If you’re tough enough to drag yourself out of the air conditioning on a steamy day, you’re tough enough to be a serious cyclist. Too often though tough equals foolish, especially among amateur athletes who push themselves too hard. Pedaling your usual route on a hot day puts you at risk of dehydration and heat-related illnesses. These conditions are not only potentially lethal, but riding yourself into a purple-faced, sunburned and huffing ball of misery will cost you your street cred (or in this case, bike path cred) in a hurry.
Schedule with Care
It’s early afternoon and you unload your bike on a country road, intending to ride a few miles through fields and quiet dirt roads. On a hot day, this plan will give you an idea what it’s like to bike on the surface of the sun. You can’t control the temperature, but two factors dictate how the weather affects your ride: the time of day and your surroundings. Ride before 10 a.m. or after 5 p.m. for the coolest temperatures and least sun exposure, and look for a route that is either partially shaded or runs along a large body of water so you can benefit from sea breezes. This could be the chance to try out a new path you’ve never tried before. Circle a local lake or head to the closest state park; just be sure to stay on a path and carry a map if you’re unfamiliar with the area.
Dress the Part
You’ll create your own breeze as you ride, but if the air is hot and heavy, that self-generated wind won’t be enough to keep you cool. A hot day is one time when function matters far more than fashion. Your clothes need to fit you closely to cut down on wind resistance, so pull on a pair of bike shorts featuring the height of sexiness: a padded crotch. On top, wear a short-sleeved T-shirt or tank top made from performance fabrics, which are designed to wick away moisture. Your favorite sporting goods store might even sell items made with sun-resistant fabrics. Socks made from synthetic fabric prevent blisters and pull sweat away from your feet as it forms. Channel your inner Madonna (everybody has one) and wear finger-less or short-finger riding gloves.
Even if you wait to ride until the sun is low in the sky, guard against sun damage. Slather any skin that’s exposed or just covered by the edges of clothing with broad-protection, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Don’t forget the back of your neck and the tips of your ears. Rub the stuff into your lips too or apply a lip balm that contains sunscreen. Wear sunglasses and a bike helmet with a brim, and just before you head out, soak a bandanna in cold water and tie it onto your head underneath your helmet. Riding with a backpack on traps heat against your back, so if you’re going on a long ride, opt for a narrow hydration pack that has pockets for snacks and extra sunscreen. On a shorter ride, pack sports gels and your keys in a handlebar bag or strap on a badass fanny pack, and attach a bottle of icy water to your bike.
Take It Easy
Scorching temperatures should inspire you to ease off on your normal ride. Cut the length and speed of the ride you’d take in cool weather by at least 25 percent when it’s hot out. Stick close to home or ride several times around a short loop trail; these options give you the flexibility to cut your ride short, which you can’t easily do if you start feeling dizzy while you’re miles from your car. If you have water to spare or ride near a lake or stream, stop every time your bandanna starts to feel warm to soak it in cool water again, and tie it around your neck or hold it to your forehead when you start feeling too hot. Hydration is never more important than on a hot day, so give your water bottle a workout. The American Council on Exercise recommends drinking 6 to 8 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes, though you might need more to make it home in one well-hydrated piece.
References & Resources
- MayoClinic.com: Heat and Exercise: Keeping Cool in Hot Weather
- REI.com: How to Choose Bike Clothing
- American Academy of Dermatology: Sunscreens
- American Council on Exercise: American Council on Exercise Offers Tips on Keeping Cool When The Weather Is Hot
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images