Aaron … fucking ewww – Now I know somewhere out there in the world – there is a couple that smells like hot ass and doesn’t mind it at all.

  11. David says:

    I commute to school and was self conscious about this issue for a while. I usually take a camp towel with me and some gold bond and deoderant. But some days I just bask in the sweaty gloriousness of knowing that I get to rub a little commuting reality into my classmates, erm, noses.

    But then again, hygiene is naturally of considerable less importance to a college student than to an office professional.

  12. Jim says:

    Seems a bit weird to divulge cleaning up after a ride, but this is what I do after a year of commuting. Actually, may look a little psychotic, but there you go…

    1. Wipe the pits of doom with one baby wipe, one side for each pit of doom

    2. Run the basin and wash face, hair, and then maneuver pits of doom over basin and splash ’em with some water (they are cleaned up from the wipes already, so not poor form on my fellow basin users).

    3. Use a dry cotton terry hand cloth to dry hair and face, then dampen and wipe down rest of upper body, then pits of doom (otherwise would be spreading the doom).

    4. Change into work clothes including underclothes and socks. Leave shirt open.

    5. Spray deoderant on the pits of doom inside the shirt, to scent the shirt as well as the pits of doom.

    6. Button up, style hair, go to work.

    Takes like 10 minutes. I’m amazed so many think it is such a mission, it’s easy.

  13. Ray says:

    I shower in the morning and do the bike/bus/bike commute to work: 1.9 miles on the bike, 30 miles on the bus, and 5 more miles on the bike to the office. In the summer, I’m wearing shorts and a tee shirt when on the bike. Both shorts and tee, neither of which are “cycling clothes”, are made with moisture-wicking fabric. Office clothes are in a bag and bungeed to the bike rack. When I arrive at the office, I’m usually quite wet. Summer temps during my morning commute can be in the upper 70’s and lower 80’s and the humidity in the mornings is right up there, too. Needless to say, when I arrive after the five mile section, I’m sweating at a fairly moderate rate…

    In the office, I just sit in my cube for about an hour or 1.5 hrs and just evaporate. I do use a small terry cloth towel to wipe off the sweat, but I just sit at my desk with a little fan running and dry out. Once dry, I change into my office clothes.

    Do I stink or give off obnoxious odors? I don’t notice anything. I’ve been doing this for a year now and nobody has openly complained.

  14. alsatiannd says:

    Crystal deodorants work great. It’s basically a lump of alum salt. Wet it and apply. The salts prevent bacteria growth, which is what makes you stink. Crystal deodorants are available at Whole Foods and GNC stores.

  15. burnhamish says:

    Last few years of commuting, I just shower in the morning as usual, wipe down with a towel (wet towel if particularly hot & sweaty) and apply deodorant. No convenient shower available. I suppose I arrive to work before the bacteria can start their smelly work, in spite of a 19 mile trip (now 11, since I moved). No hair issues (sorry, no help for the longer-haired members of our community). I don’t fare as well after the trip home, but then, who cares? I have a shower if I really need one.

  16. mombrakesforbikes says:

    @Cori- What, no other women here? But yeah, hair is a problem for those of us who wear it longer. I tried dry shampoos/hair refreshers, and the ones that worked the best, Stila Hair Refresh and Cake Hair and Body Refreshing Powder, also tend to be pricey. If you use these daily after your morning commute, you could easily be spending $50 a month on product—the same amount I spend to fill my occasionally-used Camry.

    Finally I took the cheap and easy route and had my locks chopped off. Not as short as a guy’s, but enough that a quick brushing and some finger-styling usually brings it back to life. I also still use dry shampoo if I get sweatier than usual.

  17. BluesCat says:

    Okay folks, think of my nom de plume.

    Okay, now expand that thinking to include where the critter described by that nom de plume goes to the rest room.

    Now think of the aroma of that clay-filled box on day like today in Phoenix: 110° F … sun so bright the vampires retreat to the SUB-sub-basement.

    That’s probably what the Ol’ Cat smells like when he parks his bike at the office. Once again, I am SO happy I have a shower not a hundred paces from where I park the bike. I don’t think a CASE of Anti Monkey Butt Safari Towels would work for me on days like this … maybe during the winter.

  18. Karen says:

    @Cori – I did the same as mombrakes4bikes and got my hair cut fairly short. When I get to work if my hair is damp (from sweating) I just comb it into the closest possible semblance of the natural style I usually wear. If it’s not damp I wet my hands and run them through my hair, then comb.

    Also agree about timing on showering. I shower when I get up and apply deodorant. If necessary when I get to work I reapply deodorant. I have a couple of trustworthy office mates who’ve promised to tell me if I’m ever smelling ripe – hasn’t happened yet.

  19. Ted Johnson says:

    Hooray @Karen!

    One of these days I’m going to write my manifesto: Hair is the Oppressor, and people around the world will rise up and ignore it.

  20. Rick says:

    I usually shower the night before and bring a change of clothes. I don’t really wipe down when I get to work because that way people stay out of my office and I can get more work done. Just kidding, well kind of… One thing that does help Is when I change my clothes I will usually wait about 30 minutes or so till I’m dry so I am not covered in sweat and jumping into clean clothes Although not everyone can afford this luxury.

  21. @Cori: I’ve had very short hair but find that it’s harder and more expensive to maintain than the classic bob. I wear my hair in a lightly, lightly layered classic bob and it is easy to shape up again after a ride wearing a helmet. For especially hot days when I might get sweaty hair, I keep a paddle brush and comb along with a desk sized blow dryer in my desk drawer. I just have to leave for work a little earlier than I normally would to get my hair back i shape. Then again, I mostly bike in lanes or on a segrated bike path so quite often I just don’t bother with a helmet.

  22. Jim says:

    @ the ladies,
    Isn’t doing your hair at home and doing it at the office just taking time from one place and putting it in another? Like, if you don’t do it at home, it saves you that time, so you can go to the office earlier, and then spend that same amount of time getting it right once you get there?

  23. Fig says:

    OOOh one more potential issue:
    Not all work bathrooms have outlets in convenient places for doing hair. (My hair dryer has a relatively short cord and needs an outlet to be adjacent to the mirror for me to be able to blow dry successfully. )
    Find a bathroom that has the right set up, or invest in an extension cord and keep that with your hair stuff.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Hair is the Oppressor

  24. Susan says:

    After reading this article I ordered some of the Safari Towels. My commute is far enough and my climate hot enough, that during the summer, I definitely want to clean up. I have to wait about 30 minutes to stop sweating.

    Have the ability to keep an extra set of makeup and a hair dryer around, but never cared for baby wipes that much, so a wet wash cloth and a dry hand towel have been my main clean up at work.

    These were great. Much better than my current practice, and the sheer size of these make it significantly more practical and functional than typical baby wipes.

    Thanks. I’m getting more!

  25. Bill Graham says:

    I commute 6.49 miles to work every few days. I live in Dallas and this includes the summer months. Last year, we had 30+ straight days of 100+ weather. I thought it would be hell, but eh. Not too bad. My biggest archenemy is wind. Wind kills my mood. I hate windy days. I’d take a 105 degree day with no wind versus and 80 degree day with lots of wind.

    Anyways, here is my routine. I think bringing my clothes to work would be a definite deal breaker. It would require panniers and the less stuff ON my bike, the better. I keep a pair of dress shoes, two pants, along with several undergarments, shirts, and wipes at the office.

    Once I arrive, if I need to I wait to cool off. In the 100+ degree weather, this may take 20 minutes or so until I no longer sweat profusely. Then I use Action Wipes, which are reusable natural towelettes that are much larger than normal baby wipes. They have a Tea Trea Oil scent which is quite pleasant, and you can wash them afterwards and use them as sturdy towels.

    I wipe face, arms, back, legs, and finish up with the nether regions. Then I dress into my work clothes. I do this in the bathroom stall and it takes 5-10 minutes.

    I always shower and shave before work. I also bring lunch and dinner with me in the form of smoothies. In fact, I can bring enough supplies for an 8 hour work shift including lunch, and I eat every three hours… That’s what water bottle holders are for!

    I always have an emergency mini pump, tire levers, a multitool, and a spare tube.

  26. plh says:

    Wet One’s “Big One’s” Available in places like Target etc. Not only will one towel do you, but they will actually remove grease from clothing. Very handy if your pant leg brushes you grease caked chain.
    I happen to be blessed with a private office (in a world of cubicles, and I’m a lowly engineer — somebody loves me!) so that make it easy.
    I have a complete change-out stashed at work, just in case. All the way down to the underwear and including shoes and belt. However, I have not used it in a long time because I have applied my engineering skills to the problem of How to Stay Dry on a Bicycle When it is Raining.

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