Most of us like to get scrubbed up at the end of a long day on the road, especially during hot weather, when salt and sweat quickly make you feel grubby.
Getting a shower is easy if you’re staying in a campground or hotel every night but what if you’re bike touring on a low budget or taking a remote route, far from villages or in a dry desert landscape?
Happily, there are many options for taking off a layer of dirt. Here we list 8 alternative ideas for keeping clean on tour. Have more ideas for keeping clean on on tour? Share them with us by commenting at the bottom of this post.
- Swimming Pools
The municipal swimming pool should be your first stop when you’re looking for a shower. They’ll often sell you a shower separately for $2 or so, or pay a little more and go for a swim at the same time. We’ve also found staff at these pools to be very accommodating with our bicycles, letting us bring them inside or park them where they can be seen from the front desk. If there’s no swimming pool in the area, try the local gym, hockey rink or community centre. You might be surprised what you find. Once we discovered free sauna facilities next to a library!
In countries where swimming pools are a rarity, you’ll often find a bathhouse. In the Middle East, they’re called hammams, in Russian cultures they’re known as banya and in Japan they’re called sento or onsen. While the facilities vary – in Central Asia you’ll get a few birch twigs to thrash yourself with and in Iran you have a private room all to yourself – the bathhouse always offers two things in common: unlimited hot water and a cheap price. If you can score a private bathing area, you can even do your laundry here!
- Streams, Rivers & Lakes
Mother nature has many beautiful and natural places for us to take a dip. Only the hardiest cyclists will be able to jump in a lake in cooler temperatures but on a hot summer’s day there’s nothing nicer than having your lunch by the water and then going for a swim before carrying on. Just remember: Don’t put soap in the water. Instead, fill a bucket or bottle with water and walk a good distance away from the shoreline to wash your hair.
If you find yourself riding down major roads, you’re almost certain to come across a truck stop and you can count on a truck stop to have showers. You don’t have to be a trucker to use them and you might be surprised at how clean they are. The price is the only downside to truck-stop showers. Expect to pay between $7-12. Granted, that usually includes a towel and soap but the total cost for more than one person quickly adds up to the same price as a tent spot in a campground.
- Baby Wipes
Remember those things your mother used to get dirt off your face? They’re still around and they’re ideal for those nights when you don’t have any water to get cleaned up with. You can find them everywhere around the world and usually in small packets of 10 or 20. We always buy a few packages of these before we enter a desert or anywhere we know we’re going to be short on water. It takes 3-4 baby wipes to feel like you’ve really made a difference after a hard day on the road. One for your face, one for your arms… Once you’ve opened the package, put it in a zip-lock bag because the stickers that hold most small packages closed don’t do a very good job and the baby wipes dry out easily if they’re not totally enclosed.
- WarmShowers Club for Cyclists
Did you know there are thousands of people out there who’d love to let you use their shower and maybe even host you for a night? Find them all on the WarmShowers site for cyclists. Not only will you get cleaned up, you’ll probably make a new friend. The only catch is that this does require some forward planning and internet access on the road.
- Hotels & Campgrounds
You don’t have to pay for a night in formal accommodation to get a shower there. Just walk up to the front desk and ask what they’d charge for a shower only. At campgrounds, the fee is usually in the $2-3 range. At hotels, it might be a little more but if you arrive before they start cleaning the rooms then $5 should do it.
The Do-It-Yourself Shower
If you have 2-4 litres of water (more or less, depending on how long your hair is) or access to a water tap in a reasonably discreet place like behind a school or a church on a quiet day, create a DIY shower. To do this, we often used our Ortlieb Folding Bowl and a pot. Fill the bowl with water (heat the water first on your stove if you have enough fuel) and then use the pot to scoop the water out and over your head, taking care to keep your head over the bucket so you can recapture the water. Wet your hair first, then wash it, then use the soapy water to do the rest of your body and keep a little clean water to one side to wash off the suds. Other alternatives include using a solar shower or a Camelbak Water Carrier. Hang the water carrier in a tree or get your biking partner to release the water slowly as you wash up.