13 July 2014

Bicycle commuting: Summer gear

An old friend of mine liked to leave Columbia every summer.She maintained she liked to skip Missouri's annual hot, wet blanket feeling that summers here provide. I get it.

Every summer it seems there comes a point where the temperature has hovered around 90 or more degrees for three weeks with 95% humidity. The air is heavy and moist. Like some soup you didn't order but can't send back. (I'll have The Hotel California soup, please.) Other humans skitter between their air-conditioned automobiles and their air-conditioned offices/homes/grocery stores. In all fairness, the chill of Gerbes on West Ash in Columbia feels mighty nice after a ride across town on a 90 degree July afternoon.

We have standards! Since bicycle commuting is how I commute I am not going to give it up in the summer just because the weather is a little steamy. That said, I have a job where I am in an office setting. My esteemed colleagues expect that I won't arrive looking like I just competed in a cross country meet. For those workdays when the stickiness starts early I pack my work clothes because almost nothing is less fun than spending a day wearing semi-uncomfortable-to-start-with-sweat-soaked-clothes in an air-conditioning office suite.

Maintaining a successful bike commute regimen in the summer months takes a bit of planning. I may spend a few more precious minutes preparing for work but at the end of the day I got a bit of exercise before work and my colleagues can continue to puzzle at my commuting choice.

Must haves. The essential summertime hot weather bicycle commuting gear includes but is not limited to:

  • Bicycle carrier/pannier. You have to have something in which to carry your clothes.
  • A grocery store plastic bag (or two). For storing clothes sweated-up on the way to work.
  • Work clothes gently folded.
  • Work shoes. I have a dedicated work pair of shoes. Birkenstock Londons, thank you.
  • A towel for drying off.
  • A washcloth for, you know, washing yourself.
  • Deodorant (optional)

The changing space. Where you change from your commuting clothes matters. My new office building is so much better suited to post-bike commute changing than was the old building. In Jesse Hall, I had my choice of small bathroom stalls with no space to maneuver or larger stalls with automatic flushers. I have to suspend concern about how gross it may be to set my pannier on a public bathroom floor. My advice: Look first and avoid wet spots. Stalls with hooks for hanging clothes on are golden. Stalls with automatic toilet flushers are best avoided. The most times I ever set off the flusher while changing was six in the basement men's room in Jesse Hall. I am not proud of that.

Modest mouse. If you have your own office in which to discreetly hang up sweaty clothes to dry after changing, well, that's a special thing. If you are like me an you share an office with three colleagues in a decommissioned dorm room, there isn't much extra space available for hanging up post-ride clothes. This is where wicking clothes are best for summer bike commutes. They may smell a bit after hanging our for a work-day in a plastic bag in your pannier but they won't be wet for long once you let them breathe on the ride home.

9 to 5. Getting to work is always a chore for me. There are a myriad of boring reasons. Since hot weather engenders crankiness in me, being comfortable in my work commute clothing important.


  1. Hi Trevor! OK--here's the real question: How do you STOP sweating? The challenge for us is how long it takes a body to cool down and stop sweating even after off the bike. It's a real frustration in the summer.

  2. One bit of advice I an offer is to slow down within a mile or so of your destination. That way you aren't as worked up and heated up when you arrive. This advice is of course hard to follow if you are running late to an appointment. Changing clothes before your meeting or work or whatever does mean allowing a few extra minutes. Slowing down requires not much more time.

    I used to have a summer internship in Columbia where I walked to work wearing long-sleeves and dress pants. When I got to my office I would sit on the box air-conditioner behind my desk. Having such an a/c and using it like that can help with the cool-down process, too.