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
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
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
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
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.