“This is not possible in France,” said the owner of Le Moderne, our hotel in Chateau-Thierry, a small town in the Champagne region of France. We were standing outside the hotel, and the owner was pointing up, to our window. It was filled with our bike clothes, the ones we’d worn earlier in the day, washed in the sink in our room and hung up to dry.
“This is not possible,” he repeated.
“OK,” I said with a shrug.
We were leaving the next morning, so what was he going to do: Confiscate our clothes? I think not.
Here’s the thing: This is not only possible in France, it’s a time-honored cyclotourisme tradition that most likely dates back to Paul de Vivie and the thick, woolen bike jerseys I picture him wearing. You have no choice but to wash your dirty bike clothes in the sink of your hotel room and hang them up to dry in the window. Or across your room or in the bathroom. After five or six hours in the saddle, your bike clothes stink. And, for some unknown reason, bike gloves smell worse, a lot worse, than bike shorts. This is the thing that should not be possible in France.
Even the riders in the Tour de France used to do it, according to Davis Phinney in 1988.
Over the years, and many miles, I have become an expert sink washer. Or so I thought. Susan helped me take it to a whole new level starting on our honeymoon bike trip. So, here you go, everything you need to know about sink washing your bike clothes in France, step-by-step …
First: Genie! It’s liquid laundry detergent in a small tube. Buy a tube of Genie. Before this discovery, I used to buy a small box of laundry power, pour some in a small zip-lock bag that I packed in my pannier, and hoped it didn’t rip and spill. This was very inefficient and wasteful.
Second: The sinks in France can be tricky in terms of the stopper, especially the cheaper hotels I tended to stay at in the 1990s. Some sneaky hotel owners actually remove the stoppers to prevent sink washing. How dastardly! If you’re ever confronted with a stopper-less sink, here’s the solution: Wedge one of the socks you’re washing into the drain. It’s not perfect, but it works.
Third: Limit your load. I quickly learned not to get greedy and to limit a load to one set of bike stuff. Which means, when I’m with Susan, we have to do two loads of sink laundry after a ride.
Fourth: Soon after we head into our hotel room, I engage the stopper (or stuff in a sock), put in a little Genie, fill up the sink with warm water and insert my bike clothes. And let them soak while I take a shower. When I’m done showering, I’ll swirl everything around, trying to approximate the agitation cycle of a washing machine. Next: The rinsing process. It usually takes two or three rinses to get out all the soap. It’s important to get out all the soap.
When I’m finished, we start the process all over again with Susan’s bike clothes. Which, for some reason, never smell as bad as mine. Go figure. And, for some reason, I always shower first. Not sure why, I just do.
Fifth: Drying. Step one is to squeeze with all your might, and wring out as much water as possible. The more water that remains, the longer the clothes take to dry. This is my job and my daily upper-body workout regimen.
Sixth: Hanging. This is the tricky part. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a nice, big window and a gentle, warm breeze. And there will be removable hangars, in the armoire, that you can hang on the curtain rod above the window. If not, this is where bungee cords come in. Always bring bungee cords with you, as you can almost always connect them and create a line to hang hangars or your clothes on. If necessary, you can run some bungee cords across the room, or in the bathroom.
Every once in a while, there will be a bike clothes dryer in your bathroom! Actually, I think they’re officially towel dryers, but come on, they’re perfect for drying your bike kit.
Seventh: Hair dryers. These days, pretty much every hotel bathroom is equipped with a hair dryer. You can use them to start or speed up the drying process, especially on padded bike shorts, which take the longest to dry. And, when your bike shoes get wet, when it rains, which it will inevitably do on a bike trip, you can use the hair dryer on them. Be careful, as the motors on these hair dryers aren’t very powerful and will overheat and turn off after a few minutes. So, dry stuff in short, 30-second bursts.
Eighth: Non-bike stuff? Yeah, I’ve been known to wash a few T-shirts and underwear in the sink. To make it through another couple of days and to a town with a laverie, as many of the smaller towns are laverie-less. There seems to be fewer laveries now then there were in the 1990s.
Here’s the link to my eBook on Cycling the Dordogne, where I did a lot of sink laundry.
OK, there you go, everything you need to know about sink laundry. I think you’re ready to do a load. Stop up the sink and have at it.