Monday, May 28, 2012

Cooler on a Bike

Summer Dress Cycling
There are those who dream of tropical climates and rejoice at summer's arrival. And then there are those like me, who shudder when the temperature begins to rise past 70°F. As May transitions into June, I am really having to give myself pep-talks to face the upcoming three months of scorching sunshine and suffocating humidity. 

But entering my 4th summer on two wheels, one source of consolation is that at least getting around by bike will keep me cooler than other means of transportation. To many non-cyclists this seems counter-intuitive, and I understand why: They can't get past thinking of cycling as strenuous exercise. "How can you bike in this heat when you can hardly walk down the block without passing out?" 

Well, there is no mystery. Part of it is simply that cycling lessens my exposure to the heat and humidity in comparison to walking, by getting me there faster. But more importantly, moving through space at cycling speed generates air flow that feels like a breeze and makes the weather easier to tolerate - something that does not happen at walking speed. The trick is to ride at a pace that is fast enough to result in this effect, but not vigorous enough to the point where cycling becomes exercise. Wearing flowy clothing that allows air to circulate enhances the breezy feel further. Over the previous years I have more or less perfected my summer cycling pace and attire, and don't even sweat that much when I ride for transportation. 

There are of course other forms of transport besides walking and cycling. But while modern cars have air conditioning, driving is simply not an efficient transportation option in most cities these days. There is too much traffic and getting around during peak commuting times is a nightmare. I know a local woman who regularly commutes to work for over an hour by car, when the same distance takes me a half hour to cover by bike. I don't have that kind of time to waste, and neither do I want to pay for the privilege of doing so. As for public transportation... First, you still have to walk to it. And if taking the bus, there is also a lot of waiting outside involved, often with no shade. Then inside it's hot and chaotic, with sweaty crowds pushing each other and standing nose-to-nose in stuffy buses and train cars. Maybe some can deal with it and are none the worse for wear, but I always emerge drenched in sweat and with frazzled nerves. 

Of all the methods of transportation I've tried in the summer, cycling gets me to my destination cooler, more composed, and usually faster. It might be counter-intuitive to some. But cycling does not have to mean exercise and exertion. It can mean moving around at your own pace, with your own personal cooling unit.

43 comments:

  1. I used to be like you, and still am to a certain extent, being of mixed Alpine and Mediterranean blood. Note: not Irish . . . and God help anyone who has to spend the day in a Norwegian's house who doesn't have antifreeze for blood. Nevertheless, having moved from the cool clime of San Francisco to the torrid zona of Phoenix, I can say, without a doubt, especially after paying $300 per month for airconditioning, even when it reaches 115 F . . . you get used to it.

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    1. I can tolerate dry heat more or less, but it's the combination of heat and humidity we have here on the East Coast of the US that truly gets me; I find that combo absolutely debilitating.

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    2. Agreed. I'll take 105 in Arizona (12% humidity) over 85 in San Francisco (86% humidity).

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    3. I'm with you folks. My favorite weather is a cool, crisp autumn day with unlimited visibility; if the thermometer rarely rose above 70º, I'd be quite happy.

      Curiously, I suspect we're in a minority, at least here in the US. It was suddenly summer here in NYC over the weekend (hot & humid), and it seemed to me, at least, that most people were relishing it! ("It's finally summer!" was heard numerous times, uttered with a smile and satisfaction.) What is wrong with us?

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  2. Glad Summer is here! I don't like cold weather, I typically wear long sleeved shirts well into the 80* range. :D

    For summer cycling wear my favorite shirts are the Columbia PFG in cotton, they have a vented back. I also have the long sleeved which I wear in the summer too. I cycle in the Deep South where 95* and 90%RH aren't unheard of, people think you are completely crazy but it works for me!

    Aaron

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  3. Is that the pineapple dress from instagram earlier? :)

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    1. Yes! MDI took full-length pictures of it here. A very cycleable dress!

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  4. I too find that cycling is a cooler way to get around. As you say, the trick is to ride at just the right speed where you get the air flow, but do not get hot from the exercise.

    We discovered this trick while cycling in northern Australia, were it would be unbearable standing still, but we could continue to ride.

    John I

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  5. I hear you on dealing with the heat, I find that riding on shady streets helps a lot. My ride into town has nice, tree lined shady streets most of the way. However, now in Oz I am having to psych myself up for the approaching wInter which I find harder to deal with even though we do not have the ice and snow you have to cope with.

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  6. Well said.

    But the trouble starts when I get off the bike. That nice cool breeze on the bike makes me think I'm not sweaty, and as soon as I get off, the wind stops and the sweat starts pouring down my face. Maybe I need to think about my pace.

    Any tips?

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    1. Simple: just never get off the bike : )

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    2. I have that same problem. I find that whipping my helmet off *immediately* can help a little. The other thing -- as Grant From Rivbike insists z-- is to wear seersucker.

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    3. I bring along a liter of iced water (about as cold as I can stand it), and guzzle it as soon as I stop.

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    4. Clothing has made a huge difference for me. seersucker, crinkled silk, light linen, gauzy cotton, summer weight wool - it really does feel better.

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    5. And of course, patterns that camouflage any sweat marks.

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  7. I'm with you on the hot-and-humid - I'm already thinking how nice it will be when autumn gets here :-)
    A long uphill often defeats the cooling effect for me, I'm afraid.
    One other advantage of cycling over, say, hiking - on a bicycle even I can outrun the mosquitoes!

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    1. Last year when my boyfriend and I were touring, it was one of the worst years ever for mosquitoes.

      We did some "research" and discovered that 9mph (either your own speed, or your speed mixed with a headwind) is what it takes to out-run mosquitoes.

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  8. Here's a nice article:

    Fold My Ride: The Bike That Could Change Transit. Good Business
    Folding bikes are the black sheep of the bike community, neither respected by hard-core cyclists nor frequently used by the average citizen.

    Your bike's no good Velouria. It's not respected by hard-core cyclists ;-)

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    1. You know, increasingly there seems to be a trend of roadies embracing the Brompton. I think this makes sense, given how the bike handles.

      I completely understand how it might seem to many, or even most, that a folding bike can never be adequate. I've always liked the Brompton, and despite this I never seriously entertained the idea that it could be my main bike.

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    2. My pet theory is that the small wheels give it lower air resistance. It makes the downhills steeper and longer! But only if you don't use a big front bag.

      My B is the best bike I've ever owned! I haven't thought so much about the handling except it's normal but zippy.

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    3. But what about other folding bikes? They have small wheels as well and handle nothing like the Brompton.

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  9. How do you find the lack of a chain guard on the Brompton? It seems like flowy skirts or dresses would get greased and/or torn, if they're long enough.

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    1. I have worn "maxi" dresses on the bike and it is not a problem. Trouser legs are a problem, so I roll them up. But to be fair, they are a problem even on bikes with chaincases - I've gotten them caught on the chaincase itself and even on a crankset!

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  10. It may be the second time for me to comment here. I definitely agree with your thought. It is exactly faster to bike to a destination than to ride a public transportation to the same destination considering some factors like going to the station, waiting for the bus. Furthermore, biking allows us to have more comfortable space than riding a train or a bus.
    What I want to know is how exactly popular biking to work in the US or how popular the biking to work are getting. Thanks.

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  11. Part of the reason cycling seems cooler than other forms of transportation in summer has to do with the state of mind we achieve while riding.

    Also, cars, trains and buses seem particularly claustrophobic, at least to me, in the summer.

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    1. I understand the claustrophobia problem. If I am not on my bicycle I am on my Vespa scooter. After years of this, I can't stand being inside of a car. I've never liked buses but I am okay with trains, but use them rarely.

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    2. Yes, I am the same way. I think it's because summer makes us more aware of the physicality of those around us - the uncovered skin, the smells.

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    3. It's also the lack of symmetry of a car that bothers me, and this is the thing that I like about bicycles and scooters, and biplanes.

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  12. i very much enjoy pushing myself to my absolute limits on each and every ride. i am not afraid of sweating for transport.

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  13. Guess I'm a bit odd that way the hotter and more humid it is out the harder I tend to ride. that being said tis nicer having that blast of air from being on a bike. Also nice being able to coast at times and enjoy the nice breeze

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  14. Velouria, are you using the Brompton for your paceline or road bike rides now(excuse me if incorrectly stated, I don't do that type of riding yet, since I only have a 'city' bike at the moment). Regarding the main topic, I too noticed cycling more comfortable than walking, at least for shorter or less strenuous jaunts even in the awful heat and humidity of Atlanta. I take a fine towel or baby wipes along for when I get to my destination and no longer have the breeze keeping me dry. I find the sun really damaging though even wearing long sleeves and a hat so unfortunately am not riding as much in the Summer. I enjoy riding at night, but don't know of too many others that do.

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    1. "are you using the Brompton for your paceline or road bike rides now"

      No-no, it isn't that versatile! I have a fast roadbike.

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  15. I find it easy to stay cool on hot New England days by doing two things.
    First: Call someone in Florida and ask them how the weather was at 7:30 am. Usally they say, you cant stay outside for any length of iome.
    Second: Choose your roads with tree cover. I call this "Tunnel Riding", South of Boston there are many narrow tree covered roads that allow you to ride in the shade for long periods of time.
    Good shorts, foot powder and lots of water help as well.

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    1. I use the tunnel method often and even have particular routes that I reserve for the hottest days. Road cycling in the Lexington/Concord/Carlisle area is nice for that reason as well.

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  16. We've had several weeks of rain in London, but now it seems like the summer's finally arrived, and with it, hordes of cyclists. The tube (underground trains) is particularly hard to bear in summer - mostly it's not airconditioned, it's claustrophobic and sweaty, and it's been known to break down in hot weather. Compared to that, why wouldn't you want to cycle instead?

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  17. It is hot in Toronto today and I set out on my (new!) Gazelle and rode to work. It took about 20 minutes at a leisurely pace and I was relaxed and almost cool when I arrived (the humidity was 85%). Compared to cramming myself into a cramped subway car, it was the perfect way to travel.

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    1. Awesome! Sounds like that new bike frame is just right :) Hope the ride home (uphill) was as pleasant?

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    2. It's apparently a known fact that new bikes are especially fast and capable : )

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  18. I find the riding to be as you say cooler than walking. Like others have mentioned its when you stop riding that I begin to sweat. After about 30 minutes I'm mostly dry and I don't really see any alternative unless you're going to stay in the ac 100% of the time. The only time I find it oppressive is when its 90 degree temps, 90% humidity and the air quality is bad. I am totally on board with the looser fitting clothing which allows the breeze to blow through your clothing thus dry you perspiration and cooling you. I like cycle jerseys when its cooler and the snugger fit and rear pockets are beneficial.

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  19. I find that this is very true- cycling is cooler! The only time the heat gets me is during the big up hill stretch on my way to work...:)

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  20. Yup, this exactly. I always start getting this vague feeling of angst as soon as the weather gets above 70 - I know it's coming. Not only that, but then my allergies hit, so I'm not only sweaty and uncomfortable, but my nose is running, my eyes are itching and I'm sneezing uncontrollably. Needless to say, summer is not my best friend.

    But you're right, I've spent several summers riding the bus prior to starting to ride a bike, and it was most definitely worse. Occasionally you'd get a bus with air conditioning, which was nice, but rarely. The last year I was riding the bus, I actually carried a Japanese fan with me, and would just break it out and fan myself when the bus was sitting still in traffic (read, completely still air) on a 95 degree day. That helped a lot, but still frustrating.

    I just ordered some linen trousers for this summer to help out with the airy clothing bit of the equation, hoping they work out well.

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  21. YMMV. If you live a little outside Boston and have any stretch of road that you aren't stuck in bumper to bumper traffic then you will have to ride quickly to at least equal your drive time - that is true in my case. Add in changing clothes in the summer (remember, I have to ride fast to get there close to the same time as driving) then it is slower on the bike. I park my bike closer to my office than I park my car but that gets washed out in locking my bike.

    Time challenges or not, getting to work or home by bicycle is more relaxing than driving and certainly more fun. And it's way more fun and faster than my bus/subway commute.

    Today was a lovely day to ride into work. I was not too hot even after a decent hill.

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