Tips and Tricks for Cycling in the Summer
There are some things that just can’t be beat, like a warm summer day riding down the California coast. But that idyllic afternoon can easily be overshadowed by rising temperatures that make cycling feel more like a chore than a treat.
“Exercising in the heat can lead to fatigue and at worse illness and injury,” Dr. Jeffrey Aldous, Senior Lecturer in Exercise Physiology at the University of Bedfordshire, told Cycling Weekly. “Naturally, given this, it can also affect your performance.”
So what are the best ways to keep yourself cool, safe and enjoying summer rides?
Mostly it comes down to being prepared. Summer months can be hot, but other hazards, such as rain and road work, can arise, too.
Here are a few ways to make sure you’re hitting the best rides while managing the harsh weather.
Most importantly, stay cool
The heat is obviously the biggest obstacle when it comes to summer cycling. Not only is the sun beating down on you, it’s also making the pavement hotter — which can make an otherwise reasonably-temperate day feel unbearable on the road. This probably isn’t much of a factor for those commuting by car or public transit, but a ride during the hottest part of the day means you’ll have to be extra vigilant about staying cool.
Keeping hydrated is one of the biggest ways you can help yourself stay cool (and safe) on a hot summer day. Sweat is the body’s natural way to regulate temperature, and there’s no doubt you’ll be doing a lot of it cycling throughout the summer. Remember to drink water throughout the day, not just on rides and not just when you feel thirsty.
It also may be smart to add drinks with electrolytes to the mix, especially because you lose them when you sweat, and that can lead to cramps and feeling more fatigued.
To make things easier on yourself, pack as light as possible. Gear that weighs you down will only make you feel hotter. The League of American Bicyclists also points out this is a smart move because of how tires respond in the heat.
“The air pressure in tires increases as the temperature goes up so use slightly lower inflation when you know you will be riding on the extremely hot pavement to prevent a flat,” they say.
Light weight and sweat-wicking materials will be your best asset on a hot day riding through the Bay Area, and the good news is that there’s more clothing options on the market now than ever before. First, they’ll keep you feeling cooler, but they’ll also keep sweat from accumulating, which can be as uncomfortable as the heat itself. Look for clothing with mesh panels, which can help air flow and feel more comfortable. Fingerless gloves can also help prevent moisture buildup while keeping your hands protected.
Finally, just because it’s hot doesn’t mean you should skip out on layering. More than any time of year, summer weather can be unpredictable, so it’s best to be prepared with thin layers. Afterall, a hot afternoon may follow a cool morning, and a summer rain storm is never out of the question.
Sun block might not help you feel cool during the ride, but it can help you avoid the pain that comes with a sunburn afterward. It’s best to lather any exposed skin, especially on your face, arms or neck. Lay it on thick and reapply as necessary.
Plan for the weather
When it comes to summer cycling, it’s smart to expect the unexpected. Always check the weather forecast before you head out and plan accordingly. A thunderstorm can make road conditions dicy. Slick pavement and distracted drivers from the rain are just a few major concerns you’ll encounter.
If you have to, find a safe spot to wait out a storm. It’s much better to lose a few minutes than it is to put yourself and others in danger.
As for heat, wearing the right gear and staying hydrated are just part of good planning. If you can, avoid traveling during the hottest parts of the day. Morning and evening will mean you’re cooler and the pavement is cooler. Even better news is that there’s more light during the summer months, so heading out early or waiting until the evening means there will still be enough time to get a good ride in.
If you do find yourself riding when temperatures are peaking, make sure to seek some shade once you get off your bicycle. You’ll thank yourself for it later.
“If possible and safe, find some shade to park your bike when you reach your destination,” advises the League of American Bicyclists. “Most saddles are black and can attract a lot of heat when parked in the sun. A cooler saddle is way more comfortable to hop on than a hot saddle after your errand, day at work, or break.
Check your route
Because the weather is warm, there is also an abundance of road and trail construction during the summer months. Be vigilant about what’s happening along your commute, as it could differ from day to day.
To stay safe, try to avoid riding on sidewalks (this may even be illegal where you’re riding) and use a bike lane or regular lane if you’re able to.
Being a part of a cycling community can really help make summer riding easier, too.
“Other cyclists are your best allies in finding bike-friendly roads. Attention to detail matters when balancing on a few square inches of rubber, and regular riders know a city’s contours, bottlenecks and the school driveways where texting parents behind the wheel can pull out without looking,” writes the New York Times.