Ask a Stupid Question #2: How often to wash your kit when commuting, clipless vs. flats, and proper helmet use

Ask A Stupid Question - ask Bikerumor your bicycle maintenance and tech questions and we'll find the answer

We know, there’s no such thing as a stupid question. But there are definitely some questions too embarrassing to ask your local shop or riding buddies. This is the first in a weekly installment where we get to the bottom of your questions – serious or otherwise. 

This week it’s all about gear. In one way or another, we all use it – but the little details aren’t always so clear.

Chris asks: So… I commute by bike 24 miles a day, too far to commute in clothes so I use a kit (bibs and jersey). The problem is I’m always washing them. Literally all the time so wear and tear in washing. Am I doing this right and wear once and done, or do others wear their bibs more than once before washing. Also I sweat like a maniac. Thanks!!!

That’s a great question, and while it seems like a simple answer, we wanted to be sure. So we reached out to a few clothing companies to ask their opinion, and the responses are fairly unanimous…

First up, Andrew Hammond who is the Global Brand Manager for Pearl Izumi, replied, “You’re doing this right! Three things can be done to help your gear last longer: Wash on gentle cycle (warm or cold is fine), use a small wash bag (this minimizes tangles and snags) and if your climate and timeline permits, hang dry (machine dry on low is OK unless the garment says otherwise). Also, to get the most performance out of your gear use a fragrance free detergent and skip dryer sheets. Both have oils that clog technical fibers, reducing their ability to keep you dry when you’re sweating heavily.”

Pactimo’s Retail Brand Manager Josh Cook had similar advice, “In short, every time you wear your bibs, you should wash them. We always recommend a cold wash and hand dry. Since you are using them every day, make sure to have a few pairs of bibs you can rotate through. Each night after you get home just wash them out in the sink or shower and hang them up to dry outside or right there in the bathroom. Considering the amount of sweat that builds up and is absorbed through the chamois during exertion, cleaning no matter what is essential. Yes, washing does increase wear and tear on the garment (the type of washing you do will dictate how much), but the effect of sweaty, soiled clothing being left is potentially more damaging over time. Taking the time to hand wash your bibs is ideal, but a gentle cycle with cold water works just fine. Avoid dryers and fabric softeners and always hang them up to dry.

Finally, we got a response from Don Powell, the Founder and President of Panache Cyclewear, who echoed the previous statements saying, “The answer is, YES, you should absolutely wash your kit after every use. If you’re taint touches it, wash it after use. Good advice. Why? A couple reasons: You don’t want to be THAT guy or gal out there on the road whom everyone within 20m can smell. Not good. Beyond the olfactory issue, there’s basic hygiene. One of the worse afflictions a rider faces is the dreaded saddle sore. There’s two keys to avoiding such: a chamois pad that moves with your body (has a lot of stretch). This helps avoid chaffing. And second, you want a clean chamois pad to get rid of any germs and bacteria. A bad chamois pad plus bacteria is your recipe for sores. You mention that you sweat a lot. This is another reason to wash your kit after each ride. That salt, once off your body, will revert to its crystal state and significantly increase your chance for chaffing. Hope this helps!”

Update: Just got this response in from Lexie Sarkisian, the Brand Experience Representative for Assos:

A round trip ride of 48 miles definitely warrants a wash of your bibs. We always recommend washing your bibs on delicate/cold and hanging them out to dry. ASSOS Active Wear Cleanser is the best soap to use because it’s delicate on elastic fibers, pH neutral, neutralizes odors, enhances textile breathability and maintains sharp color sublimation.

We also recommend applying a small amount of ASSOS Chamois Cream to your chamois before every ride and every wash. The antibacterial properties of this cream will keep things clean and prolong the life of your chamois. 

After your 24 mile trip to the office, it’s best to hang your kit up in the locker room or bathroom to allow sweat to dry out and apply the chamois cream before you hit the road home. 

To sum it up, yes, you are doing it right. We all know good kit can be expensive, but a few pairs of shorts to rotate through is good advice – especially if you’re riding every day. There are a number of kit washes out there from brands like Paceline Product (Chamois Butt’r), Assos, Nikwax, etc that are designed for hand washing in your sink. Combined with hang drying or minimal time in the dryer should help make your kit last a little longer. But above all else – you’ll be comfortable and won’t smell.

Ng Yong Ling wants to know: Why do some cyclists wear their helmets back-to-front?

That’s a good one. I’d have to assume it’s just due to inexperience with a modern helmet or cycling in general. Either that, or it’s someone pretending to not know which way is front and purposely putting an aero helmet on backwards (or does that just happen in bike shops during the slow months?). It seems silly to most of us who are constantly around people wearing them correctly, but for someone who may have never seen one before I suppose it could be tricky – which is probably why I’ve seen some helmets that have a sticker on the inside reading “Front ⇒”. We’ve all been a complete beginner at something before so if you see someone struggling with helmet direction, politely offer to help and try not to make them feel too foolish.

Finally, Marc asks: Why use clipless pedals if you’re not a competitor ? Clipless pedals are technically complex, compared to flats; being clipped in is scary in slow, technical descents. And unclipping can be difficult when the pedals are clogged by the clay-like mud we tend to have in our area. I’d rather spend time improving my riding skills then my unclipping skills. However in magazines and web sites (including Bikerumor), most photos are of riders using clipless, for some reason.

You’ve just tapped into one of the great debates of mountain biking, and one that has gotten a lot more press recently due to the rise of excellent flat pedals and corresponding foot wear. That in itself is one of the big reasons for the split. Many riders, including myself, started riding when decent flats and shoes didn’t really exist. Your choices were essentially BMX pedals (which weren’t very good at the time), flat pedals with old fashioned toe cages, flat pedals with Power Grips (my favorite before I switched to clipless), and clipless pedals. Flat pedals that offered huge platforms with amazing grip just didn’t exist so a lot of riders started on clipless and have stuck with what they know.

I’m a big proponent of learning how to efficiently ride with flats. Clipless allows you to “cheat” in a lot of situations rather than developing proper technique and body language to keep your feet on the pedals. However, after starting on clipless for MTB, then spending the better part of my high school and college years ripping around on flats, I went back to clipless and haven’t looked back (except for my dirt jumper). In my personal experience, once you know how to ride with flats, those skills combined with the benefits of clipless pedals makes for the perfect performance package. Also, I got tired of shinning myself and constantly turning my shins into hamburger – though that was usually a result of some stupid high drop to flat. I find that with clipless, one of the best features is the consistent positioning of your feet on the pedal. No matter how you clip in, you’ll always end up at the same spot on the pedal. With good flats and good shoes, I find myself constantly adjusting my feet and twisting the grippy shoes against the equally grippy pedals which eventually leads to knee pain for me.

Of course more than anything, it boils down to personal preference. I don’t find them to be any more scary than flat pedals since I’m so used to them at this point, and tend to ride clipless even for DH riding. As for clay/mud – certain clipless pedals are definitely better than others, but that’s a solid reason to go with flats (as long as your pedals have long enough pins to get through the muck). I don’t think you really have to spend much time on unclipping skills. For me, it was just riding. And riding. Then maybe falling over. And riding some more.

But by all means, if you’re on flats and they work for you – stick with it!

Got a question of your own?  Click here to use the AASQ form, or find the link under the Contact menu header up top anytime a question pops into your mind!


15 thoughts on “Ask a Stupid Question #2: How often to wash your kit when commuting, clipless vs. flats, and proper helmet use

  1. The whole pedal thing is really interesting. Especially when you consider how normalized clip-less pedals are for recreational cyclist.

    Considering flat pedals are fine for most any situation where your feet are unlikely to get knocked or pulled off the pedals(rough terrain or steep climbs in big gears.) The vast majority of pedal power comes from pushing down! So clip-less are only really a benefit when your feet might come off or if you are doing a lot of climbing in big gears(when you don’t have enough power to push the backstroke through the top of the pedal stroke.)

    For ‘regular’ riding; roads, easy trails, commuting, etc, flat pedals do the same job and are maybe better depending on if you want to walk around, or whatever not on the bike.

    just for grins, I would like to see someone do a non-hilly road race on some flats!

    1. Your feet also can come off the pedal if you’re spinning really high rpm. Think of the crank like a little catapult where the foot pushing down is using the crank to throw the other foot. And you really don’t want to have to apply downward force on the other foot just to keep it on the pedal.

      1. It doesn’t happen with good pedal/shoes combo in my experience these last 2 months riding flats.

        Besides rooty/rocky/bumpy trails the biggest downside of flat pedals is in the very limited situation where you are overgeared such as in a very steep gradient. This is one of the rare occasions where pulling the pedal can have benefits to circumvent the “dead spot” zone between the two power strokes in a crank revolution. For this reason I think a flat pedal rider would benefit much more from oval chainrings than a clipless rider.

    1. I ride that far to work in my regular clothes. I do keep extras at work for when i get to sweaty. I also have acsess to a shower. I feel like in the winter i can ware the same shorts all week but there is a shift in seasons to where i have to shower and change after every ride thanks to living in the humid south.

    1. I’ve seen it many times. The interior shape of the helmet doesn’t prevent it so if you have a non-adjustable helmet (and you are stupid or a kid) it can happen. I’ve never had the heart to tell someone though…does that make me a bad person?

  2. “Clipless pedals are technically complex, compared to flats; being clipped in is scary in slow, technical descents. And unclipping can be difficult when the pedals are clogged by the clay-like mud we tend to have in our area.”

    I, and dozens of other riders I know do not experience any of those things.

  3. Pretty sure I’ve never seen anybody wearing a helmet backwards! Is this really a thing?

    About clipless pedals: they also keep the ball of your foot over the shaft of your pedal, generally where it should be.

    1. I’ve had surgeries on both knees from a traumatic kickboxing dislocation and falling on some ice. I’ve tried riding platforms but it hurts my knees. Basically I need cleats in just the right spot on all my shoes or I have to pop my knee every 5 minutes.

    2. I think that this fixed position ball of the foot argument goes the other way too. Flat pedals let you move your foot around as needed for comfort.

      Some argue that pedaling is more efficient when your foot is centered over the axle (instead of rearward of it, as is the case with ball of the foot position.) See pedals like mks lambda or pedaling innovations catalyst which are designed with a ‘centered’ foot over axle position in mind.

  4. On the bibs issue, it’s two 24 mile rides. I’d be tempted to choose a set of reasonably priced bibs that you can tolerate for that long (rather than Sunday best levels of comfort) and then ask your LBS for a price on 5 pairs. Yes it’s a lot of money, but compared to wear and tear on the car, or some sort of chronic crotch rot it seems pretty cheap.

    I’d imagine that jerseys are less of an issue because people tend to have a larger collection (I know I do)

    Finally, there are other fringe benefits, for example you will have enough dirty kit to run a dedicated kit wash using an appropriate tech wash as described in the article. Buying tech wash in bulk becomes much more cost effective.

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