Cycling in the Heat
This entry was posted on July 24, 2013.
In the summer months, many people avoid their bikes for the opposite reason that they don't ride in the wintertime. Now, the excuse is blazing heat and baking sun, rather than snow and frigid temperatures.
Riding in the summertime has some unique challenges, foremost among them sun and heat. This article will share some strategies for dealing with hot summer rides.
While sweat might be a problem in a work setting or on a date, it's your best friend on hot summer days. When cycling in the heat, the main way that your body stays cool is by sweating. The evaporation of sweat off your body lowers your internal temperature, and helps maintain a higher level of performance.
As many of us have experienced, humidity can be your worst nightmare in the summertime. Humidity refers to the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere around you, and the higher the humidity, the less well sweat works to keep you cool. When the mercury is rising and humidity is rising with it, slow down your rides a bit or stay off the road in the heat of the day to avoid the worst.
Wearing the right clothing is a big part of safety and comfort when cycling in the summer heat. Generally, you want to wear thin, light-colored clothes that will reflect the heat of the sun. Form-fitting clothing will actually allow for better ventilation than loose clothes, and some sort of wicking material to move your sweat to the surface will allow evaporation to keep you cool.
Unlike the winter and cooler seasons, cotton or cotton-blends can actually be a good choice in the summertime, as they hold a bit of moisture and release it slowly to keep you nice and cool.
One of the most important parts of summer riding is proper hydration. Believe it or not, on a hard ride in the heat, you can lose more than a liter of fluids per hour simply by sweating. That's a lot of fluid. Replacing those liquids should be your top priority during and after summertime rides.
Traditional water bottles are a great option for staying hydrated. These generally cost only a few dollars and slot into bottle cages that attach to the frame of your bike. These are the most common hydration method, as they are easy to clean, can hold a substantial amount of water, can be easily refilled, and can be used with one hand.
Another option for getting enough fluids is a hydration pack of some sort, such as a CamelBak, which use a water bladder mounted in a backpack with an attached drinking tube. The main advantage of this style is that it allows no-hands drinking, but the disadvantage is that many riders don't like carrying anything on their back - especially on longer rides. These are most commonly used by mountain bikers.
As a bonus, if you have extra water with you on your ride, you can pour it over your head. You see the pro cyclists doing it on tour for good reason -- evaporative cooling can remove a lot of heat in a hurry, making the head splash a great way to prevent overheating and increase performance.
Besides keeping you cool, all the sweating you experience during hot rides has the additional effect of removing electrolytes from your body. These minerals -- the most important of which are salt, potassium, chloride, bicarbonate -- fulfill fundamental functions in your body.
Without balanced and adequate levels of these electrolytes in your blood stream, your performance will suffer. Over time, low electrolyte levels can lead to headaches, muscle cramps and spasms, irregular heartbeat, coma and even death.
You can replenish your electrolyte levels to the safe zone by using sports drinks or energy gels, or by eating balanced meals and snacks.
In the summertime, you will likely want to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the harsh sun as well as flying bugs and debris. They also cut through the wind and make your rides more comfortable.
Cycling specific sunglasses often have replaceable lenses that allow the use of clear lenses for dark days or nighttime rides, yellow lenses for foggy or overcast days, and dark, polarized lenses for hot summer days.
Sunscreen can also be a tricky topic for riders, as heavy sweat can wash off most of the sunscreens on the market. Look for sports-specific lotions, and make sure to rub them in thoroughly at last 20 minutes before you start your ride. This will allow the sunscreen time to soak into your skin, and keep it from sliding right off and the first sign of sweat.
Remember as well to look for skin- and ec0-friendly sunscreens. Believe it or not, sunscreen from tourists is a large cause of coral reef decline at popular tropical beaches.
While most cyclists won't be hopping into the ocean after their ride, a natural sunscreen product will protect your local waterways and the health of your skin, as well. Zinc oxide is among the best sunscreen available, but beware the white residue on the skin. It's not the best choice for the style-conscious rider.
Shade and Rest
Even after all of the tricks listed above, you may still overheat in the summertime. When you feel hot, take a break! Slow down or pull over and find some shade. Take a rest break and drink some more fluids. After a bit of a rest, you will likely feel better.