Heat Week Opinion: In defense of sweating to get somewhere

Is e-bike technology threatening our right to perspire professionally?
5 min. read
Is it damp in here?
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Griping about sweating on a bike used to be a lot more fun. Back in the day, I could reliably bait bike people into affirming my nastiness.

Get over it. Who cares if you're sweaty? Body fluids smell better than gasoline. Bike tough, buddy.

All that militant biker posturing was mostly an embarrassment -- especially when embodied by someone like me, who regularly drives. Still, embracing the feverish screeds of true-believers often pushed me toward my bike.

Recently, I took to Twitter to whine about not wanting to saddle up because I didn't want to get sweaty before work. I hoped for some encouragement. Instead, I was greeted with a very different type of feedback: "Get an e-bike."

For just $1,999 (or less with a City of Denver rebate) and some coal-fired power, you too can be fresh for the boss. Sweat not.

Seriously? If I don't want to sweat, the solution is to spend hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars instead of suffering a few strongly-worded cliches like "toughen up" or "embrace your body" or "you go, Slick!"

Certain types of misery, like sweating and boredom, are existentially crucial. Isn't that one of the joys of biking: To be in touch with our bodies and our environments?

Baffled by this "get an e-bike" response, I reached out to some professional bike people for their take. Are e-bikes threatening our right to sweat?

Aishwarya Krishnamoorthy, a spokesperson for Bicycle Colorado, is no stranger to sweating while biking.

She lived in humid Western New York before moving to Denver. There, she learned to live with sweat -- but she's still sympathetic with those of us who might be uneasy about it.

"I understand the desire not to sweat, especially if work demands that you have to come in looking put-together or presentable or if it feels gross to you," she said. "I totally get it, especially because it's very hot right now. I also love the idea of not showing up sweaty to the doctor's office or to a friend's house."

Ultimately, she finds ways to mitigate sweat. Here are her tips.

Bike early, before the temperature rises, or late, after things cool off.

Go slowly.

Tote along fresh clothes, dry off and change in the bathroom.

"Bring some wet wipes or wipe yourself down with toilet paper," Krishnamoorthy said. Scratch that. "I would say pat! Wiping will rip the toilet paper and make you have toilet-paper pieces all over you. Pat yourself dry."

Keep deodorant in your desk.


Kyle Harris sweats after a bike ride to work. July 19, 2022
Kyle Harris / Denverite

As for whether bosses will start frowning on regular bike users, she said no -- not everybody can just "get an e-bike."

If bosses don't want to pony up for parking and want to encourage biking, they could have private changing areas, showers, and bike storage.

And really, they might consider incentivizing people who sweat their way to work with other perks: Bonuses, anybody?

"You don't have to quote me on this if you don't want to: Sweating is a natural body function," Krishnamoorthy said. "It happens when we exert ourselves. It's good to get exercise. It means you're moving your body, and your body is doing your natural response thing. But I'm not super grossed out by bodily fluids, so I might be unusual here."

Is it weird Krishnamoorthy doesn't find sweat super gross?

I reached out to Molly McKinley of the Denver Streets Partnership to find out. Turns out, she was even more enthusiastic about sweat.

"Sweating has been a huge part of my life," McKinley said. "I've been an athlete and a bike commuter and just a generally sweaty person for as long as I can remember.

"I used to be really weird about it," she continued. "I used to bring a change of clothes and the wipes and the stuff and having this whole routine just to not be sweating around other people. My attitude about it has changed. And I just sort of accept it as a part of being a human."

When she looks around at other people outside, they're sweating too, so she's in good company.

"When I show up somewhere, I'm a little bit sweaty because I biked there," she said. "At this point, it's part of the experience. My body burns burritos to come here, and I'm sweaty because it's hot. It's just this biological process, and I care so much less about it now... It's part of embracing my body and how cool it is my body moved me here on my bike. Yeah, I'm sweating. But that's just because I did a cool thing."

For both McKinley and Krishnamoorthy, e-bikes aren't an option because of where they live -- so sweating is their future.

"I love riding an e-bike," McKinley said. "I think they're super fun and really great, especially for carrying stuff. I don't have one, and I live on the third floor of an apartment, and I don't think that I'll be getting one in the future -- in the near future, at least -- because I just can't carry it up to my apartment, and there's no other reliable storage for it.

"So for the foreseeable future," she said, "I'll be sweating it out on my -- well, what we affectionately call in our office -- acoustic bike."

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