Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Beginner's Series: Dealing with the Heat and Humidity

This guy almost died from the SG heat.
Tropical weather can get to you. And it is also one of the biggest reasons why people here don't commute by bike. When you have weather that hovers around 32 degrees, you'll know that one of the biggest challenges would be sweat. And then there's the humidity in Singapore. There just isn't a good way to enjoy cycling without paying big time when it comes to hygiene.

Some people are blessed with bodies that don't reek after they sweat. However, others do, and therefore, cycle commuting can be quite a turn-off especially when you are heading off for a social event, such as going to the movies. Nobody likes smelly friends.

Here are some tips which I find very useful for dealing with the heat and humidity.

Dressing Right
The Europeans might wear their business clothes to when cycling to work, but that isn't realistic in Singapore. Neither is wearing lycra tights, especially if you aren't heading to a place with a shower, such as the mall or to the local market. The best way to compromise is to dress like a Singaporean - dress like shit.

I've heard a few criticisms that Singaporeans don't dress well, being in flip-flops, singlets, shorts and pretty much dressing down even when going to Orchard Road, but it's a function of pragmatism, I'd like to think. Over here, the weather is shit, and as a result, we dress accordingly.

The most important place to start is the shirt. As we go from the hips upward, the body starts to become more sensitive to things that make us uncomfortable. That means heat, sweat and a feeling of "stickiness". Our legs, however, are more tolerant.

Cotton is a great material, but I'd advise against it because cotton absorbs sweat and holds it in for a very long time, giving you the uncomfortable feeling of having sweat all over your chest. It's disgusting.

The best way to dress is to wear dry-fit, and the best part about dry-fit is that it can look stylish without compromising on the sweat-dissipating ability. Dry-fit also doesn't have the "sticky" feeling that cotton has, making it an excellent choice of fabric. But as you will see below, dry-fit can be a stench-attracting material.

On more formal occasions, where you'll need to wear a proper shirt, what you can do is to layer your clothes. When you cycle, wear a dry-fit singlet and cycle to your destination. Bring the formal shirt along so that you can put it on later at your destination. You might look a bit funny wearing black trousers with a belt and oxfords, but it'll pay dividends when you reach your destination and your shirt isn't ruined by sweat. I did this for a job interview when heading into the CBD and I looked quite good, I'd like to think.

As aforementioned, the legs are more tolerant, and therefore, you can actually wear jeans and cycle. You might feel some 'hotspots' in the first half-hour or so, but it will dissipate as your legs get back to normal temperature.

Of course, if you aren't going anywhere too demanding impression-wise, you can just wear shorts, shirt and flip-flops. Dress like shit, keeps you cool, calm and comfortable.

Dealing with Smell
Certain arguments on the origins of nasty stenches after sweating lie in the fact that sweat 'activates' bacteria, in a sense that it fosters the growth of bacteria, to a point where bad smells grow. Therefore, if you are a person who is susceptible to such problems, often a good shower before going out would rid your body of bacteria, thereby lowering the chance of smelling bad.

Deodorant and pre-soaped baby wipes after the ride can help to eliminate bacteria and smell. Bacteria grows where it is moist and dark, so ensure that areas with those conditions are thoroughly wiped.

The other observation that I have noticed is that wearing dry-fit can open a can of worms. The way dry-fit works is that they allow a big surface area for sweat to soak, and because of the large surface area, allows the sweat to evaporate faster. However, the big surface area can also attract a lot of bacteria, and the worst offenders have to be lower quality dry-fit. You can tell the difference when you feel the texture of the dry-fit. If the fabric feels "coarse", then you'll likely get smelly faster, however, if the dry-fit fabric is smooth to touch, it will likely be less susceptible.

Dealing with Uncomfortable Sweat

Have you ever noticed that sweating is a small problem when you are in motion - when the wind is in your face? However, immediately after you stop, your face would start dripping sweat?

The best way to counteract this is to prepare a towel. Though a towel can only ameliorate the amount of sweat dripping down your brow into your eyes, etc. It will not tell the body to stop sweating, and that's because the body is still trying to cool down, but using a towel does help to get rid of the uncomfortable feeling.

I've also noticed that, against the advice of most medical practitioners, that heading into an air-conditioned room immediately after riding will help to cool your body down a lot faster and make you sweat a lot less. Immediately after locking a bike, I would go into a mall and you'll notice that you'll cool off a lot faster than if you hung out in the sun. Of course, a less extreme example would be just to find a fan and sit around it.

Both do present a risk of you catching a cold, so you need to know how your body reacts to extreme changes in environment before you try this.

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