If you live someplace like South Florida, you expect to spend time cycling in the heat. But heat is an issue for bicyclists all throughout the U.S. during much of the summer, so it is wise for all bicyclists to be prepared. Even mild heat exhaustion or dehydration can affect your judgment and lead to a bicycle accident with potentially catastrophic injuries.
You’re already aware that you should wear sunscreen and bring water. But there are other steps you can take to keep yourself safe while riding in the heat.
Acclimate and Condition Yourself Ahead of Time
If you’re headed for a vacation to the northernmost reaches of Montana, a heatwave might catch you by surprise. But if you live in the southern half of the U.S., you know that you will be dealing with hot temperatures during the summer. Bicyclists in places like Arizona and Florida know the heat can be a factor six months of the year or more. So that makes it worth your while to acclimate and condition yourself ahead of time.
Spend time in the heat to get your body used to functioning at higher temperatures. Turn up the temperature setting on your air conditioning at home and work to help you get acclimated.
To improve the coordination of your nervous system when it comes to firing muscle fibers, during easy endurance rides, invest some time in making short sprints in a hard gear. Taking a few sprints of about 20-30 seconds each can increase your overall power by improving neuromuscular facilitation. Be sure to allow plenty of recovery time between sprints. When you improve your conditioning, cycling in the heat will not burden your muscles as heavily.
Plan Your Route to Manage the Heat
There are several strategies you can use to plan your route to manage heat factors.
Check the Wind
Many bicyclists plan a route that starts their ride into the wind to allow them to coast home with the wind. However, on a really hot day, it often makes sense to reverse that strategy and take advantage of the cooling power of the wind when you are more tired.
Keep Your Bike Riding to Trails
Remember that the heat will feel even more intense when you’re riding a bicycle over asphalt baking in the sun. If you can instead plan a route on a path with dirt or light-colored concrete, that can help reduce the effects of the sun. Even better, plan a trail ride on a path shaded by trees. You may not be able to cover the distance you would on another ride, but you may enjoy the experience much more and may get some cross-training benefits.
Ride to a Cooling Destination
If you can plan your route to incorporate a lake or other water feature that will allow you to splash and cool off, this is the time to do it. Even a park with a splash fountain could provide some relief from the heat.
Focus on Your Effort Rather than Your Pace
Many cyclists plan their training sessions with the expectation of keeping a certain pace on a regular route. The heat could make it dangerous for you to keep that pace. You need to keep your focus to watch for reckless or distracted drivers.
When riding your bicycle in the heat, focus on your effort instead of your pace. Wear a heart monitor and keep an eye on your heart rate. Be ready to take a break if you start to feel “off,” even if your heart rate seems reasonable. Be kind to yourself and save your toughest workout for another day.
Get Creative with Water
It is impossible to overstate the importance of hydration when you’re cycling in the heat. You need to keep drinking steadily throughout the ride rather than waiting until you feel thirsty. Strategies for staying hydrated and cool include:
- Wearing a backpack water device
- Carrying frozen water bottles in a backpack that will keep you cool and thaw as you ride
- Using a stainless steel water bottle to keep water chilled
- Bringing extra water—more than you think you’ll need
- Bringing beverages with electrolytes to replace those lost through sweat
Remember that water isn’t just for drinking. Pour water over your head. Try soaking your clothes before you start out. Carry ice towels to wear around your neck as needed. Even something as simple as a nylon stocking filled with ice can provide an effective means of cooling your body temperature during a hot ride.
Break Up Your Bike Ride
Many bicyclists who ride in hot weather advise starting out as early in the day as possible. What may be even more effective, however, is splitting up your ride so that you’re out during the cooler morning and then again as the sun sinks toward evening. Just be careful to ensure that you have the equipment to make yourself visible to motorists when you ride during hours with little or no sunlight. Drivers have a hard time seeing in low light conditions just as they do when the weather is poor.
Regardless of the time of day your ride, take a break if you feel yourself starting to overheat. Even a few minutes can restore your body and mind to the levels you need to ride safely.
Invest in a Trainer and Other Gear
When all else fails, the one sure-fire way to keep yourself safe while riding on a hot day is to use a trainer. This device clamps to the rear wheel of your bike to allow you to ride with resistance while remaining stationary. You can ride inside in air-conditioned comfort, or set yourself up in the shade for an outdoor ride that’s protected from the sun and hot pavement.
It is also wise to invest in heat gear such as cool sleeves, and other clothing made of moisture-wicking material that provides cover from the sun while allowing evaporation of sweat. If it’s too hot for gloves, try wearing fingerless mitts that will allow you to maintain traction when your hands get sweaty.
Knowledge is Power When it Comes to Bike Safety in the Heat
The best equipment in the world will not protect you from the dangers of bicycle riding in the heat if you do not pay attention to important signs. Know the symptoms of heat-related illness (rapid pulse, throbbing headache, confusion, nausea, dizziness, etc.) and stop for rest at the first sign of a problem.
Watch for hazardous conditions on the road and dangerous drivers—including motorists like Uber drivers who may be focused on finding an unfamiliar address and might not notice bicyclists or pedestrians. And if the worst happens and you suffer a bicycle accident, make sure you have a phone or device to call for emergency assistance. Once you’ve recovered, consult with an experienced bicycle accident lawyer who can evaluate your accident and see if you may be entitled to compensation.