Monday, June 13, 2011

Five Tips For Riding In Oppressive Summer Heat

Living through summer in Phoenix is the reason I've stopped joking to friends and family back in the frozen states about how I'll be kicking back by the pool in shorts with a beer on Christmas: it comes back to bite me every year just as they're getting some decent weather.

Some of you might be glad summer is here. I'm not.

Here in the post-apocalyptic desert wastes - that is to say, urban Arizona - the summer heat rides through you. Starting in late June, the vast expanses of concrete under a relentless sun combine to turn this city into an oven that doesn't cool off until Thanksgiving. It doesn't even cool down at night.

The pavement can get up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, which combines with the heat coming off the motor and the surrounding cars. Getting caught in slow traffic in those conditions will teach you what heat is.

So, what is an earnest biker to do?

Keep riding, of course. Here are a few hard-won bits of advice for those of you who are new to riding in the heat.

Keep yourself covered - Shorts and a sleeveless Corona shirt aren't ever appropriate clothing. On a motorcycle, however, what you might think is keeping you cool is actually
interfering with your built in cooling system. Heat combined with the wind we encounter while riding can evaporate your sweat almost instantly. If you stay covered up, your sweat will accumulate enough to actually do its job and cool you off. You want your skin to be covered with some kind of material that just lets enough air move through it to be comfortable. Note that in July in Phoenix, "comfortable" is relative.

Drink a ton of water - Did I mention you'll be sweating? In intense heat, you can sweat up to four quarts in an hour. That water has to come from somewhere. Drink drink drink. Stop now and then and drink some more. Really, if you're going to be riding in the heat, you need to drink more water than you think you need to. Your goal should be to piss clear. Stopping for a bathroom break beats stopping for dehydration and heat stroke.

By the way, drink water, not sport-drinks.. You might have an occasional electrolyte-laden beverage, if you like, but what you really need is plain old water.

Avoid riding during the hottest time of the day - Seriously, take a siesta during the heat, and ride earlier or later in the day. If it's so hot it's unholy, we'll all forgive you for waiting until a cooler part of the day to ride.

Get elevated now and then - Higher altitudes bring lower temperatures. When you can't take the heat anymore, go up a big hill. It gets 3 to 5 degrees cooler for every 1000 feet of elevation you gain.

Adjust your attitude - It's hot out. You're going to sweat a lot and won't be entirely comfortable. Accept it, get out there and ride.

A final note - some people just can't handle a lot of heat. It's not wussiness, they're just not built to cope with it. If you're the kind of person who gets sick after an hour outside in hot weather, don't ride in the heat. Nothing sucks as much as struggling to get your helmet off before you barf while sweltering in your riding gear on the side of the road.