Hot Weather Bicycle Commuting

As I write this, the Midwest is finishing up Day 3 of “Excessive Heat Warnings” and, here in Minneapolis, we’re experiencing record-high dew-points. I’ve got condensation on the OUTSIDE of the windows; and the thermostat set at a cooler-than-normal 76F in the hope the house will stay habitable after the electric company starts remotely switching the central air-conditioner off in attempts to prevent more blackouts (like my neighborhood experienced yesterday), and friends on the north end of town have reported today. It’s working, after a fashion: the inside temperature didn’t started climbing until an hour after I got home from work today.

Neighbors and co-workers have made a point of asking me if I would continue to commute by bicycle in the heat; I keep telling them I won’t know till I get outside. Yesterday evening the humidity was down to just 51%, making the 95F temps almost pleasant. This morning’s 6AM commute was moist, at 80F and 98%, and the evening almost a deal-breaking 95F and 90%. Yet I still chose the bicycle. Here’s the strategy I’ve been using to deal with the heat in a nutshell:

  • Light-weight, quick-drying, light colored clothes
  •  Plenty of water
  • Go slow!
  • Seek out shade both when riding and when stopped

Light-weight, quick-drying, light colored clothes
I’m a fan of merino wool anything, for it’s quick-drying, low-maintenance and warm-even-when-wet properties in winter. As it turns out, it’s still a good choice even in the worst of summer’s heat. Of course I’m talking the lightest-weight (150g/m^2 or so) fabric I can find for summer. I’ve got a couple of short-sleeve Ibex shirts; the light-grey one got the nod today. Synthetics like polyester also have light-weight, quick-drying and moisture-wicking properties; however the way synthetic fabrics retain foul odors (regardless of frequency of washing) has turned me off them for shirts, jerseys and base-layers. I am still making use of a pair of swimming trunks that I cut the liner out of for shorts on the hottest of days; so far their nylon construction hasn’t gotten odor-riffic.

Plenty of water
Although my commute of 7.5 miles normally takes me about half an hour, I empty two large (21 oz) bottles at “normal” summer temperatures; above 80F I carry three bottles. Today I brought a fourth one, just-in-case. As it happens I didn’t quite empty the third bottle, but I’ll probably carry #4 again tomorrow as the forecast is even hotter.

Go slow!
My “normal” solo pace is as fast as I can go at any given time; this typically works out to an average of 12-15mph over the day’s round trip commute. When the temperatures rise uncomfortably I deliberately slow down, to reduce over heating; I’m surprised today’s average was still 11.5 mph because I don’t recall breaking double-digit speeds on the way home.

Seek out shade both when riding and when stopped
I feel fortunate that the one of my commuting routes can be on mostly tree-lined streets after leaving down town. I make a point of using this route exclusively when the temperature gets unreasonably hot. At stoplights I make a point of stopping in the shadow of a street-light, tree or building when possible. It makes more of a difference than you might think.

Above all, listen to your body and stay safe! Whether this means I bail and decide to take the air-conditioned light rail home tomorrow or not, heat-related illnesses can really ruin your day.

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One Response to Hot Weather Bicycle Commuting

  1. Bujiatang says:

    I agree–the ribbon of shade a traffic light casts makes a difference!

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