Saturday, July 10, 2010

Biking in the Arizona Heat

(This was a post I made to the Bike Commuters site; some folks said it might be nice to see it here.)

The Arizona desert presents a unique set of challenges to the summer bike commuter.

For the vast majority of the year, unless your commute to work is very, very short, there is no way you can do it without having shower facilities. While other areas of the country face the challenges of high heat AND humidity, the desert has incredible heat but very little humidity. You WILL sweat as your body attempts to not only cool itself but also deliver moisture to the surface of your skin to protect it from drying out and dying. As that sweat dries quickly, and leaves behind a patina of dirt and body oils perfect for bacteria growth, you WILL stink and stink REALLY well. No amount of baby wipes are going to be able to deal with that, you need a genuine water stream which will get into every sweaty nook and cranny of your skin.

As far as riding attire goes, here again the desert is a very different environment which requires a very different set of clothing. Wearing wicking-type Lycra or other synthetics is out, for a couple of reasons. Number one is the fact that you WANT your clothing to hold the moisture close to your skin. That moisture is the only thing protecting you from heat exhaustion. There is NO way, short of an IV bag and tube, that you can take in enough water to replace the water wicked away by these efficient fabrics. Loose fitting cotton clothing is the rule of knowledgeable hikers, backpackers AND bike riders. Ignore this rule — and head out on a sunny, dry, 110° day for a 30 mile ride wearing your skintight Tour de France jersey and matching shorts — and the mortician at the end of your ride won’t have to put any embalming fluid into you: he’ll be able to simply pop you into the coffin because you’ll be as desiccated as an Egyptian mummy.

The second reason for not wearing bicycle synthetics has to do with that shower I was talking about earlier. Man-made fabrics stink … period … and they stink to high heaven when the brutal desert sun forces them to deal with the accelerated bodily processes which fill them with sweat and body oils. A word to the wise for any of you Arizona Lance Armstrong wannabes who ignore THIS rule: take TWO showers at the end of your commute, you NEED them because we WILL smell you.

When the weatherman says the thermometer is going to go up above 105°, I will usually pass on riding my bike to work unless I feel 100%, have begun the hydration process the night before and passed on the beer and steak and other foods which require more water to process them. And if he says it is going to to be 110° or better, I stay off the bike between 10 AM and 7 PM; if the temperature at the airport is 110° you can bet the temperature out on the pavement will be 115° or better.

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