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Hot Weather Cycling

Bicycle Commuting in 120 degree Temperatures.

That's right 120 degrees, Fahrenheit. 

I live in the California desert. As a life-long bicycle commuter, when I found myself with faced with the possibility of such a commute, I welcomed the challenge. I did this commute for 3 years till the company imploded, allowing me the much easier commute from the bedroom to the living room.

The route wasn't too long. 9.3 miles each way that took me 45 - 50 minutes to crank depending on attitude. There were no major hills, perhaps a 150 foot rise in elevation from home to work. It's a fairly new area so the roads are in pretty good shape. The good thing about my ride was that the extreme heat only happens in the afternoon, so the morning ride in 90 degree temperatures wasn't bad. Though I did have to take a pretty thorough sponge bath after arriving at work.

Commuting all year, the extreme temperatures never took me by surprise. I think that riding as the temperatures climbed up in the spring helped a lot to get me inured to the heat. And the truth is, on my bike, I'm a lot cooler than those sitting in a car without air conditioning.

I noticed that my water consumption varied enormously. In the mild temperatures of winter, I didn't drink anything. In summer I downed about a quart and more, and I never rode home without at least a full 2 liter bottle of cold water. 

A flat tire could prove fatal if you are caught out in the sun without water. As soon as you are off the bike with a flat, your body's heat from exercise and the summer heat conspire to have you heading for trouble. Anytime the temperatures exceed 107, be very careful.

 When your body temperature exceeds 107, you're dead. You have to keep your cool. Always find shade to fix a flat.

I also wore my helmet. It's white and in summer really helps keep the sun off my head. It a very breathable helmet with plenty of air vents.

The first rule of riding in such heat is take it easy. This is no time to race. Take it slow, don't push. Enjoy the ride. Coast when possible. In summer I found that the drop in elevation on the return commute, though slight made all the difference in the world. Drink a lot, and drink it about 20 minutes before you get thirsty. For me, that meant, getting a big drink before suiting up for the ride home.

Clothing is up to you, but avoid black. I'm a "Fred" in this respect. I ride a 30 year old American Eagle 10 speed. I favor a tee shirt, long loose khaki denim pants, tennis shoes, and very padded cycling gloves. Cycling wear would also work fine.

The pants are loose enough that they don't bind on my legs and the flapping of the denim keeps air circulation up pretty well. It also keeps my tender skin from burning.  Sunburn is a major concern when you live in hot areas with clear skies.

The biggest surprise was how much different my bike feels. It's hot! It hurts to touch it directly, especially the chrome. And my tires melt. They are okay when rolling, but if you want the tires to last, you'd better jump off the bike at stop lights and pick it up. Ouch, ooh ooh ouch! The road surface is very hot, and when you stop, the tire touching the road heats up. Then, the air pressure in your tires pushes the soft rubber out through the fibers of the casings causing bubbles on the side of the tire. I talked to Continental and they claim that their touring tires hold up in such heat, but I've never tried them. Cheng Shin's don't.

I don't know but I suspect that there is a definite limit on how far you can ride in such conditions. As you ride, your body is generating heat and picking it up. My commute does not reach these limits, luckily.

Why do it? 

Lots of people think that they are doing me a favor offering me a ride home in the summer. But they don't understand.

Partly, its bragging rights. In my simple way, I am living on the edge, and doing something that most people wouldn't even dare. But it's also sensual. The dry heat burns in, in a way completely different from more humid, 99 degree temperatures. My bike sizzles, the air sizzles as in an oven. It's also a race. I can feel myself heating up slowly. I must make it home before I get too hot. It's the beauty, as the heat rises off the road, the skies are only blue because it's too hot for clouds.

Or maybe its the rewards of a nice hot shower when I get home. That's right, hot. It's 120 degrees outside, that affects the water too. Turn on all the cold water you like, you'll still get a hot shower.

Truthfully, it's the winter rides, when it's dark, cold and possibly rainy that make me squeamish. I'll take a 120 degree summer commute any day.

 

By

Gordon Fisher

 

 

Hydration Systems  for  Cyclists 

 

 

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08/16/11
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