Bicycle Commuting Florida in the Summer Time

Hot Weather Cycling

Summer is just around the corner here in Florida and temps can get well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

I live on the west coast of Florida. As a life-long bicycle commuter, when I found myself  faced with the possibility of such a commute, I welcomed the challenge. I did this commute for several years till the company I worked for was gobbled up by a larger (not better) company that no longer needed my services, allowing me the much easier commute from the bedroom to the living room.

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 adjusted to the coming heat. And the truth is, on my bike, I’m a lot cooler than those sitting in a car without air conditioning, after all I have the coastal breeze blowing in my face!

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 vents.

Hot weather can make normally pleasant rides more difficult, and really scorching weather can make you want to stay off the bike altogether. But that’s not necessary when you use these simple ways to keep cool on your bike. You can beat the heat, stay safe, ride longer and still have fun.

1. Squirt Water on Your Head

water head sweat

During hot weather riding, you can use your water bottle to squirt water on your head through the vents in your helmet every 15 minutes or so, which will really help cool you down. First, the water itself will be cooler than your head, and so that’ll be an initial and immediate blast of temperature relief. Next, the evaporation effect will continue to help keep you cool as the water dries by carrying heat away from your body as you continue to ride. Just make sure you have access to an adequate water supply that you can replenish as necessary as you ride. You certainly don’t want to whoosh away your water by squirting it all on yourself, and then leave yourself with nothing to drink.

2. Wrap a Wet (or Even Icy!) Bandana Around Your Neck

These cyclists know the value of cold, wet bandanas on the neck to provide relief on hot days.

Wrapping a water-soaked bandana around your neck can do wonders to keep you cool. For maximum relief, you can go a step farther and do what a guy I know does. He folded a bandana in half and stitched up two of the sides, leaving the third open. He’ll shove that thing full of ice cubes and wrap it around his neck. Talk about an intense and lasting chill. And as the ice melts, the frigid water drips down your back and chest. Plus, that ice supply can be replentished as necessary, giving you a freeze that’ll last all day.

If you’re not inclined to do-it-yourself, so-called “ice bandanas” are also commercially available.

3. Freeze Your Water Bottles Overnight

Water bottle on bike.

For colder water longer, consider freezing your water bottles overnight. The ice will melt as you ride, offering you cold water along the way, instead of the too warm stuff that’s not so refreshing.

This may be a little bit trickier than the other steps, as you want to make sure the water will be melting so that it is available for drinking as you need it. Experiment with this until you know what is right for you. If you carry two water bottles, maybe freeze just one of them, saving that to be the second one you drink, after it has had the chance to melt a bit. Also remember that you should not fill your water bottles more than 3/4 full. Any more than that, and the water will bust your bottles as it expands while freezing.

4. Wear the Right Kinds of Clothes

Ibex Fausto Wool Cycling Jersey

Choose clothing that allows perspiration to evaporate quickly so that it can do its cooling job better. That’s going to mean materials like cotton and silk are out since they absorb and hold on to sweat. Opt for “technical” fabrics instead, like spandex and lycra. If you don’t want to look like a bike dork all decked out in this gear, you’ll be glad to know that golf and tennis-style shirts are now made in technical fabrics, and you can buy UnderArmor-type shirts that look normal, feel comfortable and perform well. Clothing is up to you, but avoid black.  I favor a tee shirt, short loose khaki cargo pants, tennis shoes, and very padded cycling gloves. Cycling wear would also work fine.

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.

Sunburn is a major concern when you live in hot areas with clear skies, so be prepared and carry lotion. If you are fair skin I recommend wearing long pants and long sleeves. The hot Florida sun can leave you pretty scorched if your not prepared.

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.  Continental  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 limits, luckily.

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 humid heat burns in, in a way completely different from more dry, 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 100 degrees outside, that affects the water too. Turn on all the cold water you like, you’ll still get a hot shower.

Truthfully, it’s the winter rides, when it’s dark, cold and possibly rainy that make me squeamish. I’ll take a 100 degree summer commute any day.

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One Response to Bicycle Commuting Florida in the Summer Time

  1. Ross-Barry Finlayson says:

    Some very wise comments here Steve. In N.Z., where our Ozone Layer is very thin, Melanoma is a very-high risk when outdoors, so what you are saying here is relevant.Here in Japan, not so much the burning sun,but the extreme temperatures.

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