Summertime In New York And The Cycling Ain't Easy

Summer isn't all barbecues and flowers - some of us have cycling that we can't enjoy. Here's why the sweaty season is nothing but a nuisance for cyclists.
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Summer isn't all barbecues and flowers - some of us have cycling that we can't enjoy. Here's why the sweaty season is nothing but a nuisance for cyclists.

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I used to work with an old Irish guy who hated summer, passionately hated it. I’m beginning to wonder if he was a closet cyclist. His reasoning was that no matter how cold winter gets you can always throw on another layer to combat the elements but, in summer, there’s only so much you can take off before you get burnt, stared at or arrested.

In NYC we’ve just been through a few days of temperatures in the high 90s (if you’re in Europe that converts to Bloody Hot Celsius) with a real feel, adding in the humidity and such like, in the 100s. Not exactly what I’d call cycling weather, though some may disagree. It is, in fact, dangerous weather to be doing anything in, even sinking a few cold ones, God help us. Getting up early, before the sun starts cracking the pavement and sneaking a ride in before breakfast is not really an option given that I’m already getting up with the rooster for work. Conversely, I’m none too keen on riding at night, street lights/lamp posts are in short supply on the streets round here. As a consequence my weekly mileage has take a severe dip. The only plus to this heat wave is my bike is the cleanest it’s been since the day I bought it. Actually, it’s cleaner; I rode it home in the rain. Kid with a new toy and all that...

No matter how cold winter gets you can always throw on another layer to combat the elements but, in summer, there’s only so much you can take off before you get burnt, stared at or arrested.

It’s been killing me this not getting out. Returning to the car after a bite to eat with the wife and kids earlier in the week, I spotted some poor soul labouring up the hill, soaked in sweat, pink as a really pink thing and clearly in pain. A part of me felt like a traitor for garaging my ride ;a part of me wished I was struggling up that very hill, sweating and pink, reaching for my water bottle debating whether I should drink the tepid contents or pour them over my head. I resolved there and then to get out on my bike this weekend, whatever the weather.

All my cycling jerseys are long sleeved. Both of them. I haven’t got round to buying any short sleeved jerseys yet so I had a rummage around and came up with an old Celtic football (soccer) top that was a gift from a mate of mine. Good enough. My aim was to get out, just get a few miles under my belt, take it easy and not melt. I put a second bottle cage on the down tube during the week and nicked the wife’s water bottle, fittingly, it bears the slogan ‘Get Out And Ride.’ The thermometer on our porch read 88F, it felt hotter. My daughter zapped the path with a laser thermometer, it read 129F. That’s Death Valley territory. Fortunately, it didn’t feel too humid. The door to my air conditioned home closed and I took off down the driveway, shaded by the trees but still hot.

Memories of those old double bottle cages on the handlebars entered my mind, can you still get them? Aerodynamics be damned! I’m having a pair.

The first few miles weren’t too bad. It’s mostly downhill or flat so it wasn’t taxing. I’d opted for easy gears today reasoning that it made no sense to over exert myself, getting out, putting the rubber to the road was what it was all about. That and posting a few bills. In my mind, I’d mapped out what I hoped would be a reasonably shady route through the local towns and so it proved to be. I passed a woman jogging near the tennis courts, a picture in lycra and sweat and pain. Why? Why? Despite the shade it was still hot. I could feel it but I was barely sweating. Not good. The first splash of water went over my head, trickled down my neck and under my shirt. It felt good. The second hit the back of my throat and chilled me from within.

Less than 5 miles in I was already halfway through my first bottle. Memories of those old double bottle cages on the handlebars entered my mind, can you still get them? Aerodynamics be damned! I’m having a pair. Kicking on towards the college it became obvious that my legs were heavier than normal. I’ve had bad days cycling before (relative term) but this, I knew, was down to the heat. In my youth, I was blonde, now I’m grey and just glad I have hair, my skin goes pink not golden brown, I’ve never been comfy in the sun. The temperature inched up and my work rate went down. Thankfully the route I’d chosen was neither hilly nor overly exposed because I wasn’t finding cycling in what must have by now been the mid nineties much fun at all.

I’ve ordered a couple of short sleeved jerseys online this evening so that’s sorted and I’m contemplating a helmet with a few more holes and a little less helmet.

The gates to Yogi Berra stadium marked the turnaround point of my ride, even the short hill up to the Red-hawk Diner, a hill I usually zip up, had beaten the crap out of me, low gears and all. The second bottle of water was warm but I chugged it anyway. Yeah, I’m getting those double cages, maybe even a curly straw? The sun is my enemy, it has declared war on my body. The water worked its way through, my shirt grew wet with sweat. That’s a good sign right, means everything’s working? It’s mostly downhill to The Pie Store where I stop in and grab a sausage roll and a bottle of ice cold Irn Bru, the original energy drink. I always have a good chat with the girls in here, lovely people, nice to my kids. It’s about 4 ½ miles back home with a slight up hill at the end, nothing too taxing but in this heat it’s no fun. At a red light, I steadied myself on a bus stop sign that promptly moved a good 18 inches away from me, one of those days.

Soaking in the bath I began to ruminate on the ride. A bit of a disaster, certainly not enjoyable, save for the sausage roll and Irn Bru. In the dog days of summer cycling is something to be endured not enjoyed, it’s something to battle through so you’ll maintain some semblance of fitness and form come the Fall, Autumn, whatever you choose to call it. It calls for changes to routine, for scaling back and lowering expectations, for dropping down a gear or two and checking your ego at the door. Sure there are those who can push on through all summer has to throw at them but I’m not one of them. And, like almost every aspect of this cycling lark, it calls for spending a few bucks. I’m serious about the old style double cages for the handle bars, it will give me three bottles and I’ll be able to put the pump back on the bike. Few ice cubes in the water wouldn’t go amiss either. Sunscreen is a must, the good stuff that doesn’t run if you sweat (properly hydrated I will sweat). I’ve ordered a couple of short sleeved jerseys online this evening so that’s sorted and I’m contemplating a helmet with a few more holes and a little less helmet.

The forecast for the next seven days? 95, 93, 89, 88, 89, 90, 92.

Saboteurs Johnny Lake and Matthew Harding plus some much better writers wax lyrical about cycling on the recently launched website www.Crankedupreallyhigh.com. Follow on Twitter @crankedupreally

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