"Is that you? What's that smell? It stinks!"
These are words you don't want to hear while on a bike ride with your mates. Of course you will get sweaty and a bit smelly while riding, especially in summer. Sometimes, though, there seems to be another, higher level of stink... Yep, you know the one. It's the stench that makes you dry retch or hold your breath when riding down wind from a fellow rider. Or it's the smell of your jersey or shorts that always seem to have an off scent no matter how many times they've been washed.
Why are some people perpetually smelly when riding? Is it them? Is it their cycling clothes? Is it both? You don't want to be that person that no one wants to ride with, so take a good shower and then let's take a closer look at a solution to help you un-stink your kit.
How to un-stink your cycling kit and gear
- Cycling clothes should be washed after each wear and as soon as possible. Don't leave them on the floor or in a bag in a crumpled wet mess. This will only cause mold or mildew, which will stink.
- Wash clothes with a sports-specific wash. Try products like Halo Proactive Sports Wash, Nathan Sport Wash, Downy Fresh Protect, Nikwax, or Sports Suds, to give it a good clean. Each of these products claim to reduce bad odors in sports clothing.
- Wash using alternative remedies. Grandma would recommend washing with baking soda and rinsing with vinegar (use 1 cup of baking soda and ½ a cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle). The Internet is also full of other random remedies like using dishwasher rinse aid, salt, and even vodka.
- Don't use harsh cleaners and avoid fabric softeners as they may prematurely break down the fabric.
- Give your kit a good long rinse with no laundry detergent. You may have a buildup of detergent and bacteria trapped in the fibers of the fabric.
- This may come to a surprise to most downhillers: body armor will eventually stink if it isn't getting washed. For the sake of everyone else on the shuttle bus or chairlift, give it a wash every now and then. Hand wash your body armor, knee, and elbow pads in a bath or laundry tub. Fill it up, add laundry detergent, and dunk and scrub your armor.
- Ensure clothes and body armor are completely dry before putting them away. Hang drying is great and often recommended by manufacturers, but don't hang directly in the sun as it could destroy Lycra or rubber grippers.
- A dirty washing machine won't clean clothes, so give yours a freshening using a hot wash and vinegar.
- Throw your stinky cycling clothes in a large Ziploc bag with a box of baking soda and then put it in your freezer overnight. The cold will help kill the smell and the baking soda will absorb it.
Not all stinky polyester bike clothing is equal
If the tips listed above don't fix the stink, the problem could be more than how you care for your cycling kit. No doubt you have a cheap jersey that starts to smell 10 minutes into a ride, while your expensive one stays stench-free for multiple rides... what gives? Could it be a difference in the material? Both tops are made of 100% polyester (which is common for bike jerseys). If they are the made from the same thing, why does one stink and one not?
A Google search for ‘polyester' showed lots of big words like ‘long-chain polymers, chemically composed, ester and dihydric alcohol, carboxylic acid and terephthalic acid'. To put it simply, it's a synthetic fiber. Synthetic fibers tend to dry faster whereas natural fibers (like cotton or wool) absorb more. Apparently, the bacteria that grow on polyester are different to that on cotton, and the polyester loving bacteria are the stinky variety.
Expensive polyesters are more likely to be higher quality and feature better breathability (with moisture or sweat wicking properties to keep away the stench). Cheaply made, poor quality polyester jerseys are often the ones causing the stink trouble. Every brand has a different name for sweat management polyester (e.g., Dri-FIT, Climacool, HI FIL, Champ-sys Tech), which makes it hard to compare, but if you buy a cheap polyester jersey with no special moisture management properties, it is far more likely your sweaty armpit microbes are breeding in its polyester, causing a bigger stink.
The bottom line: Ensure you wash and dry your cycling gear properly. If you still can't shake the stink, consider buying some new, good quality polyester cycling jerseys and shorts or those made out of natural fibers like Merino wool.
Compare these 3 jerseys
that should perform for even the stinkiest riders
POC AVIP jersey | Giro CA Ride jersey | POC Raceday Climber jersey