Urban Velo

Scent of the City

noseHere’s an idea for a potential article or at least a fun blog post: What do you smell while riding in the city? We want to hear about it. Tell us in the comments below, and feel free to elaborate or submit more than one response.

About Urban Jeff

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48 Comments

  1. Urban JeffOctober 5, 2009 at 7:15 pmAuthor

    Perhaps the most memorable scent in the city of Pittsburgh is the smell of La Prima and Prestogeorge coffee being roasted in the Strip District. It’s unmistakable, and warms my heart to know that some things are still being done the old fashioned way.

  2. uncleOctober 5, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    Roasting coffee!

    I rode down an industrial rode that I had previously only driven on, and suddenly could smell coffee beans being roasted somewhere in the warehouses on my right.

    I’d driven down that road a hundred times, but had never known there was a roaster in there. It wasn’t until I biked it that I learned otherwise.

    I’ll have to go back when I have time and find them, and see if I can buy some freshly roasted beans.

  3. uncleOctober 5, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    Hah! Urban Jeff, you and I are on the same page, man!

    I call this meeting of the Association of Caffeinated Wheelmen to order!

  4. TimOctober 5, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    I hope this gets lots of comments about all the wonderful food smells in the city, particularly NYC (little Italy rocks). We have a friend visiting us in NJ this week and she’s turning her nose up at a great urban ride because she thinks the city smells like urine.
    With the smell of food on the grill, I thought summer suburban rides were torture – there’s no comparison to riding down streets with unbelievable bakeries and restaurants filling the air with scents that just about pull me off the bike.

  5. M. ThyerOctober 5, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    Car farts! Often my rides are punctuated by particularly memorable tail-pipe emanations.

  6. MattOctober 5, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    I think the worst thing I smelled in Chicago, was at Ogden/Carroll, next to the milk plant. It smelled like a dumpster full of baby shit was set on fire, on top of a pile of rotting cows. It almost made me puke on my bike. Sucking wind and getting a big whiff of that will make one keel over instantly.
    The usual smell of bum piss had nothing against this.

  7. Jeff ZOctober 5, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    1. Mexican food

    2. Indian food

    3. Bacon, especially on Sunday morning

    4. 40 oz vomit, especially on Sunday morning

    5. Urine

    6. Coffee

    7. Cheap perfume

    8. BBQ

    9. Grilled chicken (El Pollo Loco)

    10. Burning wood fires

    11. Dumpsters

  8. loganOctober 5, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    I ride past a peanut butter factory on my way to work every day. When the humidity is high you can not only smell, but taste it.

    I smell _everything_. Its one of my favorite things about riding in the city. I smell chlorine from the public pool half a mile away if the wind blows right. I know when krispy kreme has a fresh batch without looking at the sign. I can tell who in my neighborhood is grilling burgers in the back yard on my way home.

    Today I knew the guy in the green impala at the stop light was smoking a blunt behind his tinted windows and that the woman in the white SUV had on the same perfume the hot girl in my english class always wore.

    Please do this article.

  9. JmikOctober 5, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    in chico, i pass by this one restaurant- madison bear garden, known to locals as “the bear”. in the morning, smells like burgers. during lunch, smells like burgers. in the afternoon, smells like burgers. and at night, smells like booze, drunk students, and burgers. ah, chico.

  10. Ghost RiderOctober 5, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    I pass by two Cuban bakeries and a variety of breakfast places on my way to work…mmm.

    Then I get to Old Tampa Bay and the Hillsborough River. To borrow a quote from Anchorman, “it smells like Bigfoot’s dick!”

  11. JordanOctober 5, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    The smells of a land become mystic the faster you ride past. My nose understood the complexities of bakeries, bicycle beatniks, and the exhaust of vehicles larger than neccessary. Of my recent move to Seoul, kimchi and gimbap are constant smells, along with the incessant odor of soju (a korean drinking past-time), also the noxious fumes of scooters and the asian version of s.u.v.’s (much smaller than the american version, though still full of inattentive drivers). sights, smells, hears, and beings all best done by bicycle.

  12. bradOctober 5, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    Mine is more a memory of starting rides in the morning from my front stoop. At first when I moved into my house I didn’t quite know what the faint yet pungent whiff I’d sometimes get off the porch was… Until one day I caught it as I rode by the brewery, and then it clicked. Iron City Beer being born roughly five blocks away. When the wind was just right I could actually smell the brewery when I first went outside to ride in the morning, with it being most vivid on crisp fall and winter days. It was awesome, and now it’s gone. I didn’t move – Iron City is now brewed in… Latrobe. Latrobe? The Steelers practice there during the summer, but that doesn’t make it Pittsburgh.

  13. Phat Lip MageeOctober 5, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    I live pretty close to a bakery, so I often get the smell of fresh bread in the mornings.

    Unfortunately, that’s the only refreshing smell I get regularly. Tomorrow is trash day in pretty much all the neighborhoods I cut through on my commute. If I’m lucky, I’ll get ahead of the trucks, but I’m often a block or two behind them, or I have to pass them going in the opposite direction. Not pleasant.

    Roadkill is also fairly prevalent. Usually, I’ll notice the swarm of flies early enough so I can hold my breath as I pass. It wouldn’t be so bad if somebody would come along and clean the dead animals off the road, but they typically just end up being run over and over again, until they are pulverized and become part of the pavement.

    It’s not all bad. I do enjoy several tree and flower lined roads, which are wonderful when they bloom. Maybe I’ll start carrying a flower in my teeth to ward off the putrid smells of garbage and death.

  14. marcelloOctober 6, 2009 at 1:42 am

    I smell my toe straps! I do not know why but they have an incredibly disgusting smell. Cause of this smell I just feel strong things like gasoline, kebab and asphalt. I love the smell of wet asphalt when it start raining.

  15. MattOctober 6, 2009 at 3:57 am

    Just like one fellow cyclist wrote already – my city, especially during the summer, is filled with a smell of – i want to say ‘Hops’? I live in a city called Tychy, which is a place of making the, quite known i think, polish beer ‘Tyskie’, and all is good, but the smell is sometimes unbearable. (beer is good though) That is the most characteristic smell around me and fortunately its intensity depends on the direction of the wind, so it sometimes can save you.

  16. DanOctober 6, 2009 at 6:25 am

    I live in Portsmouth in the UK. As I get near my house I can smell KFC from half a mile away, and when I ride past that I get that strange Subway (as in the sandwiches) smell.

    Although I know it’s wrong, the KFC aroma makes me crave a Family Grease Bucket. The guilt and recrimination afterwards are not worth it though. I feel sorry for the people that have to work there, not to mention the chickens.

  17. Timmy K.October 6, 2009 at 7:24 am

    I live in Baltimore city in an area called Fells Point which is home to the H&S Bread Company. It’s a decent sized commercial bakery that has managed to survive while other old town businesses haven’t. When the inner harbor isn’t reeking of polution (including an occasional corpse) H&S fills the air with the aromas of fresh baked breads of all kinds. Some days you can catch wind of cinnamon raisin bread all the way up as far as my house.

  18. Urban JeffOctober 6, 2009 at 7:25 am

    Phat Lip, you just reminded me of my old commuting route. I had to ride into the suburbs, and the last road was a long and winding one through the woods along a creek. Needless to say, it was like the killing fields for woodland creatures. Every day there was at least one dead raccoon, if not several, rotting alongside the road. Squirrels, snakes, house cats and possum were common, too. But the worst thing were the deer. I never understood why nobody scooped them up, but they would bloat and rot for days, sometimes weeks, and on a hot day you could smell them from at least half a mile away. I would sometimes hold my breath for long stretches of that road, trying to avoid smelling them, only to gasp for air and encountering some new roadkill.

    Oh, the suburbs.

  19. RichardOctober 6, 2009 at 7:49 am

    The highlight of my old route was passing a row of juniper bushes. Now I get the smell of damp woods and grasses with an occasional touch of diesel exhaust. I do SO miss the junipers…

  20. BrianOctober 6, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Starting at around 7:30am, the BBQ joint two blocks from my house fires up its smokers and the scent of roasting pork fills the entire neighborhood… when I ride past on my way to my post office box, if I close my eyes I imagine the smell is actually bacon cooking and if I haven’t had breakfast yet, I’ll ride back home for another cup of coffee.

    I also live near the very same peanut butter plant that Logan mentioned above, and on certain days when the humidity and prevailing winds are just right, the only thing you smell throughout downtown is burnt peanuts.

  21. spokejunkyOctober 6, 2009 at 8:50 am

    My commute home takes me down to the Battery in Charleston, SC. Riding up East Bay you take the same route the horse carriages traverse, so my smell is horse crap, pee and salt air coming off the ocean. A really odd melange of great salt air and horse apples. The carriage drivers are good enough to throw down a half rubber ball and flag to let you know where the horse dropped his luggage. Word of advice, steer clear of the street flags.

  22. ethanOctober 6, 2009 at 9:25 am

    Tuesday mornings the garbage trucks are out. I spell vomit. Metallic ichor. Sometimes a whiff of discarded beer cans.

    Mornings after a rain, you get that clean morning air smell. Now that it’s fall, this is tinged with the rot of leaves.

    Evenings in the summer, the heat of dirty pavement just before a storm.

    In the spring, Washington Park is all flowers, and you can smell them in the breeze.

    There’s a spot on my ride home that has, I think, a garden, and you can smell the compost.

    Barbecues. Cigarette smoke, sometimes a cigar, and occasionally pot.

  23. Tony BullardOctober 6, 2009 at 9:57 am

    I get off the bus in the eveneing and start my bike ride right next to a Chili’s and a Burger King. While I’d not consider either to be especially great, at the end of the day, after few miles of riding (I’m multi-modal) and about to put a few more on, it’s really tough to smell them both cooking.

  24. blairOctober 6, 2009 at 10:55 am

    the smells of san francisco depend on the neighborhood. down off army and third it smells like cut lumber. chinatown smells kinda like a farmer’s market — the smell of wet produce and whatever’s been washed off the sidewalks into the street. market street smells like exhaust, piss, weed, booze, b.o… larkin street in the TL smells like dumpsters, semen, and crack, especially at night. north beach is an annoying dichotomy of the most amazing food smells combined with the cologne of a thousand douchebags. the haight smells like patchouli and nature. the mission smells like mexican food, fresh baked cakes and breads, old booze, and fresh air. my favorite is riding the waterfront — it just smells like clean salt air.

  25. wrongrobotOctober 6, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Agreed to all of the above SF smells. Additionally, I tend to think of certain burning smells as well. My commute takes me through SF and over the bridge into Marin. I smell car exhaust for most of the SF route, and then that cool wet concrete smell on the bridge. Marin is always a shock to the system in it’s lack of odors relative to the rest of the route. Also, when blair rides with me, I also associate the smell of burning tyres with him, as he’s always skid stopping in front of me. It used to be burning Adidas, but he developed skills both mad and displayable.

  26. ChelseaOctober 6, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    I live in Austin, TX and the most overpowering smell is diesel and gasoline exhaust and tire dust the pollution can get bad enough during rush hour that you can taste the pollution in the air, especially during the summer where 120 degree 4 PM heat and stagnant air from lack of wind for days during the summer. Interstate 35 also ensures that downtown Austin always smells like diesel 24/7.

    There is also the smell of bum piss and shit, puke all over 6th Street, constant garbage truck traffic at all hours, construction site porta-potties baking in the triple digit summers, dead armadillos, dead deer, melting asphalt in the chipseal, and the liquid waste trucks that are constantly transporting the contents of underground holding tanks for the areas that don’t have sanitary sewers which is a good chunk of the city. You smell those trucks, I call them shit cans, long before you hear the roar of their turbo diesel engines. They go slow enough to where you can comfortably draft them easily for miles provided you don’t have a weak stomach. Townlake also has this nice rotten smell pretty regularly from the algae that permeates downtown.

    On the upside you smell nice homestyle mexican food in East Austin, which is my neighborhood. Which complements the constant thumping of musica nortena you hear pumping out of the big-ass trucks and souped up rice rockets that tend to populate the East Side. The smell of mexican street food from the roach coaches and the smell of incinerated chicken emanating from the pollo carbon restaurants tends to make me hungry as hell.

  27. Dirt 35October 6, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    It sounds like we could navigate our cities with our eyes closed. Just smell that acrid burn of diesel fumes from buses downtown. Cross Grant street after a rain and the bricks smell different than the surrounding pavement. Follow the wafting odor of rotten veg from the wholesalers in the Strip District. Then yes comes the yeast farts from the Iron City brewery. Climb past the brewery to the smells of polish and itallian food in Bloomfield, or curry on Craig st, or urine from bums and pitt kids in Oakland. Cut past Flagstaff hill and catch a wiff of pot smoke. Does anyone remember when you could ride up liberty near the intersection with Fifth ave and smell fig newtons from the Nabisco factory? How about the squished monkey brain fruits rotting on the north end of Murray ave? Then cut through the nice residential streets of Squirrel Hill in the spring for the sweet perfume of lilacs in bloom. You’ve hit on another experience we get from riding, not driving, in the city.

  28. Pink RobeOctober 6, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    I long for the days when I lived on the North side of downtown and rode in behind the Safeway grocery store daily. The sweet, yeasty aroma of jelly doughnuts cooking was almost enough to stop me in my tracks. On a really good day, you could pick out the scent of the raspberry filling hiding below the dough smell…

    Doughnut smell – how do I love thee?

  29. sabOctober 6, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Often on my way to the williamsburg bridge, somewhere in bushwick, I think I pass a wet dog food manufacturer, because for a whole block it’ll smell like dog food. Then on my way home from work at like 2:30am, a few miles away in queens I smell fresh bread cooking, which drives me up the wall, I wanna eat that fresh bread!

  30. DutchessOctober 6, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    in the fall, in northern new mexico, you can smell the amazing smell of roasting green chile. drool.

  31. BrandonOctober 6, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    One of the top sensory experiences available to the world is in Chicago. If you go to the intersection of Milwaukee/Kinzie/Desplaines, you can experience it, too.

    Going east on Kinzie down the giant hill, you can easily reach 30+ mph while enjoying the complex smell from the Blommer chocolate factory and preparing for both railroad tracks and a bumpy bridge at the foot of the hill. The choco-scent is heavenly.

  32. KevinOctober 6, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    In Chicago at the corner of Kinzie & Des Plaines is the Blommer Chocolate Factory. I pass it on my daily commute and can’t decide if the smell is more delicious in the summer or winter.

  33. brianOctober 6, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    I pass through a lot of different areas on my commute. On a daily basis I smell-coffee, barbeque, mexican food, marijauna, dog poop, horse poop, car exhaust, train exhaust, the river, bacon, pancakes, fresh cut grass, and french fries. there are more but these are a sure thing everyday.

  34. velomuseOctober 6, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    I am reminded of the smells found on the commute I used to take after working a late night doing sound for live bands: the night-blooming jasmine and lavendar along Shafter Ave from Berkeley to Oakland, the stench of booze as I rode over broken glass through the vacant downtown, and the masa as I arrived home – a live/work loft over a tamale factory.

  35. MikeOctober 6, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    The puget sound. I love the sea and bikes.

  36. santimoOctober 7, 2009 at 12:32 am

    The first half of my everyday commute to university is through buenos aires, argentina downtown, and i can only smell car gases. After that i have a long distance through a big park so i can smell plants and earth. When i come back to my house i have the same smell routine but in the opposite order.
    good smell surprises are another cyclist’s perfume, a blooming tree, a bakery, or the odd but pleasent smell of china town.

  37. kevlarbikesOctober 7, 2009 at 8:41 am

    My ride to work takes me past the Perkins restaurant in Hudson, Ohio. I love pancakes. I’m all for helping out your locally-owned diners and other establishments as much as possible, but for whatever reason, this chain (at this location only) has the best pancakes in the area. One of the waitresses is a casual cyclist, and whenever my buds and I stop in pre- or post-ride, she loves hearing our tales of glorious rides past. When I ride by on the days that I don’t stop in, the smell of freshly-griddled fluffy goodness fills the air in the street outside.

  38. Jeff ZOctober 7, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Yesterday’s ride is perhaps the most diverse route I take. 5% descents take me to the flatlands where the smell of Mexican grilled chicken at El Pollo Loco dominate. Turning left the smells dissipate quickly and dissolve into fresh asphalt. I hit the big ring and the asphalt gives way to bum urine, garbage, and stale alcohol. Easing up for a light the winds shift and the smell of cigarettes and cheap perfume waft over me. I breathe out of my mouth and hunker down till I smell chicken tikka and freshly baked nan in the Indian part of restaurant row. Sailing along brings me to the gravel pits and the smell of heavy machinery. I turn quickly to hit my 5% ascent and the smells of the city give way to silk trees, fall leaves, horse and dog poop, and drying laundry. The smell of Bounce dryer sheets brings a smile to my face. I’m home now and for some unknown reason, want a Mexican/Indian dinner…

  39. erokOctober 7, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    the spring is when it’s most striking after a winter of only smelling my smelly balaclava. plants are a bloomin and people start driving with their windows down. my spring rides usually go back and forth between the sweet smells of honeysuckle and weed.

    by summer you can smell the fermenting mulberries that dropped to the ground, giving you plenty of warning to stop and get a snack fresh from the tree.

  40. ZachOctober 7, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    I smell the chocolate factory in Chicago too. I thought I was having smell hallucinations the first time I road past there. Smells like fresh brownies.

  41. devinOctober 7, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    stale beer, urine, and natural gas when you’re climbing up fifth avenue

  42. ScottOctober 7, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    I get to commute right along Boston Harbor for awhile and I love taking in the smells of the sea and salt.

  43. andy_gOctober 8, 2009 at 6:49 am

    Working in Alameda, across a slim stretch of water from Oakland, CA I would regularly ride through the foul, foul tiled exhaust pipe that is the Webster Tube (tunnel). Not so nice, and brushing your arm or sleeve against the wall of the tube would reward you with a sooty badge of honor. Emerging into Oakland’s Chinatown would pretty much erase that memory – overpowering the normal Chinatown smells was a fortune cookie factory that would always surprise me with it sticky sweetness. So nice.

  44. Ryan BOctober 10, 2009 at 4:56 am

    growing up in Norwich england riding past the cadbury factory you could tell which type of chocolate was being made especially the white milky bar,that was the primo part,then cutting through the bus depot was the total other end of the smell spectrum with diesel smoke and fumes killing tastebuds and melting nazel hair,in winter the best smell is the crisp icey air,summer would be cut lawns and scent from flowers.

  45. Elisa MOctober 12, 2009 at 9:18 am

    BBQ joints smoking pork to get ready for the lunch rush, exhaust and on Wednesday I smell garbage set out the night before and left to cook all night in the Alabama summer heat. Wednesday mornings are my least favorite time to ride in the summer…stinky! In the winter I smell fireplaces and in the fall it is all home BBQ’s.

  46. JesseOctober 16, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    In San Francisco? Feces. Homeless people crap, open sewer grate crap, dog crap, the list goes on and on. The whole City reeks of feces. I try very hard not to ride into the City.

    In Oakland? Food. Everywhere smells like food. Sometimes that food even smells good (like Chinatown). Much better than feces.

    Berkeley? Depends on the block I’m on. Everywhere smells totally and completely different in Berkeley. That’s why I ride there a lot.

  47. FitzOctober 20, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    In Seattle it really depends on where you are and how much the wind changes.

    Downtown can smell like cold, marine air blowing in off the Sound, or like sewage if the wind is down and you’re passing over the steaming manhole covers (especially in Pioneer Square).

    Elsewhere near the water it often smells of fish-farts (sometimes faint, sometimes strong enough to make you queasy). On the hilltops it usually smells of brisk wind (seasonal varieties).

    Of course riding near breweries or chocolate factories provides us with lovely olfactory distractions.

  48. santimoOctober 21, 2009 at 11:15 am

    last night i was coming back from university to my house, and smell somethinf funny that made me think about this post.
    The park that I have to go through works as a red light district for transvestites, and it smells like a cliche: tobacco and cheap perfum.

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