Biking in the heat and humidity of St. Louis summers

In response to my post about my evening bike adventures last week, reader Rebecca posed some questions about strategies for biking in the heat and humidity:

I am struggling with the incentive to get out on the bike after work now that the heat and humidity have found us. I did bike to church on Sunday (2.2mi each direction), but I’m having trouble imagining that 6+ miles to work is possible in this weather. Do you shower more often when you bike in the summer?

I have been reading [other blog posts] about how to bike in the summer, but Chicago and Boston and Canada just don’t have the same smothering humidity + unbelievable temps that I’ve experienced in St. Louis. Do you have any tips other than patterned and dark clothing [for concealing sweat]? Do you have a threshold temp? When is it “too hot” to bike?

I feel a bit sheepish answering these questions as I sit here, hibernating in my air conditioned apartment, having done nothing more taxing outdoors in the past day-and-a-half than walk my son the half block to and from the sitter’s house.

Sheepish, but qualified.  I’ve put in my time as a regular bike commuter in St. Louis for five summers, one-and-a-half of which involved a six-mile each way commute.  Perhaps my summer hibernation tendencies, my shunning the heat and intense sun, make me more qualified — if I can get out and bike in this, so can you, dear readers!

While not usually my thing, the “cycle chic” mentality is all well and good most of the time.  However, St. Louis summers, with humidity regularly well above 70% and temperatures in the 90s (which mean heat indices of 100°F and up) is NOT the time to worry about bike fashion.Continue reading “Biking in the heat and humidity of St. Louis summers”

The end of the car commute

I’ve planned some version of this post in my head for quite awhile, though I was beginning to think it would never happen.

Over two-and-a-half (!) years ago, I accepted a position promoting active transportation (with a focus on biking).  It was a great opportunity, with one big downside: my four-and-a-half years of biking to work came to a screeching halt.

I explored options for bike commuting, including combining biking with transit, but the location, sixteen miles away, with a river crossing that is only spanned by an interstate (if I didn’t want to travel significantly out of the way, and still be on high-speed highways), and no transit service made that an unrealistic option for me.  I know some people bike to work at that distance and longer, but spending over two hours getting to and from work, and my route options (or lack there-of), made it a nonstarter for me.

Going into it, I knew the switch from a bike commute to a car commute (about 30 minutes each way) would be hard to swallow, and it was.  Everyday, I drove past an overpass reconstruction that was set to be complete exactly a year from when I started the position, and I set an arbitrary deadline of finding something else by the time they completed the project.

A year came and went.  Then two.  I enjoyed my job and working with my coworkers, but the drive bothered me.  And I didn’t want it to NOT bother me, but it didn’t bother me enough to bite the bullet and leave without another job lined up, not in this economy.

I’ve known for several months now that continued funding for my position was uncertain, but I found out just HOW uncertain two weeks ago, when the higher-ups informed me that due to recent budget cuts, my job would be ending effective July 31.  Alrighty, then.

I’m exploring a few possibilities, and, at least for now, not even letting myself look at positions that I could not readily access without a car.  At this point, I don’t know what things will look like come August 1, but I won’t be spending an hour in the car that day, and that can only be a good thing.

Second best

My one hangup with my fabulous new carpool is the bike parking situation.  I hoped for some kind of covered, secure place to lock my bicycle, perhaps a garage, easily accessible basement, or a covered porch at my coworker’s house.  I rode the first morning, not knowing exactly what I would find (I already knew the garage option was out) but determined to make it work one way or another.

I arrived early on day one and found no covered parking options.  Instead, I locked up to one of the vertical support poles of a chain link fence in the back yard.  Baby Jake and I were not pleased.  Other than when actively being ridden, or for relatively short lock-ups when running errands, Baby Jake is an indoor bicycle.

I didn’t like the idea of my lovely bicycle sitting exposed to the elements for ten-and-a-half hours every day, not to mention some concerns about theft.

Enter Back-Up Bike (BUB).

BUB lacked some of the convenient commuting accessories I’d added to my main bike, namely a rear rack and crate.  I found a used rear rack at Bicycle Works, and planned to just switch my lone plastic milk crate back and forth between Baby Jake and BUB, but I tired of that pretty quickly.  I toyed around with the notion of carrying a back pack, but it’s so nice to ride “naked,” i.e., no back pack, especially in the heat of summer.

I could just bike to a store and buy a plastic crate, but that would be too easy, so the search for a used milk crate (or something similar) continues.  I will find one!  In the mean time, I rigged up a super classy cardboard box, as you can see in the above photo.  It fits will with some of BUB’s other swanky features:

Wine cork in handlebar end
Another cork, plus fender secured with string

Très chic, non?