In the dead of winter, cyclists dream of shedding their layers, tights, long-sleeves and shoe covers to thaw out and roll in pleasant temperatures. Sunny and warm cycling destinations like Málaga, Calpé, Tenerife, and Portugal top their lists in winter.
I ride in mild temperatures the rest of the year, but the payback is extreme heat in July and August. My ideal summer holiday takes place in a cooler climate to escape searing local temperatures. Thoughts turn north instead of south. Brittany, France, was the destination this year. It was 20° C and rained a lot, so we didn’t cycle that much. But we relished the change in weather and blissfully slept at night (14°C) under a cosy blanket.
Cloud cover is your friend
Clear blue skies in January, February, March mean frigid temperatures. The sun rises later, too, so it takes longer to warm things up. But a good layer of cloud cover usually helps trap, reflect and maintain the little heat there is or develops during the day.
Blue skies in summer mean the sun is free to beat down on you directly, pushing your core temps further as you exercise and the mercury higher. I welcome cloud cover in the summer months. It protects cyclists from direct exposure and makes a sortie more tolerable. Cloud cover brings higher UV levels, summer or winter, so never forget the sunscreen.
Check the forecast
Who doesn’t have a weather app on their smartphone? I use mine all winter long, but find it most useful in summer. Peeking at the thermometer out the window or physically stepping outside to get a feel for things isn’t enough. An accurate and reliable weather app, for any cyclist, is a vital resource before heading out the door.
The daily forecast and hourly breakdowns guide me to the safe hours I can ride in the summer. Humidity levels are equally important. In humid regions, the listed temperature is often different from the realistic “feels-like” temp. For example, right now, it’s 32°C, the humidity is 65%, and the “feels like” temp is a more realistic 38°C. Six degrees isn’t negligible.
Since the days are shorter in winter, cyclists ride later when the sun finally makes an appearance. Even after sunrise, it takes time for things to warm up enough to be tolerable. It’s the perfect excuse to stay in bed longer. People go to bed earlier in winter too, since it’s already dark by the late afternoon.
To seize the chance to ride in a summer, you gotta get up early when the temperatures are the most clement. And to be ready first thing, you need to be in bed early. This isn’t easy in the summer, as the long daylight hours confuse your circadian rhythm. I need to be up and out at first light if I want to get a ride in. This morning, at 7, it was already 28°C.
How long are your winter rides? The answer varies, of course. But I’m betting two to three hours, tops. Getting out in the winter is a challenge in many regions because of the biting cold, frozen feet and hands. You can only take so much before you seek refuge in a warm coffee shop or hear the couch calling.
Temperatures rise fast once the sun comes up in summer. Even if you get out at first light, you need, and want, to be out of the elements before 11 at least. That limits rides to between two and three hours before exposure to the heat becomes dangerous. In direct contrast, my longest rides are in the winter.
Hydration is key
Hydration is important every day, particularly if you’re out riding. You can become dehydrated in winter or summer. A common guideline is one bottle for every hour you ride. It’s a simple rule to follow, but hard to stick to in the winter cold when you don’t feel naturally thirsty.
I drink more than one bottle in the heat of summer. In 30°+, you sweat a ton, particularly in a humid environment, expelling precious salt and minerals. I bring along electrolyte tabs and fill up at a fountain when necessary. At least another two bottles go down when I get home. After a summer ride, the tips of my fingers can look like prunes, as if I’ve been in the water too long. Moral of the story is to drink, summer and winter.
Extreme temperatures can be brutal on the body’s organism. If you ride in prolonged cold conditions during winter and ignore the warning signs, your core temperature may drop below 35°C (95°F). When this happens, you become hypothermic. It starts with the shivers and leads to mental confusion. If it worsens, the shivering stops, but the confusion increases. That’s when it’s time to get warm and seek help.
No, you won’t become hypothermic in the summer. But it’s easy to become hyperthermic. That’s when you overheat because your body cannot manage the situation and absorbs more heat than it dissipates. Also known as heat exhaustion, it too starts with shivers and confusion. It’s a sign your body can’t keep up and core temps are getting dangerously close to or above 37°C (98.6°F). If not treated quickly, it can worsen to become a life-threatening case of heat stroke.
If either happens to you in extreme summer or winter temperatures, stop riding and seek help. Drink in the winter and summer, even if you aren’t thirsty. In summer, water may not be enough. Look for electrolyte tabs and other drink powders to add to your bottle if you ride in extreme heat. Or better yet, stay home.
Cyclists are fortunate to have technology on their side. Smart trainers have taken the place of boring indoor mag trainers. Today, cyclists can ride and train indoors, even with their friends, from the comfort of their pain cave or living room. Smart apps have turned indoor cycling into a fun replacement for riding outside when extreme temperatures don’t allow it.
So when it’s really too hot in summer and I feel cooped up at home, I break out my smart trainer and ride inside. This is only a viable option, thanks to air conditioning, of course. I prefer to ride outdoors. So even though summer is my winter, I consider myself lucky to live and ride where I do. Getting up at dawn this time of the year isn’t my favourite thing, but I love a good nap in the afternoon.
It is a pleasure to ride through my vacant city in summer, too. Everyone has left the city to escape the heat, traffic is at a minimum and the bike lane out of town to the surrounding hills is no longer an obstacle course. It’s such a contrast to the rest of the year. Until the mercury drops, I’ll wake up early, ride a little less, drink more bottles, and enjoy the morning sunrise. Winter is coming soon enough.