Here in Colorado, and especially along the Front Range, we're fortunate enough to have great year-round bike commuting weather. There are a few days in the winter that might be miserable or even unsafe, depending on your route, to commute by bike, but other than that we can generally ride to work or school by dressing appropriately, using fenders and lights, and implementing a few other easy tips.
Proper Apparel and Hydration
The summer is the best time to bike commute. It can also be the most difficult time of the year to commute, depending on how hot it is. Unlike commuting in the spring, fall, or even the winter–when you can almost always dress to stay relatively comfortable–you have to use additional measures to commute when it's 90 degrees or hotter. You can only wear so little clothing. After that, it comes down to hydration.
- Clothing—Because we all sweat when it's hot out, you may want to dress in a separate set of riding clothes from what you plan to wear at work. If your commute is long, traditional bib shorts and a jersey are a great choice. If your commute is short, or you prefer normal street clothes, stick to a T-shirt and shorts that are lightweight and breathable. Running tops, as opposed to heavier cotton shirts, work great. And while it is not your responsibility to make sure drivers notice you (this is an obligation of the driver), keep in mind that dark clothing is harder to see, even during the daylight. If you can't stand neon yellow, a clean, bright white pair of high socks is a great alternative to catch a distracted driver's eye. And because a thunderstorm is essentially always right around the corner, it is wise to bring a lightweight raincoat or windbreaker with you whenever you commute in Colorado.
- Hydration—As stated earlier, you can only dress down to a certain temperature and remain comfortable; if it's warmer than 80 degrees you're going to sweat, even with the wind you generate from riding. Make sure to drink water before you ride, during, and after. Go by your thirst level, but keep in mind that you can easily sweat a liter per hour while riding in hot weather. Some people sweat much more than this. When you get dehydrated, your body loses its best method of cooling down (evaporation of sweat from your skin). Dehydration will not only make for a slower commute, but it will leave you feeling worn out for hours to come, and may even have you thinking twice about bike commuting the next day.
- Electrolytes (Salt)—Hyponatremia (which occurs when the salt concentration in your blood becomes dangerously low) is commonly misdiagnosed as dehydration or heat exhaustion. Symptoms of hyponatremia include nausea, vomiting, headache, confusion, and fatigue. People who are suffering from hyponatremia often chug water, thinking that they are simply dehydrated, which exacerbates the problem, and can even lead to hospitalization. Hyponatremia can be avoided by replenishing the salt you lose through your sweat with an electrolyte drink mix. It can also be avoided by adding a generous amount of salt to your food throughout the day. If you're regularly commuting an hour (30 minutes each way) in the summer heat, it would not be uncommon for you to be losing at least a gram (1,000 milligrams) of salt a day through sweat. Many people lose two to three grams of salt per hour through sweat. As such, a low-salt diet during a summer of bike commuting might not be a great idea. Of course, if you have hypertension you should discuss this with your doctor before emptying the salt shaker for every meal.
Bring Your Lights (And Remember to Charge Them)
Because the sun rises early and sets late in the summer, chances are you won't need any bike lights for your commute if you work a traditional nine to five job. However, if you're in the habit of bike commuting to work, it's likely that you bike commute just about everywhere. It's easy to head to a restaurant or backyard barbeque when the sun's out and forget to bring lights for the ride home after dusk. Here are a few bike light tips to keep in mind:
- Your front light should produce at least 300 lumens and have a flashing/strobe function. Use the flashing function in higher traffic areas to ensure the greatest chance that a driver sees you, and use the steady light function for darker, quiet roads to see-by and avoid potholes. To really see the road, you need a front light that has 600 lumens or more.
- Your rear light must have a flashing/strobe function. Always set it to the flashing mode. It should have a minimum of 50 lumens, though 100+ lumens is better.
- Both lights should have rechargeable lithium ion batteries.
- Both lights should be able to strap or clasp onto your handlebars/seat post easily and securely. A front light that points down at your wheel isn't doing its job properly.
- Unlike a car, you have to remember to charge your lights! The higher quality the bike light, the longer the battery will last left dormant. Some bike lights can go months without use and still have enough charge to use for a long night ride. Others die in a couple of days. There are a few options for ensuring that you always have a charged set of lights. The first is to have two sets and always leave one set of lights plugged into the wall. This is obviously more expensive. The second option is to have a light charging port next to your bike in your garage/living room/covered porch or wherever you leave your bike when not in use, and make it a habit to take off your lights and charge them (and leave them there until you need them again) after every ride.
- A note taped onto your handlebars can help you remember to bring lights in the first place.
Dealing With Pollen and Smoke From Forest Fires
For those with pollen allergies or asthma (and everyone else when the air quality really tanks) bike commuting in the summer can have an extra challenge. Pollen levels are lowest in the morning and reach their peak by mid-day. If you can plan around a mid-day ride, you may find some relief. If there's wildfire smoke in the air, the opposite is true. Cooler temperatures cause the smoke to sink down from the atmosphere to the ground. As such, the early morning is often the worst time for smoky air conditions, according to Colorado Air Quality. Wearing an N-95 mask may help (it can help with pollen too), but if the Air Quality Index is above 300, it may not be safe to bike commute. If you decide to bike commute anyway, take it easy. Go slow, drink plenty of water, and keep the air in your house as clean as possible so that you can recover after your rides; keep your windows closed, use HEPA air purifiers, and install a MERV 13 (or higher) air filter in your HVAC system.
Bike Crash Victims Should Always Work With an Experienced Colorado Bike Injury Lawyer
If you were injured on your bike commute, or during a ride for any other reason, it is imperative that you reach out to a qualified Colorado bike crash attorney. We urge you to call ColoBikeLaw today to discuss your case with bike crash attorney Brad Tucker so that you receive the compensation you deserve.