I digress. Relentless heat on a ride zaps your performance and may even turn into a potential health and safety issue. You need to take measures. But what are they? Whether it’s just a passing heatwave or the dog days of summer, here are a few tips to not let the heat keep you off the bike.
Lose the cap
Cyclists all over the world are accustomed to wearing the traditional cycling cap under their helmets. It’s part of the uniform for some and the peak protects the eyes of others. But when mercury is rising, it’s time to rethink this decision. The vents in your helmet work more effectively at keeping you cool without the cap.
Those generous vents let air in but also the sun’s rays. Don’t forget the sunscreen on top if you go for a shaved look or are hair-challenged. If you don’t, you may end up with a nasty sunburn and awkward-looking tan lines. If you’ve forgone the cap for the heat but want some protection against the sun, look for lightweight and breathable UV-resistant skull caps made with you in mind.
Wearing sunscreen isn’t just for the summer. Skin-aware people understand the importance of protecting your skin year round. Don’t be shy with the 50 SPF. I promise you’ll get your bike-racer tan just the same but your skin will be shielded from the sun’s harsh UV rays.
And if you’re sporting a lightweight mesh jersey, don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your back. Some fabrics offer UV protection. Read those labels before you buy to be sure. If you’re allergic to the sun or searching for additional protection, you can easily find lightweight, wearable UV protection such as gloves, and arm and leg warmers too.
Stay hydrated and fueled
I use insulated water bottles to stave off the heat. Prepare them the night before a summer ride and keep them in the refrigerator overnight. They’ll be cool from the start and stay chilled longer. No fancy bottle is 100% effective against heat. Add a few ice cubes on your way out the door to keep it cooler longer.
In the summer, I ride with two bottles and carry a few electrolyte drink tabs with me. I’m fortunate there are plenty of fountains along my usual route to fill up as needed. Or take advantage of your coffee stop and ask to have your bottle filled. Most staff and proprietors are happy to oblige.
In normal conditions, it’s recommended to drink at least one bottle per hour of exercise. In hot weather, you can double or triple that number. It depends on how much you sweat and the intensity of your exercise. Drink to your thirst instead of forcing down liquids but drink before you feel thirsty.
Some cyclists prefer to keep plain water in one bottle so they can douse themselves occasionally with it to get a break from the heat. This method works with the wind for an immediate, albeit short, respite from scorching temperatures.
What’s your rush? That Strava segment or KOM isn’t going anywhere. And save those power tests for cooler temperatures. Riding in hot weather already raises your core body temperature, so why poke the bear? Take it down a notch. That way, you can do the full ride or workout as scheduled without risking your health.
Shorten your ride
Slowing down may be hard for some, so why not shorten your ride instead? This is especially true for cyclists not accustomed to riding in hot weather. No matter how fit you are, if you aren’t acclimated to the temperature, your body hits the red zone quickly. And you benefit less from the exercise.
If you have a big event coming up and are riding in hot weather as part of your preparation, good for you for planning ahead. It should take about five days of riding in extreme heat for your body to adapt. Gently increase your distance and effort over the acclimation period for the best results.
Ride early or late
The sun is the strongest in the middle of the day. Make it a point to get up and go out riding earlier in the day or later in the evening. One benefit of long summer daylight hours is you can head out for a 3-hour ride at 6 p.m. and be home before dark.
Riding outside of peak temperature times lowers the chances of overheating and the stress on our body’s natural cooling mechanism. You may find the roads are quieter too or catch a brilliant sunrise or sunset. If going out after 6 p.m., don’t forget those lights. We know what happens to the best of plans to be home before dark.
Take more breaks
The coffee stop is sacred to most cyclists but why stop at just one? Try that new café along your route for a second or third stop. Or simply take a break under a shady tree every once in a while. Coffee is delicious but caffeine has a slight diuretic effect (more nature breaks). Why not order water or a non-carbonated sports drink to help keep you hydrated on your next stop?
A cool shower once home will fix you up in no time. But don’t forget your recovery. Protein-based recovery drinks are readily available on the market and rehydrate you faster than plain water or carbohydrate beverages alone. Hungry muscles crave protein and water travels with it.
As we sweat, our bodies lose more than water. Sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium come along for the ride. Less-fit cyclists lose more sodium than highly trained ones but everyone’s sweat formula is distinct. Regardless, you need to replenish these elements to avoid cramping post exercise and rebuild stores. An electrolyte sports drink can do the trick, or a cold beer or two.
Ah, that got your attention. Bottoms up!