Sizzling Strategies – Part 1: Timing is Everything

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned it before, but just in case I haven’t: I do not commute by bike during the hot summer months in Phoenix, Arizona. The reason is simple: I don’t need to complicate life for either the Phoenix Fire Department EMTs or myself. With nightly temperatures sometimes still above 100°F at 10:00 PM, and sometimes going over 115°F when I would begin my ride home at 4:00 PM, common sense tells you to do the 16 mile roundtrip in the car!

As a lifelong desert rat – with a history of hiking, hunting, backpacking, camping and playing in the brutally hot, dry climate – it should come as no surprise that I’ve suffered heat exhaustion several times. The dizziness, cramps, headache and nausea have served to make me extremely cautious about strenuous exercise in the heat.

The heat and the high ultraviolet light also take their toll on your biking equipment. This was brought home, in dramatic fashion, a few Sundays ago in the middle of July. In the late morning, I had just returned from running some errands in the car and my wife reported that when she was in the laundry room she had heard a brief, loud swishing sound emanating from somewhere in the house. She said it sounded like an aerosol can emptying all at once. I went to the room where we park the bikes and, sure enough, the front tire on my recumbent was flat. It was more than flat, the tire bead had almost separated from the rim on one side. Upon closer examination, I saw that the tube valve stem had disintegrated and appeared to be as dry as a cracker. I’ve got to believe it was the heat which destroyed the valve and caused it to fail with explosive force.

Destructive Heat

These tire tubes are not that old, and I had been riding the bike just a few hours before. I shudder to think what might have happened if I had been out in the heat of the day and the tube had exploded while I was crossing in front of some sweaty, hot, uncomfortable motorist messing with his AC controls!

All this does not mean that I stay off the bike in the summer. My bicycle riding is an important part of my mere existence. In the words of basketball great Bill Walton: “My bike is my gym, my wheelchair, and my church all in one.” Yup. The key to surviving on your bike during an Arizona desert summer is developing a series of strategies for riding. So many components are involved, I will need to break the information into a number of posts.

In this post, we will address time and place. With the very best of intentions, a friend of mine referred to my Walton quote and asked if the bike was my gym, why I wouldn’t stay in the coolness of a real gym and ride a stationary bike to get my fix. To me, riding a bike that doesn’t go anywhere is like drinking beer that doesn’t contain any alcohol. I mean, what’s the point? Yeah, I like the taste of beer, any beer, much better than any soda, but there are also extra … benefits to real beer that are associated with alcohol. (And anybody who would argue with me about this is the same sort of laughable liar who says he only looks at Playboy Magazine for the articles!)

Also, an important part of my bicycle church is the solitude and opportunity to be alone to think my noble, sublime, transcendental thoughts. Sitting on a gym bike, and having some sweaty, smelly, grunting twenty-something fellow with outstanding pectorals on a bike next to me is hardly my idea of a satisfying religious experience.

Time to Ride

So I ride the neighborhood streets either before the sun comes up or really late in the evening. The only time I’m on the main thoroughfares is when I cross them on the way to a coffee shop or an ice cream joint. And I keep my mileage down to about two to three miles for each outing; the idea is to have fun, not lay it all out there and have to dial 911.


BluesCat is a senior citizen still living and working in Phoenix, Arizona. He buys and reads the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition because he loves and appreciates great photography.

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3 thoughts on “Sizzling Strategies – Part 1: Timing is Everything”

  1. John M. Hammer says:

    I don’t ride in the rain. Sure, I get caught in a shower or thunderstorm every now and then, however, if I know it’s going to rain but I have to get somewhere then I take the car or the bus/subway or even a cab. It’s not a safety issue, I just really hate riding in the rain even though I have all the necessary gear. Heat or cold doesn’t stop me, although when it’s really hot (and humid) or well below freezing I at least jangle the car keys in my hand before choosing how to get to my destination. Snow buildup is a safety issue because once the streets are sufficiently narrowed from plow debris or are not yet plowed, it’s either terribly unsafe to ride in traffic or impossible to make reasonable progress relative to the effort invested. Maybe I need to get a fat-tire recumbent!

    It’s good to know your limitations and to avoid unnecessary risks. Kind of a shame that you don’t have a mass transit option for your commute when your bicycle is a bad choice for the day.

    1. BluesCat says:

      Right on about the mass transit situation, John! Valley Metro Rail opened for business in 2008, and although it only serves a narrow corridor around and between Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa, it has continuously outperformed its revenue projections. It has also contributed to the revitalization of downtown Phoenix. If we could have gotten rid of some of the naysayers in our government to begin with, we’d have a spectacular transit system!

  2. David_E says:

    I grew up in Phoenix and didn’t have a car. Great article! Bicycling was my main transportation to school, work, and for recreation. I commuted 11 miles the day it was 123°F. The patches on my tubes would melt off at temperatures above 120! The goat head thorns were always a problem if you ride on the sidewalk or on the edge of the street. Drinking lots of water and knowing the places to stop for refilling the water bottles was the only way to survive.
    Now I live in Michigan and I can honestly say that riding in 120+ is easier than riding through deep ice and snow with studded snow tires!

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