Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Slow-cooked commuter!

100 degrees(f). Say it out loud with me.

"One Hundred degrees!"

This was the last temperature announced on the radio. I am contemplative as I stand in the parking lot. It is time to go. 90 miles. Freeway. Commuter fishes with the perils and delays inherent in the species. I know it will get hotter. It is not yet time for the hottest part of the day. That will come an hour or so later. The National Weather Service recap the next day will prove me right. Official high at Portland Airport: 102. 106 at Tigard. 103 at Salem. I must pass through all of them on my route.

A breeze blows past me as I stand and ponder. I am wrong to call it a breeze. It is a hot and angry wind. As the air moves it picks up heat from things roasting in the harsh sun. Black asphalt has been storing fire all day. Cars baking in the sun give off heat visible as waves in the air. The wind gleefully picks these up like little torches and uses them as weapons. It wants to burn my skin and suck precious moisture out of my material body.

I shrug off the wind and consider my options. My gaze goes to Sophie and then to the little car. Soon my eyes are dragged back to the bike. Air-conditioned comfort or a hot ride? Of course, if given the choice I will ride. It is what I am, it is what I do. It is not Sophie I am worried about. I would be concerned about leaving her alone overnight. There is no secure place for her. Sophie looks willing to venture out into the heat. The burning wind and hot pavement will not bother her.

The opposite, actually. Warm pavement means warm tires. Traction will be increased. It is a shame that our straight-line ride will not require the extra stickiness in the tires. The wind that burns my face is still cooler than the hot fluids that will circulate through Sophie's core. It will be up to me to keep plentiful volume flowing through Sophie's radiator. I do consider the possibility of one of the frequent traffic jams. Will the little fan be enough to get her through? I have great faith in Honda's engineers. It will be ok.

It is me that I am most concerned about. I have been here before. Riding in temperatures over a hundred degrees is not a new experience. It is precisely this fact that makes me hesitate. Why am I showing this weakness? I have battled the Weather Gods in the worst winter conditions they can provide. This should be no different. I am still a warrior. Perhaps the difference is in the sunshine versus the cold. When it is cold and bleak one's mind immediately begins to prepare for battle. These sunny days are the ultimate diversion tactic.

Warm days start out promising. It is so refreshing to ride in the crisp, clean air of the mornings. One's mind embraces this type of day as perfect for riding. When the rider spends the day in a cool office there is no trigger for a battle alarm. The mind continues to regard this day as one very fit for riding. It is only upon emerging from the cave that the mind is confronted by the harshness of the adversary. There is little time to mentally prepare for the battle. This sudden confrontation can make a rider consider retreat. It is like being rushed by the enemy.

My gear feels so heavy and hot already as I pull it on. When I don the full face helmet and pull the visor down I feel like I will suffocate. Jacket and riding pants block the burning of the direct sun. There is a price to be paid in return. My own body heat now has nowhere to go. I am hot-blooded to begin with. Why am I doing this? It is so tempting to ride in pants and short sleeved shirt. Why should I suffer the heat to wear the gear? Why is it so important to me to do what I consider to be the "right thing"?

I know the arguments for wearing the gear. Riders can crash anytime in any weather. That's why things are called "accidents" isn't it? Whatever you brought to the party is what you dance with. There is no chance to hit the "pause" button so we can suit up and try it again. Cold or hot, crashes do damage to the body. Good gear can prevent or minimize these injuries. Heat dehydration can affect one's ability to make good decisions and remain smooth. My ride will be long enough and the weather hot enough that this could well be a factor. This would not be a good mix in heavy freeway traffic. Still, it is SO hot!

Why do I know the arguments so well? 25 to 30 times a year I present these arguments to my classes. Most classes have 24 students. If I teach 25 classes I have presented these arguments to 600 students. I am becoming well known in the community of riders in the areas I frequent. The answer to the question of "why?" is personal credibility and integrity. How would I answer a student who wanted to know why I said one thing and was doing another? There might be answers I could stammer out. I am afraid that if a student started questioning the validity of one thing I taught them they would question others. The carefully built foundation could begin to crumble with bad results. I am compelled to "walk the talk".

Besides, I personally believe in gear. All the gear, all the time. It is a very hot ride. Roadcrafter jackets and pants are built wonderfully for venting. No matter how much fiery air passes through, no cooling happens. My misery is somewhat compounded by the fact that every rider I see is in jeans and a T-shirt. The only exceptions are a kid on a Katana who is in shorts and an older man who has a leather jacket on. I feel like a man who wears a fur coat to the beach. Everyone else is in light swim wear. Only he understands why he wears the coat.

We arrive home safely. Sophie appears none the worse for wear. I am soaked under my 'Stich. It was worth it. Addictions require frequent fixes. True, there was suffering. I take comfort, no, I savor the victory. Seeing all the commuters stuffed in their boxes with the windows rolled up reminds me of why I do this in the first place. I chose to suffer discomfort as the price of maintaining my independence. Wearing all the gear probably made the other riders shake their heads at me. It does not matter. My choices stated who I was and what I believe in. I am still a Road Warrior.

Miles and smiles



Rod Barnes said...

Read about your commute in the heat with interest. Like you, I ride with gear regardless -- even when I so want to strip down. :-)

I now live in Beaverton but grew up in Albany. Made that commute for two years -- sucks. Too much time out of my life so I moved up here 17 years ago.

Mostly, just wanted to say "hi" to someone from my home town.

irondad said...

thanks for stopping by! Glad to hear someone shares my philosophy when so few seem to. I will be moving up that way in the fall. My office is in Vancouver but I want to stay in Oregon. Was thinking somewhere near Oregon City so I can have access to lower valley. Suggestions on areas otherwise?


dan_durham said...

Up here in Seattle we were not quite 100's, but around 90. Still hotter than hot if you are used to the usual Pacific ocean air-conditioning. I too faced the same dilemma of the nice air-conditioned truck, or mounting the bike and braving the possible traffic down to Seatac.

Of course I had to choose the bike (CBR, not Ducati since the Ducati is air cooled..yikes!)
Too many in shorts and T-shirts. I have a mesh motorcycle jacket for hot weather which ventilates very well. I justify the cost to have the right gear for any weather, even if we don't get too many scorchers up here :)

irondad said...

I've thought about being stuck in stop and go traffic on 405 on an air-cooled bike. Like you say, Yikes! Was just up there yesterday. This time I went on up to I-90 over Lake Washington then hit 405 8 miles South of Kirkland. It was nice to use the HOV lanes but it was a mad dash through 4 lanes of traffic over to the 90 exit!

Have you seen any studies on how the vented mesh jackets hold up in crash testing? I've thought about getting one but haven't seen any data.


dan_durham said...

I would be interested in seeing some real data as well on this...
I've checked forums for recommendations and/or real world experiences from other motorcyclists when researching gear I need to buy. This isn't really "rock solid" data but it steers my purchasing decisions. I found a crash story involving the exact mesh jacket I own... a First Gear Mesh-Tex:

Note the attachment picture link at the bottom {meshtex.jpg}.

The guy said it held up to road rash quite well. This particular jacket has foam inserts for "armor" in the critical areas. It is also possible (although a pain the butt) to remove the armor to throw the jacket in the wash.

Natrually, I feel more secure with my leather sport jacket with hard armor. However, I think the mesh jacket armor would provide decent impact protection but probably leave significant bruising.

I've been seeing more and more mesh out there...now jacket makers have more expensive jackets with hard armor and still very good airflow. I'll be adding to my wardrobe soon as my budget allows... Like you said in a previous post, I have never wished I bought a cheaper product than I did!


Gary said...

This is why I love my fellow moto-commuters. How many cagers do you know who think about their drive so deeply?

For them, it is simply something to be endured, as quickly as possible. For us, it is a major part of our daily life experience.

Who is better off? The guy who is just suffering through his commute while sitting in an air-conditioned cage, or the rider who relishes the challenge and the beauty of travelling on a motorbike twice a day?

Let's face it, Dan. We Rock!

Ride well,

irondad said...


Hear, hear! You said it so well. I won't add to it or spoil it.


Anonymous said...

Mesh jackets are getting better every year and they work great (for me) when the temperature is between 80 and 100. Above 100, I go back to the Aerostitch and soak my t-shirt in water and zip up the vents. That works for about 2 hours when I have to soak the t-shirt again. I haven't yet tried Under Armour but it is specifically made for hot weather sports to wick moisture away from the skin.


irondad said...

thanks for the reminder about the soaked t-shirt. I've always meant to try it but hate getting wet! Maybe the extreme heat will drive me to it and I'll find I really like it!