I’m sitting on my front porch writing instead of riding because I got caught in a thunderstorm late yesterday and my bike shoes are still soaked!
Too bad because it is the perfect cycling day-79 degrees, sunny with very low humidity and a slight breeze. But it is mid-July and the barometer is sure to rise.
When it does, don’t let the heat or humidity stop you from hopping on your bike for some exercise and fresh air. You can still ride, just be a bit more thoughtful about it.
Years ago on a camping, hiking, mountain biking and canoeing vacation, I experienced dehydration: dizziness and vomiting, followed by a trip to the emergency room in an air-conditioned ambulance. As soon as a very tall and chipper (it was 2 a.m.) male nurse gave me fluids through an IV drip, I felt oh so much better. But it was a warning to me that I needed to be careful when doing or overdoing any outdoor activity in hot weather!
To avoid a midnight ride to the hospital, don’t get caught in the desert with an empty camelback, stay hydrated and tape this blog post to your helmet. Below are some basic tips to help you stay cool. (I’ll blog about looking cool in a future post.) These are a combination of my own suggestions sprinkled with tips from two web sites cogandchain.com and womenscycling.ca. The latter web site is great because it talks in depth about hydration; I recommend it.
One of my favorite tips learned from years of cycling vacations is to ride early, ride shady. Connecticut is a great place to recreate during the summer months because of its many tree lined trails, streets and roads. While bicycling through other states I’ve discovered the value of a 6 a.m. start and the relief big deciduous trees can provide. Three rides in particular stand out in my memory: a 50-miler through the Sonoran Desert in Tuscon, Arizona, a mountain bike ride (it was 102 degrees) on the REM trail just outside of Zion National Park in Utah, and in Western Maryland near Antietam National Park past beautiful farmland set on surprisingly treeless roads. Amazing areas, great scenery but without the cooling benefit of shade trees it made for some unusually quiet, (when windy, leafy trees are noisy) hot, and occasionally uncomfortable rides. All of these rides were memorable, I’d do them again but had I started them at 6am I wouldn’t have suffered as much. And in the case of Maryland--it was 95 degrees, humid and relentlessly sunny at 10am--I cut the ride short which was disappointing. It felt like my arms were on fire—I had not expected those temps in mid-May and my body wasn’t ready for it. The Maryland experience and a Western Vermont trip taught me about shade and cycling in areas that are actively farmed or grazed—lots of pretty fields dotted with lazy cows, great wide open views but not many trees.
So I’m a fan of riding early (try to be done by 11am) and finding routes with lots of tall trees close to the road or even forming a canopy over the road. After work I do a ride through Hamden and Bethany that is 85% shady—it is only 18 miles but can be made longer for a weekend jaunt--though the shade % drops a bit. This loop is perfect for a Saturday morning before chores or after work when the sun is past its peak. (If you want the route sheet send me a comment.) Summer is short in New England and hopefully these tips will help you find ways to enjoy it! See you out there.
Seven cool tips for cycling in the summer
- Start your ride well-hydrated. Be sure to drink before, during and after a ride.
- When riding in the summer carry water and a sports drink with you—in two or more bottles. Sports drinks replace sodium and chloride, important electrolytes lost through sweat.
- When it’s possible ride in the early morning to avoid higher temperatures or after 5:30pm.
- If it’s super humid (i.e. if levels are higher than 50%) pack an extra water bottle in your jersey. Try to plan a route that has places where you can refill. (I’ve even stopped at houses and asked to fill up from their hose.)
- Wear a good sweat-wicking jersey or T-shirt to keep your body cooler and dryer. They are hard to find but light colored bike shorts are so much better than the standard black lycra in the heat.
- Feeling dizzy or just plain hot, take a break in the shade to cool your body down. Splash some water from that extra bottle on your face. Carry a cell phone just in case you need a ride home.
- Try to find shady routes. I’ve found it makes a huge difference and can really cool me down.