Morning commute

Staying Below the Sweat Threshold

Photo by Dottie, a lawyer in Chicago who bike commutes to work and writes for She has a great related post on how to bike commute in a suit.

The sweat threshold is the level of physical activity above which you begin to
sweat. Bike commuters ride below the sweat threshold– sometimes just below it– to arrive at the destination presentable and without using special clothing for cycling.

Learning to ride just below the sweat threshold can take some practice. I recall sprinting to church, planning to slow down as soon as I hit the threshold. I arrived there dry, only to start dumping sweat once I stopped moving. To successfully ride just below the threshold you have to be able to anticipate when you might start to sweat some time before you actually do.

On the other hand, given a generous margin for error, it doesn’t have to be complicated. In my climate, for most of the year I can walk around for hours without starting to sweat much, while running would bring sweat on quickly.

Riding a bike with walking-effort instead of running-effort can be an easy way to stay below the sweat threshold for some people. Even then, some habits may need to change. There can be an instinct to muscle up hills on a bike when you would otherwise be riding slowly. To keep the effort low, it may be necessary to slow down, gear down, or get off and walk up the hill.

A walking speed is about 2 to 3 miles per hour, and a bike is about 4 times more efficient than walking for the level of effort. So, applying walking-effort to cycling yields a speed of about 10 miles per hour– about 1 mile every 6 minutes.

While this approach to cycling may seem “slow”, it means being able to go a mile in 6 minutes, two miles in 12 minutes, or 3 miles in 18 minutes. In my town, that means I can get to most destinations in about 15 minutes– without sweating!

Further, the sweat threshold is often a one-way consideration. When riding back home it is often less of an issue– put the hammer down or take the scenic way home!

Also, cooler and cold weather riding can be an opportunity to raise the level of exertion before you hit the sweat threshold. Moderate exertion can count as a layer of clothing, so I dress lighter on trips where I know I’m going to put out a steady effort during the commute. With this method, I’m able to run a mile to work at 26F while just beginning to break a sweat by the time I arrive.

Don’t miss the opportunity to slow down, stay below the sweat threshold, and enjoy some more time, exercise and miles out on your bike.

When time or effort would not otherwise allow for a sweat-free trip by bike, electric assist is also an option. My wife uses an electric cargo bike from Cycle 9 to drop our child off our child at daycare and then arrive at a college teaching job by 8:00 am. Morning commute