Contrary to misguided opinion, the yellow jersey you see me wearing is not an indication that I’m a Lance Armstrong Wannabe. If you looked a little closer, you’d see that my bicycle has a rear rack on it, that attached to that rack is a bag stuffed to the gills and enough flashing red lights to dispel any impression of road-biking “coolness.” Yes. I am a bicycle commuter.
I was born a bicycle commuter in June 2008. Gasoline prices were flirting with $4 a gallon, and my 4x4 pickup was happy to burn a gallon of gas to work and another gallon on the drive home for my 24-mile roundtrip commute. I was not new to cycling: I’d completed cycling events like the Valero MS150, during which I biked 150 miles from San Antonio to Corpus Christi, but for some reason, riding my bike to work seemed unachievable.
The nearly $8 a day commute in my pickup, however, made me consider the impossible. Also, I found there were real live people in my workplace who used their bicycles to get there. I hooked up with some of these folks (thanks Bill!), and felt astonished the first time I locked up my bicycle and walked into the office. Oh my gaawd. I am at work, but my car is at home. I got here on a BICYCLE.
The dumbfounded look disappears after your first few commutes as a cyclist, but your sense of adventure from arriving on two wheels, using old-fashioned human power never dissipates. It’ll actually make you a little depressed on those days you have to drive to work; oh, driving … how quaint.
Now I’ve ridden my bicycle for more than 3,000 commuting miles, so I thought I’d pass along a couple summer suggestions.
To start with the obvious: When you ride your bicycle in South Texas during the summer, it’s damn hot.
How to keep your cool?
July of last year earned the official designation as the hottest month in history for San Antonio, Texas. It’s also the month that garnered me the designation “salt monster on two wheels.”
I’m not really kidding, either.
When I arrive home after my bicycle commute, there are sometimes egregious amounts of salt on my helmet straps, bicycle bag, or anywhere else my salt-exuding body has touched. At times this is a fascinating phenomenon, but mostly it’s just gross. Still, don’t feel self-conscious if you get a little salty.
Here are a few suggestions tips to help you perform well (and, well, survive) this July, when the mercury will doubtless soar past the century mark again:
1. Don’t start your rides dehydrated. Even trained athletes have been known to underestimate their hydration needs. Days that you’re biking in the heat should be days when you’re drinking a lot of fluids.
2. Think about drinking most of your water early in the ride. Why? When you’re dealing with temps over 95 degrees, the water in your bottle can get quite hot, quite fast. I’ve brought bottle to parched lips and recoiled when I discovered the water was at a temperature better suited for warming up a baby’s bottle than providing cool relief. That said, even hot water is better than no water, so cowboy up and drink it.
3. If, like me, you are a salt monster, it might not be a bad idea to down an electrolyte beverage. Gatorade’s G2 drink has just 70 calories a bottle, but doesn’t skimp on the vitamins, potassium, and sodium your body may be begging for.
4. Carry more water than you think you’ll need. I really should follow this advice myself, but usually I don’t. But here’s some motivation: If you have two water-bottle cages, you can use some of the water from one of the bottles like a firehose — dousing your head with water can offer some instant relief if the heat is really getting to you.
5. Back off on your speed. If you’re treating your bicycle commute home as the Tour de France and it’s 102 degrees outside, you are asking for trouble. Reducing your physical exertion can help to keep things manageable. Might the granny gear be just the ticket for that next hill? YES.
Heat safety, adequate hydration, taking it easy, and not dying are all good ways of building your cycling-commuter steet cred, to become a human-powered human. An old salt of the rolling road. •
Justin Moore writes a blog called The Bike Geek at bikegurus.com. He’s a native San Antonian, and this is his first Current contribution.
Two Wheels Good appears the second Wednesday of each month. If you’re interested in contributing your hard-earned two-wheeled wit and wisdom, email [email protected].