Summer Cycling, Some Are Cycling

If you can't stand the heat, you're supposed to get out of the kitchen. But what if the heat is everywhere else and you were just in the kitchen to get some refreshing  ice-cold lemonade because it's just so damn hot outside? What then? WHAT THEN? If that opening somehow made sense to you, it means that you've been outside recently and your brain has melted, along with perhaps the soles of your shoes and any assorted chocolate bars you're carrying in your pockets or purse. It has been very hot in DC and we haven't yet reached August, the month in which the weather transitions from unbearable to un-fucking-bearable. And yet, people (or extraordinarily convincing robots/terminators) continue to bicycle through this heat. In fact, I think I've seen more people bicycling this summer than I've ever seen before and I've been trying to figure out why this is the case. Don't people realize that biking exposes them to the heat and that cars (and putatively buses and metro cars) have air conditioning? Why not trade the relative discomfort for the relative comfort? I have a few theories:

1. Well, I mean, the obvious first one is  the robot/terminator theory I mentioned above. Clearly, the vast majority of Washingtonians have been supplanted by verisimilitudinous cyborgs of an unknown provenance. Maybe these terminators charge their batteries via sunlight, in a kind of weird photovoltaic/Superman sort of way. And they probably don't feel heat and cold (nor love). But since I'm not able to prove any of this (yet), I'll proceed apace.

2. Bicycling remains convenient and more convenient than other kinds of transportation, even when hot. In short, the time and money cost of taking a different mode of transportation outweighs the grossness cost of cycling through the heat. Bicycling is still simply the best option for getting around and little things like "sweating" and "the threat of heat stroke" don't prevent it from being the most viable transportation option for short and medium distances in an urban environment. Best in cold, best in heat, best when perfectly temperate, simply the best, better than all the rest. We could call this the (Tina) Turner thesis if that name wasn't already taken.

3. You're going to get gross anyway, so why not get gross faster? Unless you can walk through conditioned air to a car and then in conditioned air drive to your destination where the air is also conditioned, it's likely that you'll be exposed to some degree of absurd summer heat somewhere along the way. Like, if you're walking to the metro or waiting for the bus. This is what I would style the fatalist theory. If you're going to get hot anyway, why change away from your bikey habit?

4. It's Bikeshare's fault. When all else fails, blame bikeshare. Simplistic? Sure. But wrong? Maybe not!

5. Standards have slipped and now grossness is perfectly acceptable. This is your classic declinist argument. Grossness and sweatiness are no longer things to be upset about it. People have been beaten down by the sun beating down on them and they have a kind of Stockholm syndrome (though I suppose the syndrome should be named after somewhere warmer), identifying with feeling of being oppressed by the heat and humidity.

6. Showers. More workplaces have showers now, or showers nearby, and people take showers at work. In this regard, perhaps the grossness is only temporary and people feel better equipped to muscle through it. Maybe even in muscle shirts. But I would question whether so many of the people I see riding in what I believe to be work clothes are showering at their destinations. And what about their BEGRIMED attire?

7. Population effect. Maybe DC's population has just increased to the point where it's just the absolute number of bicyclists that has increased and it's not an actual percentage increase. Therefore, my observations of the increase aren't reflective of a greater trend at all.

8. They have no choice. Perhaps the all-powerful bicycle lobby is holding their family hostage. Or, perhaps like Cortes, they've burned their ships (in this case, cars or SmartTrip cards or something?) and have no other way to get around other than bicycle. But in the transit-dense part of the city where I tend to ride, I have a hard time believing that it proves impossible for many of the seemingly well-heeled (and sometimes well high-heeled) bicyclists to get around by another means on especially hot days.

9. We have undergone on a bikey paradigm shift. Simply put, the notion of bicycling as transportation has taken such a strong hold that people no longer consider other options, irrespective of weather conditions. I certainly know that sometimes I've left the house for a bike trip without considering the heat/cold/rain/sleet/snow/SharkNado, accepting in advance the idea that I was going by bike because that's just how I go places. Maybe that's just the way that people think now.

Somewhat ironically (?), this summer, as more people have taken to biking,  I've been availing myself of more transportation options than has historically been the case. I've driven to work a few times and I think I've taken the Metro more the past two months than I did for the previous two years. These decisions have been mostly weather-related, but with weather as a kind of ancillary issue. That is to say, it's not the heat itself, but the consequences of riding in the heat. Since I normally ride my bike in bikey clothes and shower and change when I get here, when I'm in a rush and need to be at my desk as soon as I get into the office, I won't bike. There are obvious trade-offs to this (driving in DC is horrible and frustrating, for example), sometimes this just makes more sense.

So what are your theories? Are more people biking this summer? Or am I in the midst of a heat-induced hallucination? Do you find yourself cycling more often, regardless of the heat? Why? Or why not? And what about humidity? Do you pronounce it like I do with extra emphasis on not pronouncing the h? And why is that? So many questions. So many answers?


  1. Seems like more people are biking than at this point last year but I've thought that each of the last three springs, summers, and falls. (This winter, I didn't notice an increase, but I didn't notice much of a decline, despite the bitter cold).

  2. I like the Cortes angle

    1. just so you know, those of us in Texas are laughing at all you people up north grousing about "hot"

  3. it's always boggled my mind how people seem to wait until it gets to be what i consider (almost) too hot to ride and then come out in droves. a separate but related phenomenon is how the gym (and soul cycle of all places) get really busy on lovely days in early spring. maybe the increase in cycling for transport will translate into more people realizing that a 45 degree day with a chance of rain is actually nicer cycling weather than the 90+ days they rode this summer.

  4. Dingo ate my car.

  5. My theory? Up here in New York City, the whole city gets smellier when it gets hot: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2013/07/a-heatwave-and-urban-nature-it-lets.html Maybe the cyclists' smell just gets lost in the general stink.