Stay Safe and Healthy Riding Your Bike This Summer
Long, sunny summer days are the perfect opportunity for exploring the world on your bike. And while a long bike ride can be a great way to relax and spend time with friends and family, it also requires a little bit of extra preparation to make sure you don’t end up paying for the fun afterwards.
Before you hop on your bike for a big excursion this weekend, make sure you plan these parts of your trip wisely, so you can enjoy your ride from start to finish.
Plan your bike-friendly route in advance
If you’re going on a longer bike ride, you might be going into places you haven’t been before. Check out Google maps and any local cycling websites for your area to see where the safest routes for cyclists are. You don’t want to get caught riding down an unsafe highway with no shoulder or bike lane for you to use, or to waste time going down roads that won’t get you where you want to go. According to most municipal bicycle laws riding against traffic is expressly prohibited, so take care to plan around one-way streets as well.
If you’re aiming for a popular destination, odds are that fellow cyclists before you have written about the best, most bike-friendly ways to get there to make sure you don’t hit any inefficient or unsafe roadblocks along the way.
Protect your skin
Hot weather means less coverage, as cyclists opt for short sleeves and shorts when they ride. Make sure you put on a sunscreen that is sweat-resistant to keep your skin protected from the sun for the hours that you’re on your bike.
A sunburn can actually slow you down, as it causes fatigue and increases your metabolism, which can make you thirstier. Since you’ll be busy riding, you might not notice the telltale signs of a sunburn starting, so it’s important to make sure you have adequate protection from the very start, before you even head out the door.
Look for lightweight ways to increase coverage on your skin as well. Put a light cap under your bicycle helmet, for example, to protect the top of your head from sun exposure. (And it goes without saying that, per San Francisco bicycle laws, helmets are a must)
Stay hydrated and fueled
This one is a no-brainer — if you’re going to be exercising in hot weather, your body needs to stay hydrated. Make sure you bring enough water along on any ride you take in the summer, and if you’re going for a really long ride, try to pre-plan a few places where you can stop to refill your water vessel along the way.
To keep your water from getting unpleasantly hot during your ride, try freezing your water bottle half-full the night before, and then top it off with cold water in the morning before you head out.
Bringing a few snacks to have along the way is a good idea too, to keep your energy up; look for foods that won’t weigh you down or make you feel sluggish. This means focusing on proteins and carbs (think: nuts, trail mix, etc) over sugars.
Pack your gear in lightweight carriers
If you’re riding to a picnic or party destination, you might be bringing along more items than you usually carry on your bike. Make sure you pack your gear in a way that makes it easier to ride, not harder. Adding extra weight will slow you down, so pack light, and opt for carrying systems like backpacks — or even better, panniers that attach to the bike rack — so you don’t have to fuss with carrying mid-ride.
Start slow and don’t push your usual pace
While you might speed through town on your normal ride to work every morning, take it a little easier when you’re going on a long ride, especially in hot weather. A more adventurous ride will require much more from you — not only will you likely be riding for longer than you normally do, but it will be in hotter temperatures and possibly more challenging terrain.
Try to plan your ride for a cooler time of day — early morning or evening — and start out slow to give your body a chance to acclimate to the different conditions. Don’t push your stamina beyond what feels comfortable; better to take it easy and still have something leftover post-ride than to push it too hard and burn out far from home.
Plan for a cool-down
If you’re going on a big ride for a summer weekend, don’t plan to end the route right at your front door like you might do for a regular bike ride home from work. Your body needs a little extra time to come down from an especially intense workout.
“’The role of the cool down is to let the muscles move without any resistance, which helps clear metabolic byproducts such as lactic acid from the muscles,’” explains Philadelphia-based doctor Michael Ross. If you skip that cooling process, not only do you let the lactic acid build up, but you risk blood pooling in your legs, which Ross says can make you dizzy or lightheaded.”
Refuel with protein and carbs
After an intense ride, you might want to just plop down and eat whatever you can as quickly as possible. However, it’s better for your body if you take a moment to make smart choices. Eating something sugary might feel good in the moment, but your body is craving carbs and protein — so opt for something like beans, eggs, or vegetables that will help you rebuild and that will be easy for your body to digest post-ride.
Being prepared is the best way to stay safe and have fun on your bike this summer. By making sure you have all your bases covered, you’ll make sure you avoid the potential pitfalls that can keep your bike adventure from being the exciting time you’re looking for. Do you have tips for riding your bike in the summer? Let us know on the Bay Area Bicycle Law Facebook page!