July 26, 2012 – Hot Town Summer in the City
Much as I love my morning bike commute, when it’s already in the 80s by 6 a.m., with humidity levels worthy of a tropical rainforest, and highs for the day close to (or over) 100 degrees – it takes an act of will to hop on the bike. It’s best if I can hit the path before 6:30 – but that’s not always easy. Despite my distaste for being overheated, I’ve found my rides these past two weeks tolerable. I dress lightly, drink water, and try to stay in the shade.
Last Thursday morning I had a treat – courtesy of the National Park Service. When I reached the plaza in front of the Lincoln Memorial, there was a large sprinkler set up on a tall pole, sending a cascade of relief to the overheated. Not only did I head right for it; I made an extra loop around the circle of cool showers before riding the last two miles to work. But that turned out to be a one-off.
Summer heat gets me thinking about what I wear on my bike. I’ve read that many bike advocates want to “normalize” biking as a form of transportation by wearing regular clothes on their bikes. But for my 10-mile commute, which includes hills, even on relatively cool days I’m quickly drenched in sweat. I sometimes see men riding to work in business suits, women in dresses and, frankly, I don’t know how they do it. Virtually everyone on the bike paths that I use for commuting wears sports attire. If the temperature is chilly enough that I would not get sweat-soaked, then it would be too cold to start my ride without thick, wind resistant, tights and jacket. I’m not trying to look like an elite athlete (that would be a joke). I’m just trying to be comfortable! Lately I’ve been fantasizing about getting cold on my bike.
For these excessively hot days, a moisture-wicking top, bike shorts, and my Keen sandals are just about all I need. Well – sunglasses, fingerless bike gloves (even my hands sweat in this weather), and I-phone, which I now set to Pandora – having grown weary of all my existing playlists. When it’s this hot, cotton is impossible.
There was a recent article I read about how to dress for biking in the rain. What a laugh for those of us in the heat blistered east. It was all about wool garments and staying warm. Another recent article reported on a study conducted in D.C. several years ago – analyzing which workplace amenities increase bike commuting. While providing bike parking helped – the biggest increases in bike commuters were at worksites that have shower facilities. I am lucky to have this benefit. It would be tough to face my commute without the chance to clean up before work. Yet some Twitterers scoffed at the need for showers. How do they not get it – climate makes a difference!
I’ll close with a happy moment from Sunday morning. Biking to yoga, despite the drizzly weather, I saw a family out on their bikes – dad on a cargo bike with two tots in the front bucket – mom and older child on their own bikes. It was the first sighting of a cargo bike in my Arlington, VA neighborhood, and I smiled and gave them a big “thumbs up.” I’ve come to the realization that hauling groceries on my beloved commuter bike is not ideal, so I’ve gone back to using the old heavy hybrid for shopping, which is stable, even with two fully loaded panniers. But I find myself attracted to cargo bikes and wonder what’s happening to me.