No matter where you live, summer means rising temperatures. And for cyclists, that means taking extra precautions to beat the heat. Those few extra steps can mean the difference between a safe ride and a bad time – so if you’ll be riding in the summer sun, don’t leave them out.
First things first: proper hydration. Our bodies are composed predominantly of fluids, and being outside in the heat makes us lose those fluids more rapidly than usual. By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated, and that is especially hazardous in high temperatures. It’s important to stay hydrated all the time, not just in hot weather, so keep a water bottle with you during your daily activities and sip from it constantly; this will help prevent a dangerous depletion of fluids.
Try riding either early in the morning or in the evening, when the sun is not so intense. Before your ride, drink plenty of water or a sports drink – you can even start the night before to get a jump on things. During your ride, carry plenty of liquid with you. If you’re not comfortable riding one-handed while holding a bottle, you can either stop every time you need a drink (if time permits), or use a hydration pack that is worn on your back. Avoid caffeine before riding; although it can provide an extra boost, it can be dehydrating. After a ride, it’s a good idea to replenish your sodium levels – you lose a lot when you sweat, and sodium loss can lead to some killer cramps. Sports drinks are formulated for this purpose.
The clothing you wear can make a big difference in how intensely you feel the heat. Dark colours absorb heat, so choose light-colored, reflective fabrics. If you’re simply taking a leisurely ride for pleasure, there’s no need to purchase special clothing; just wear something lightweight that allows for easy movement. If you’re an avid cyclist, consider investing in cycling clothing made specifically for hot weather. Many such items are made with “wicking” fabrics such as polypropylene, Gore-Tex or Capilene, designed to transfer sweat away from your body and keep you dry and comfortable. Look for a shirt or vest with a zipper in front for ventilation. If you want to avoid blisters, don’t wear cotton socks; again, look for socks made of moisture-wicking materials. Gloves can keep your hands from slipping off the handlebars; for hot weather, choose short-fingered gloves with absorbent pads on the backs useful for dabbing away sweat when necessary.
Your helmet also affects how cool you feel on your ride. We lose most of our body heat through our heads, and helmets are made of foam that can trap heat in; you need one with adequate ventilation to keep your head cool. A good rule of thumb: the bigger the front air vents, the better the air flow. If your head tends to sweat a lot, choose a helmet with plenty of padding in the front – this will eliminate the need to wear a sweat band, which will only make your head warmer. Regardless of the temperature, helmets are a crucial part of your ride, so never use the excuse that it’s too hot to wear one!
Before you even start out, thoroughly inspect your bicycle in order to spot potential problems. Ensure that the tires are aired up properly and that everything is in good working order; you don’t want to be caught out in the heat trying to fix a flat. If you do encounter a problem that needs your attention on the road, find a shady spot in which to make the repairs.
It’s important never to push yourself beyond your physical limits, but especially so in hot weather. If you start to feel dizzy or light-headed, chilled, nauseated, or just “not right” in general, you should stop, rest, and re-hydrate.
Don’t worry so much about hydration and cooling that you forget to protect your eyes and skin from the hot weather! Make sure to slather on a high-SPF, waterproof sunscreen at least a half-hour before going out into the sun. Wear sunglasses with shatter-proof plastic lenses that are big enough to provide adequate protection. And don’t forget the lip balm. Now you’re ready for your hot-weather ride!