Cycling in the Summer – Shady Rides and Cool Tips

Don't let the heat keep you indoors. Read these seven tips for cool cycling this summer.

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

  1. Start your ride well-hydrated. Be sure to drink before, during and after a ride. 
  2. 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.
  3. When it’s possible ride in the early morning to avoid higher temperatures or after 5:30pm.
  4. 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.)
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7.  Try to find shady routes. I’ve found it makes a huge difference and can really cool me down.

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Nelson Merchan July 25, 2011 at 06:08 PM
Nice article. I would love to have the route sheet My son and I are just starting to get into bike riding. I hope you write about other routes in CT and nearby.
Lisa M. Maloney July 28, 2011 at 12:42 AM
Hi Nelson, thanks for checking in. I'm sorry I'm just reading this post. I will send you the route sheet by Friday. Its short, shady and a bit hilly! And yes I wrote about riding in Woodbury, CT this week-hope you read it! Another beautiful place to ride. This week I'll write about a nice 30 mile Cheshire/Wallingford/Hamden ride that passes by 3 farms! And will post that route. It is pretty flat and traffic isn't too bad--especially on a Sat morning. See you out there! Lisa
Lisa M. Maloney July 29, 2011 at 09:58 PM
Hi Nelson As promised the Shady and a bit Hilly Route. It is only 17 miles (when I ride it it is a bit longer as I ride to a friend's house to pick her up--I don't include that part:)! Start at Alice Peck School, HIllfield Rd Hamden R out of parking lot .6 Left Still HIll .7 Right Deerfield 1.1 Left Russo 1.3 Right West Woods 1.6 Left West Woods 2.4 Straight Brooks 3.9 Left Downs Road 5.0 Right Route 69 (BUSY ROAD BE CAREFUL) 5.6 Left Morris 6.2 Right Sperry 7.2 Left Bethway 8.0 Right Hatfield Hill 8.3 Left Sperry 8.8 Left Tuttle 9.2 Right Carrington 9.6 Left Litcheifld Turnpike (Hill) 10.5 Right Rainbow 11 Right (BE CAREFUL VERY BUSY ROAD) 11.5 Left Porter Hill 11.8 Right Wooding Hill Road (Steep downhill be careful!) 12.4 Left Hoadley 13.4 Right Downs 14 Left Carmel 14.3 Left Brooks 15.2 Right West Woods 15.4 Left Russo 15.6 Right Deerfield 16 Left Still Hill 16.1 Right Johnson 16.8 back at Alice Peck School 16.0 Left Stll Hill
Nelson Merchan May 25, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Wow. Thanks a lot. I will give it a try with my son.


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