5 Tips for cycling in the Heat. Summer is here in the Northern Hemisphere and so is the heat! Depending on where you live, this can come with a dehydrating low humidity or muggy, oppressive high humidity! The higher the humidity (amount of water vapor in the air) the harder it is for your body to shed the heat it creates. Conversely, the drier the heat, the faster your body loses moisture, also affecting your body’s ability to shed heat. (I remember a late spring trip to Death Valley and exiting the pool caused cooling by evaporation so rapid that it produced shivering, even though the air temp was over 110)
First Tip: Start slowly and acclimatize! Try a few small (<1 hour) rides in some heat before attempting many hours/miles of heat exposure. This should ideally be done within a week or two of your intended long training ride, Century event or multi-day tour. On a Trans California summer tour a few years ago, many riders suffered in the first days very warm temperatures and 3 riders quit the tour that evening due to heat stroke (1 went to the hospital) when temps went over 90 degrees. All 3 were from the much cooler climate of San Francisco and unaccustomed to the dry summer heat of inland California.
Second Tip: Start hydrated! This will vary with your size, age and fitness level, but drinking plenty of water/fluids before your ride will give you a reserve to draw from. Avoiding alcoholic beverages before a hot riding day(s) is also a good policy but having a cold beer afterwards is a personal decision. Those 3 aforementioned riders were in good cycling shape but unaware of the importance of hydration, both before and during the event. Yes, drinking too much water can cause “Hyponatremia” the condition where the level of salt (sodium) in the bloodstream is below normal. That’s bad. All of my cycling friends use some form of electrolyte sport drink and/or salt pills and they all have learned to tolerate heat very well. Personally, I consume at least one large bottle of fluids (usually just water) per hour when the heat rises. I also use insulated bottles to keep it cool, and if it’s a longer ride, I add an electrolyte drink.
Third Tip: Go Light! In this case, I refer to wearing light colors and materials! On very warm days (over 80 deg. F.) I often ride with a long sleeve white or yellow loose fitting cotton blend shirt. Some might find this a bit strange, but I’ve found that the cotton does a very good job of holding moisture on my skin which provides significant cooling. I sometimes pour water on myself to aid the cooling process, just like those old “Desert bags” drivers would hang on their car. The bag would wick moisture to the surface where the dehydration cooled the water significantly. There are modern jerseys, arm covers, head covers and neck bands available with modern fabrics designed to provide cooling, which do work, but I’m just old school.
Fourth Tip: Start Early! Beyond the quiet roads and soft morning light, starting early can shorten your exposure to heat significantly, hours in some cases. The challenge can be learning to tolerate the minor discomfort of the invigorating morning chill and not wearing a coat for those first few minutes that then needs to be hauled for the rest of the day. As the wise man says, “Don’t be a fool, start cool, stay cool”.
Fifth Tip: Stay Positive! Just like most other areas of life, having a positive outlook can make a huge difference in the final outcome and the enjoyment of the process. After many years of being off the bike due to injury, I finally was able to get back to cycling on a recumbent. The “carrot” I held out was the challenging Davis Double Century that I’d done many years before. I finally received my bike from the manufacture less than a month before the event and I was only able to ride 400 miles beforehand. It was 75 at 5am at the start and the temps stayed well over 100 most of the day. Having a positive outlook got me up those hot hills, across the even hotter valley all the way to the finish. Well, that coupled with staying hydrated, eating well and taking every opportunity I could find to get soaking wet. Have a great summer of cycling!