Ten tips for cycling in hot summer weather
It's hot out there! Here's how to avoid the side effects of riding in high temperatures
Summer is finally here and much of the country is sweltering under a blue sky and roasting sun. That may sound perfect for getting out on the bike, but along with the hot weather comes the challenge of dealing with high temperatures.
In the hope that the rest of the summer is going to stay warm and dry (who are we kidding?), here are some top tips from the RoadCyclingUK team to help you enjoy the hot weather without any of the side effects which can easily ruin a ride.
A well known hydration pack company uses the slogan ‘hydrate or die’ which, while a little extreme in general, does bear some truth. On hot days you’re going to sweat a lot more and so it’s vitally important to avoid dehydration, which saps your strength and makes you feel tired and unable to push the pedals.
And it doesn’t take much to enter the throes of dehydration; if you’re thirsty, it’s more than likely you’re already nearly there. You can gauge your hydration status by the colour of your urine; a light straw colour is good, a deep yellow bordering brown a sign and you need to drink a lot more.
So, to avoid dehydration, ensure you consider how long you plan to ride in the hot weather and either take enough water with you or plan convenient stops so you can top up. Plan for about 500-1,000ml per hour of riding at a decent pace. And sip often throughout the ride, to give your body a steady flow of fluids.
For long rides it’s worth considering electrolyte tablets or energy powder to add to the water to replace those essential salts and other nutrients lost as you sweat. Also, don’t just think its important to drink during your ride, don’t forget to drink plenty before and after the ride as well.
We shouldn’t need to state the benefits of applying sunscreen lotion on hot sunny days, but while it may be the first thing which crops into your head when you go to the beach, it's easy to forget when getting ready to ride your bike.
Look for a high factor for the best protection. As you’ll likely be sweating lots, a waterproof lotion can stay in place better, and on all-day rides we’d recommend packing a small bottle of lotion with you so you can slap some more on throughout the ride. The most important areas are those with thin skin – nose, ears, cheeks – and the arms. Don’t forget the backs of your legs – sunlight reflecting off the ground can burn your calves and behind your knees, and that’s fairly uncomfortable.
Take it easy
The faster and harder you ride in hot weather, the harder on your body it’s going to be. Obviously such riding can’t be avoided in a race but if you’re out in the country on an all-day ride, keep the pace steady and try to keep your energy expenditure low. Take it slow, don’t charge up all the hills. Regular breaks in the shade (or pub/café if you prefer) are a good tip too.
Wear lightweight clothing
Wear technical clothing with high sweat wicking properties and which offer plenty of ventilation; mesh panels (don't forget to apply sunscreen underneath...) full-length zips and the like, so you can get as much cooling air over your body as possible. A wicking base layer will also help remove sweat and keep you drier. Don’t neglect your feet either; thin socks and well vented shoes will keep your toes from getting clammy. Some brands now offer clothing which is super-light (and sometimes with reflective cooling technology like Coldblack or UVF protection) specifically for riding in hot weather - check out our buyer's guide.
Remember to eat
It’s easy to forget to eat on hot days, and often your appetite will be suppressed. But try to nibble on high carbohydrate snacks (nuts, malt loaf, bananas, energy bars) throughout the duration of your ride, along with remembering to drink plenty, if you want to avoid the bonk.
Use insect repellent
You can usually count on an increase in the number of airborne insects when the weather warms up and there’s nothing more unpleasant than being eaten alive by midges, particularly at dawn and dusk. So invest in a insect repellent and spray some on your legs and arms. [Or ride faster so they can’t settle – ed.]
Don't forget sunglasses
Riding in bright sunshine can be tiring for your eyes. UV rays can also damage them over the long term. A good quality pair of sunglasses with dark lenses can eliminate much of the excess light reaching your eyes making seeing where you’re going easier, and also keep the harmful UV rays out too.
Keep the sun off your head
Helmets are designed for your safety and comfort. Generous venting ensures you get refreshing air wafted across the top of your head. For those bereft of hair, don’t forget the sun can get through the air vents in a helmet, resulting in comedy leopard-spot sunburn. Either slap loads of sunscreen on or pop a Buff, or similar garment between scalp and helmet. Some brands, like Chapeau, offer lightweight, high-wicking caps for use in the summer.
Avoid the hottest part of the day
One way to ensure you don’t have to deal with the hottest part of the day is to plan your ride around it, meaning to either start earlier or later. This means you’ll be able to enjoy your ride when it’s a bit cooler and therefore suffer less from the effects of high heat. With long days, there’s plenty of time to ride in the early morning and evening. This is even more crucial if you’re planning visiting parts of the world where the temperature regularly exceeds that of Britain and more importantly, that which you are used to.
Preparation is essential
Planning your route in advance and knowing where the nearest shops/pubs/sources of water are can be handy in case you find yourself running low at any point. Planning a route with options to shorten the ride or shortcut back to your starting point in case you start to struggle is also a good plan – there’s nothing like being in the middle of nowhere, running low on water and having no idea where the nearest tap is, to put a dampener on your day in the sun.