If you are an avid cyclist, at one time or another you are likely to find yourself cycling in extreme temperatures. There is so much advice, gear, and so many tips for cyclists who want to ride in colder temperatures, but what about those of us who find ourselves wanting to ride when it’s hot outside?
Our bodies need so much cooling when we are on the bike, and that becomes even more necessary when it is really warm outside. Honestly, there are times where the temperature is so high that you should probably avoid riding outdoors entirely. But what about those times where it is still safe, but just uncomfortably hot?
In this article, we will share some essential tips and suggestions to help you truly beat the heat while cycling and cycle more safely in warmer temperatures/climates.
Get Out on the Bike Earlier or Later in the Day
This is the first and arguably easiest way to deal with cycling in the heat. The time of day that you ride your bike during warm temperatures has a huge impact on just how warm and uncomfortable that ride is going to be.
If you can ride earlier in the day, or later in the day, the sun won’t be as high, and it likely won’t be as hot. Earlier in the day is usually better, as the sun has been down for quite some time, and temperatures tend to be lower than later in the evening.
Make sure to include checking the hourly forecast in your ride plan on any given day. We often do this when it is very cold outside, because it is so immediately obvious how uncomfortable we will be when it’s freezing, but we forget to do so when it’s going to be very warm!
It is also helpful to be mindful of the humidity and just how wet or dry the air is going to be. This is also going to have an impact on your comfort throughout the ride.
Also, if you are riding early/late in the day, be sure to use front and back lights if you are riding on the road. Though it is certainly more comfortable for cyclists to ride at these times, it is also more dangerous for visibility purposes.
Hydrate Before, During, and After Your Ride
I think most of us know that we need to hydrate when cycling, period, not just when it is warm outside. What many of us don’t realize is that it is so important to make sure you are hydrating well before your ride as well as after your ride in order to make sure that you are really good to go. If you are riding in the morning you should really start drinking water pretty much the moment you wake up.
Pro cyclists at Red Bull Cycling will often drink water mixed with salt right when they wake up to start their hydration off right when racing in extreme heat conditions. Generally adding a mix of electrolytes and sodium is very helpful when you are working to keep your body fully hydrated. We lose a lot of sodium when we sweat, so it’s important to keep this in mind and replenish it if possible.
There are many electrolyte drinks on the market and it can be very tough to choose. Two favorites for cyclists are Nuun* and Skratch Labs*. I tend to personally prefer Skratch Labs for cycling because it includes sugar.
I feel the added sugar helps with fuel and hydration, and I don’t particularly like the taste of stevia. Nuun is great if you are a fan of Stevia and want to avoid the sugar.
To keep your water cold, consider adding some ice, or alternatively using an insulated water bottle. Some cyclists will even freeze a water bottle and put it in a jersey pocket while they ride to keep cool! Camelbak insulated cycling water bottles really do keep your water cooler longer than a traditional water bottle, and are definitely worth the investment.
Making sure that you have eaten properly for your ride is another thing that is important in any weather, but it does become that much more important when you are cycling in the heat. Your body needs to be able to cool itself, stay hydrated, and it certainly needs fuel.
Fueling properly means being sure to eat before, during, and after your ride. Before you ride a nice, easily digestible carb like a banana is a wonderful choice.
Rice cakes (cooked rice mixed with cream cheese, some sweeteners, and some add-ins) can be great during your ride if it is a particularly intense effort. I also love Honey Stinger waffles* during a ride as I find them really easy to digest, and they don’t upset my stomach.
There are a number of commercial energy chews like Clif Bloks* as well which are helpful for getting some added sugar. Some also have added sodium which is also potentially helpful in the warm temperatures when you are sweating so much.
When it’s warmer we might not really feel like eating while we are riding, but it is really important to take in some calories (especially if it’s a hard effort).
Finally, a post-ride protein drink is also a great idea to be sure that your body recovers properly from your hard effort, which has been made even more difficult by cycling in the heat!
If you have ever been on a very warm ride and found yourself getting a little lightheaded it is likely at least in part because you have failed to fuel or hydrate properly. Sometimes this feeling can even strike us after a particularly strenuous ride in the heat.
A couple years ago I got my first ocular migraine after a particularly intense ride in the heat. I finished the ride, I got home, and as I settled on the couch I started to see all sorts of rainbows that weren’t actually there.
I thought I was either losing my mind OR going blind. Possibly both!
When I looked back on my day, I realized that I had failed to properly fuel for the ride and did not have a recovery drink after. (It was one of those rides where afterwards I just couldn’t stomach the idea of putting anything into my body right away).
I felt OK during the ride, felt ok immediately after, but it all caught up with me soon enough. I am not saying that the lack of fuel necessarily caused the ocular migraine, but something tells me it certainly didn’t help.
Wear Some Serious, Not Messing Around Sunscreen
I know, this one seems completely obvious, but it’s definitely worth noting because with all of the things a girl has to remember when she is getting ready to go out for a ride, the application of sunscreen is one that is easy to forget about.
I can’t tell you how many times I have been all ready to ride, went and swung my leg over my bike, only to then hop right back off and run back into the house because I forgot to apply sunscreen.
With the number of hours many cyclists spend on the bike in the summer, it is absolutely imperative that we take the time to research and find a really great sunscreen, and apply it liberally each ride. If you are going to be out for more than an hour or two, it makes sense to carry a travel size tube in one of your jersey pockets to re-apply halfway through.
Your sunscreen probably won’t prevent those amazing, “cycling girl badge of honor” tan lines on your legs and arms completely, but when applied thoroughly and often it will prevent skin cancer and severe burning. The last thing we want is to be so sore from a sunburn we can’t easily spin our legs for the next ride!
In terms of types of sunscreen, when I need the utmost protection I prefer a zinc oxide based sunscreen like the ones offered by Blue Lizard*. They tend to be low on hazardous ingredients and extremely effective. I admittedly love spray sunscreens for ease of use though, so if I am not going to be out quite as long I prefer the HINT spray sunscreen.
If you have sensitive skin on your face that is prone to breakouts, I would suggest going with either a Supergoop* or a Drunk Elephant* sunscreen for your face. They are on the expensive side, but for me it’s worth it to avoid the breakouts and they provide great sun protection.
Dress For the Heat! Consider Sun Sleeves/Sun Jerseys and a Well-Ventilated Helmet
My first few years of cycling I didn’t even know sun jerseys or sun sleeves existed! Now I simply can’t live without them.
I have a Terry Sun Jersey* that is always my go-to jersey for very hot rides. Even though it has long sleeves, it is so lightweight it feels like I am wearing next to nothing. It has the added bonus of extra UV protection with the long sleeves.
I have definitely had people ask how I could possibly wear long sleeves in the heat, but I am telling you it is truly no different from my short sleeves and actually feels better because my skin doesn’t seem to get quite so hot.
Also, since I usually wear an armband heart-rate monitor, it prevents a pesky additional set of tan lines on my left arm! If you want to be able to use your sun sleeves* with short sleeve jerseys, many cycling clothing companies also sell just the sleeves, so you can wear them with any short sleeve jersey.
Finally, it’s important to note that a well-ventilated helmet is so helpful when you are cycling in the heat. Thoroughly research your helmet choice. Usually reviewers will say whether or not the helmet feels well-ventilated.
Go Slow/Consider a Shorter Ride
It is always a good idea to take it easy when you are riding in excessive heat. You need to take into account that your body is already under considerably more stress because it is so hot outside.
As long as you fuel properly, hydrate properly, and protect yourself from the sun, you can likely get a decent ride in. Still, it’s important to go slow, consider a shorter ride, or possibly both. Be sure to listen to your body throughout the process, and ideally have someone you can call to pick you up if you notice that your body is under too much stress to continue.
I think we have all been on those rides where everything feels great…until unfortunately it doesn’t. Usually this has something to do with our nutrition/hydration, and these symptoms can be exacerbated by the heat. Taking it slow and picking a shorter route in the heat can certainly help if we have short-changed our preparation somewhere else down the line (not that I am suggesting you do this!).
Editor’s Note: These next two tips were added by Kristen Bonkoski, FC founder.
Try getting your body temperature down BEFORE you head out on the bike. This gives you a little longer on the bike before your core temperature reaches a critical point.
There are several ways you can pre-cool. These include taking a dip in a pool (or bathtub) in cold weather, drinking a slushy, and laying on the couch under the air conditioning.
Use Water And Ice On Your Body
Whenever we ask our community their top picks for staying cool when riding in the heat, the top answers usually have to do with some combination of water and ice. And no not to drink (although that’s important too), but to put on your body.
There are lots of ways you can do this. Start with a wet jersey. Bring a spare bottle of water to pour over your head halfway thru the ride. Put an ice pack in your back pocket. Tie a wet bandana around your neck.
Most of these suggestions work thanks to evaporative cooling and can make a big difference in high temperatures (especially in dry climates). Just be sure not to put ice next to your skin, or ride in wet shorts as that can cause chafing.
Try to Pick a Route With Some Shade OR When All Else Fails, Invest in a Trainer and Ride Inside
We all know what it feels like to be in the blistering sun and then find a lovely spot of shade on a ride. This is the best! If you are riding in an area you are familiar with, and know what the tree coverage is like in certain places, be sure to plan as much of your route in shady areas if you can. This can really keep your body’s heat level in check.
At the end of the day though, if we are honest with ourselves, sometimes it’s just truly too hot to ride outside. In these circumstances it’s ideal to have an indoor setup (bike trainer or spin bike) so that you can ride indoors.
Alternatively, if you don’t have an indoor workout option you may want to attempt a less-strenuous outdoor activity. There are times where we certainly don’t feel like riding indoors, and want to be outside, and want to just tough it out, but this can ultimately be a dangerous choice if it’s truly just too hot.
So there you have it! 9 helpful tips for cycling in the heat. It is definitely possible to get a ride in when you have the right hydration, gear, and fuel. When you plan for the heat, ride earlier or later in the day, and are mindful of your body’s response to the heat you can still truly enjoy your ride.
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About The Author
Stacy Ann Smith is a New England-based cyclist who strives to stay upright on her bike. She is the founder of Sascy Cycling, and her mission is to encourage women to love their body and focus on what it can do, not what it looks like. When Stacy’s not cycling she is teaching high school history and eating pizza with her husband and son. For awesome women’s cycling tips and to learn more about Stacy, visit Sascy Cycling at www.sascy.com.