Just Ask Jack

Just Ask Jack — Beating the Stink?

Phil sent in the following question:

Could you post an article or question on how to clean polyester bike jerseys? I use bright neon green jerseys from Performance and DeFeet unDshirts (however that’s spelled) and they’re starting to get, um, aromatic – despite regular washing.

Ah, synthetic fibers…the same wonder fibers that help channel sweat away from us while we ride are also notorious for retaining body odors. Under high magnification, you many notice that many of these fibers are hollow or shaped with a lot of surface area, leaving plenty of space for odor-causing bacteria to hide. A well-used jersey or other synthetic-based athletic garment can become pretty ripe, and normal washing sometimes isn’t enough.

So what can we do? While I’ve never had this problem with cycling jerseys, I have experienced it with synthetic backpacking layers (under layers and mid-weight warmth layers). Perhaps hiking far away from showers contributed to the accumulation of “funk”…but I discovered that a good airing out in a sunny location can do a lot to combat these odors.

I asked some of our fellow staff members here if they had particular techniques worth sharing: RL soaks his stinky clothes in a bucket full of water and dishwashing soap for an hour or two prior to the normal washing, and he has had good success with this. Noah offered two techniques. The first is soaking the clothes in a very hot water and baking soda solution (half a cup of baking soda) for 10 to 20 minutes, then a normal wash. Noah suggested not to rinse the baking soda out of the offending clothes prior to washing — extra contact time is probably a good thing. His other technique is normal washing but a trip into the dryer on high heat, preferably in a small load or by itself. I’m a bit skeptical of that method, as some synthetics do not survive well in a high-heat environment.

One thing not to do is to use fabric softener liquids or sheets to make the offending clothes smell better. The oils and perfumes in fabric softeners will clog the moisture-wicking pores of the garment, ruining the effectiveness of that performance fabric.

One other suggestion I got from one of my bike club friends was to “wear wool” — wool is naturally antibacterial and has a pretty amazing ability to ward off four odors, even when worn for a couple days straight without washing. I have a wool jersey and I can proudly say it never stinks…but then again it is more of a cool-weather garment. Wool and 95 degrees plus 80% or more humidity is not a good combination in my book.

There are a variety of specialty fabric washes on the market that claim to eliminate built-up odors, but I’ve never tried any of them. Some of the common brands are ReviveX and “Sink the Stink”.

Bicycling Magazine recently had an article about this very problem…there are a few other tips that may be of use in that article, too. Check it out by clicking here. While you’re over there, check out their featured article titled “Commit to Commute“. You might recognize a few names in there!

If anyone else has tried-and-true tips on beating the stink, we’d love to hear them. Just put them into the comment area below.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.

Just Ask Jack: Dealing With Dogs?

Bob sent in the following question:

I’m looking for some type of user friendly object to carry while riding my road bike to defend against possible dog or other varmint attacks. I ride my bike in neighborhoods and also some rural road stretches. Really would like something user friendly to sling on my back and hands free for managing the bike. Any ideas?

It just so happens that I have a LOT of experience dealing with dogs — just not so much on a bike…in a previous career, I was a health inspector in the hinterlands of rural north Florida, and I encountered frisky and dangerous dogs on a weekly basis. These encounters didn’t always end in a pretty manner, but I learned quite a bit about reading their behavior and getting them to leave me alone as I did my work. Most of the same tactics work when you’re on a bike, too.

Dogs tend to chase cyclists for a couple of reasons. The first is territory protection; you’re invading their perceived space and they want you out of it. The second is natural playfulness…what’s more fun to a dog than chasing a brightly-colored moving object? It’s hard to fault a dog for either of these reasons…they don’t have the reasoning powers that humans do, and some of their behavior can be attributed to lax training on the part of their owners.

So, how does a cyclist deal with a chasing dog? Let’s start with some evasive tactics and escalate the response as we go…

Firstly, being chased by a dog is a great way to work on your sprint! Putting the hammer down and racing away from a dog is a fantastic way to raise your heart rate and get a bit of extra workout. Many dogs will break off a chase when they realize they’re being outclassed by a speedy cyclist. The second tactic is to ride quickly away but in a zig-zag pattern…not always possible on roads where you’re sharing space with motorists. Dogs excel in straight-line speed, but aren’t so good at taking turns, so the zig-zagging can discourage them from continuing a chase.

What else? Your voice can be a powerful deterrent, too. Try talking to the dog in a pleasant tone…”hey, that’s a good dog! You’re pretty fast, aren’t you?” Sometimes this works because the dog no longer thinks you’re a threat; rather, you’re a new friend. Gentle talking isn’t doing the trick? Try shouting “GO HOME!” at the top of your lungs. I’ve seen this work many times — it sends the message that playtime is over.

If, for some reason, the dog manages to stop you, keep your bike between you and the dog and walk away. Don’t turn your back and use your bike as a shield until you’re out of the dog’s perceived territory. If push comes to shove, your bike makes a decent weapon to repel an attack, too.

There are a variety of devices that cyclists have used to repel dogs. When my grandfather hung up his bike for the last time, he gave me his trusted Dazer, an electronic device that emits an ultrasonic tone which drives dogs away. I used mine successfully many times…this thing works!


The Dazer has a handy belt clip that easily attaches to a bag strap or your clothing…one simple press of the button and the dog goes nuts trying to get away from that sound.

Or, you could try the stuff that the U.S. Postal Service issues to its mail carriers…a product called Halt:


Halt is a mild pepper spray that shoots out of the can in a controlled stream. One good dose of this in a dog’s face and they get pretty discouraged. Just be careful that the wind isn’t blowing back toward you…back-spray from CNS and pepper sprays is always a potential side effect from these types of products, and you do NOT want to inhale any of this stuff. It’s incredibly irritating (don’t ask me how I know this!).

Ok, you’ve run out of options and it’s just you and the dog…what else is there? Some folks have been known to carry a collapsible police baton:


I’m not a huge fan of this option, because I really don’t like the thought of whacking a dog with a hard steel instrument. Also, I’d be more tempted to track down the dog’s owner — anyone who lets their dog run wild like this could use a crack upside the head! Besides, if you’re close enough to use a baton, you’re already too close to the dog and are in the “danger zone”. That being said, if the chips are down, one of these might be good to have on hand. Check with your local law enforcement agencies — carrying one of these devices may not be legal in all areas and may even be considered a concealed weapon in some municipalities.

I’m not going to cover the ultimate last-ditch tactic for dealing with aggressive and dangerous dogs: the firearm. That’s way beyond the scope of our site and opens a whole host of potential and actual concerns about legality and the use of deadly force. If you really want to explore this option, please visit Xavier over at Nurse With a Gun. Xavier has forgotten more about gun safety and carry considerations than I’ve ever known, and he’s a dedicated bike commuter on top of that. Some pretty well-reasoned arguments over there that he’s much better equipped to talk about than we are…

So, let’s pray you never have to use ANY of the above techniques and that your rides are blessedly dog-free. But, it pays to familiarize yourself with some of these tactics on the off chance you’re confronted by a dog on the way to work. Ride safe!

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.

Just Ask Jack — What Bike Do I Buy?

We get a lot of “which bike do I buy?� questions submitted to us…a LOT. While we absolutely love to help guide bike purchasers toward suitable commuting bikes, this is an incredibly difficult question to answer without relying on a bunch of generalities…with dozens of great commuter bikes and literally hundreds of other bike models on dealer floors at any given time, there’s a lot to wade through, especially for the novice bike enthusiast.

bike mountain
(image borrowed from

So, I thought it would be a good idea to distill some of those generalities down into a handy “starter guide� for folks to use. I won’t be naming any specific brands or models – that’s not the point of this exercise. Rather, this is intended to get bike shoppers thinking about what they need and expect out of a new bicycle.

Many people go into the bike purchasing experience with only one thing in mind: price. Price is important, of course, but it is only one of many aspects to be considered when selecting a new bicycle; different needs require different features.

Generally, when asked “what bike do I buy?�, I answer the question with a series of my own questions. In no particular order, they are:

–What is my price ceiling?

–Do I plan to use the bike for recreation purposes as well as commuting?

–How long is my commute?

–Is my area flat or hilly?

–Do I plan on hauling books, groceries or other cargo every now and then?

–How comfortable am I with the various gearing and braking systems on modern bicycles?

As you can see, the answers to those questions help narrow the field down – a sleek fixed-gear or singlespeed road bike might be great for a fast, flat long-distance commute but terrible at hauling groceries and children around town, while a sturdy, clunky “grocery getter� would be great for around-town utility purposes but might not be suitable for some recreational uses. Complicated gearing and braking systems might be daunting for the novice bicyclist and utterly unnecessary for someone in a flattish urban environment.

Concerning the price ceiling – be flexible with this. A little more money can mean a lot better of a bike. If this means putting off your purchase for a few more weeks to save up some extra dollars, do it…but don’t forget that a more expensive bike does not mean a more suitable bike for you, merely that it probably has better-quality parts and accessories than a lesser-priced model.

One of the best pieces of advice we can give folks shopping for a new bike is to check out their local bike shops. Walking in and saying, “I’ve got X dollars to spend…what do you have?â€? is an exercise in futility. But, prepared with the answers to the above questions, you and your local shops can help pinpoint something that’s actually suitable for your needs. Still, any old local shop won’t do – they must understand your needs and be receptive to letting you try different models at different price ranges. No one likes the “hard sellâ€? – if a dealer is trying to push you toward a specific model that doesn’t do EVERYTHING you need a bike to do, you’re probably in the wrong shop and should exit gracefully! Visit as many shops as you can…this gives you the opportunity to test and evaluate a whole range of different bikes (and find a trustworthy shop in the process).

The other critical piece of advice we like to share is this: buy the bike that you look forward to riding…comfortable, pretty, feature-packed, whatever. Being excited to ride your new machine is half the battle…and you’re far less likely to be excited by something that doesn’t feel good or doesn’t do what you need it to do.

Buying a new bike is a daunting process; there’s no doubt about that. Arming yourself with some answers and a bit of personal research under your belt can make the whole thing a lot easier to stomach.

Perhaps our readers have some additional considerations for the new bike shopper they’d like to share? If so, have at it in the comments section.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.

Just Ask Jack: Lock Considerations?

I got an email the other day from Jeff Baldwin, a professional locksmith and fellow bike commuter from up in Morristown, New Jersey. In an effort to better serve his customers who ask about good bike locks, he was hoping to get a little input from our readers.


Specifically, he would like some input on which locks have worked well (or poorly) for you folks out there. Have you spent a lot of money on a lock, only to find your bike missing when you went to retrieve it? Also, when purchasing a lock, is convenience and portability part of the equation, or do you stick with the most bulletproof lock you can find? Sometimes the two don’t go hand in hand…I favor a big hardened steel chain with attached padlock or disc lock, but I do NOT relish carrying that behemoth around!

We’ve talked about lock strategy a little bit before…and any tips and tricks you might have in this area would be beneficial.

In any case, other considerations/personal observations and stories you’ve had will be greatly appreciated by Jeff, who will take our input and possibly be able to write up a comprehensive article for the trade journal published by the Associated Locksmiths of America (in addition to better guidance for his customers). You’ve done great for us, dear readers — always ready to lend a hand in developing information to better the bike commuting community. Let’s see what you’ve got!

Just Ask Jack — Good 26″ Commuter Tires?

A question I get a lot around here is “what is an appropriate and good tire choice to convert my mountain bike into a commuter?”

Back in the early 90s, there was a tremendous mountain bike boom — everyone wanted one , and now it seems that nearly everyone still has one hanging around in their garage. I’ve long believed that a mountain bike makes an ideal platform for a commuter bike in many respects, and I’ve written about that before. The frames are tough, the 26″ wheels are inherently strong and there are often good mounting points for racks, fenders and other crucial commuter accessories.

But, those knobby offroad tires have GOT to go — nothing soaks up your energy faster than wrestling against tires designed to grab hold of mud and loose sand and not lose traction. A simple swap to a more “road friendly” tire is a quick and relatively painless way to get things rolling faster!

Where do we begin, though? There is a bewildering array of tires on the market, and I’ve been unable to test the vast majority. I tend to buy whatever’s on sale that meets my criteria for a decent commuter tire: puncture resistance, minimal tread and a total width less than 1.5″. So, think of the following as a “roundup” of available tires from several major brands. These are not meant to be endorsements or recommendations; this article is merely intended to guide our readers toward appropriate types of tires for the road.

Strangely enough, there was an article in yesterday’s New York Times about good commuter tires. Check it out by clicking here.


Panaracer’s Pasela, Pasela Tour Guard and T-Serv tires are perennial favorites — they feature good durability and great puncture resistance in a variety of diameters and widths. Visit their Urban tires webpage for more details.


Schwalbe tires get a lot of good press — they were one of the first brands to offer a reflective sidewall, and their tires are legendary for style, durability and flat protection. Heck, they even make carbide-studded snow tires for winter commuting! Check out their complete line of tires on their road tire webpage…lots of styles, diameters and widths to choose from.


A heavy hitter in bicycling circles, Specialized has a pretty amazing assortment of tires to choose from. Their “Armadillo” and “Flak Jacket” puncture protection systems get rave reviews from riders. I seem to recall that the Armadillo models in 700c are quite popular with fixed-gear riders, as they offer a lot of durability for skid- and skip-stops. Check out their “widebody” and thinner 26″ tires on this page, and their road offerings on this page.


Let’s not forget our friends at SweetskinZ, the innovators in printing a full-coverage pattern on tires, complete with reflective elements. These tend to be a “love ’em or hate ’em” choice for most riders. You either love the way they look or think they’re ghastly. I fall into the former camp, but then again, I’m not known for my fashion sense! SweetskinZ offers only one tread pattern for commuters. It is somewhat of a hybrid tread pattern with a center “file tread” section and short knobs on the outer perimeter of the contact patch. These tires excel on rough roads and offroad hardpack. They’re not particularly puncture-resistant, but I’ve not had any problems with flats. Check out their dizzying collection of colors at their website.

I think of my commuter bike as a “mission critical” device. Because of this, I insist on puncture-resistance in the form of a Kevlar or similar aramid belt, and I’m not averse to additional forms of flat protection. In fact, on my main rig (my Xtracycle), I’ve got Panaracer Hi-Road V tires with built-in puncture resistance, Mr. Tuffy tire liners AND pre-Slimed tubes. I am GETTING TO WORK ON TIME, DANG IT! Who cares that this combination is heavy, dead-feeling and probably overkill? As Moe said in an earlier article, once you’re pushing around 50+ lb. of bicycle weight, what’s a few more accessories?

Most of the big tire manufacturers, both the ones covered above and other companies like Continental and Kenda, offer plenty of choices in just about every size a bicyclist would need: 26″, 29″, 700c, 27″, etc. Good tires are a cheap investment that pays off in “peace of mind”. If any of you have particular recommendations for tires, please feel free to comment below.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.