With the vestiges of spring showers now a distant memory and the summer sun burning through the clouds, the desire for epic adventure is building. As we stoke the fires of wanderlust, planning our trips from here to far, it’s easy to get carried away.
If you’re heading out on a summer weekend ride or travelling to the sunny delights of European cycling havens such as Majorca, Girona or Tenerife, it’s crucial not to underestimate the effects of the searing temperatures as you cycle. Here are our top tips for cycling in the summer sun…
The most vital tip for cycling in hot weather: drink, drink and drink some more. You can never drink enough water when out on a long, hot ride as your body will almost always lose more through sweat than it can ever take in. To avoid dehydration, the rule of thumb is 475ml to 825ml (or about one bidon) every hour, so make sure you keep supping away, drinking before you even start to feel thirsty – in fact, make it a habit whatever the weather.
It’s essential to also plan where your water-stops will fall on your ride. Remember the age-old saying: ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’. If you fail with this one it could leave you in some serious bother so make sure you’ve got café stops and supermarket water dashes planned out along your route. If you’re heading into the wild, away from civilisation, then be sure to pack accordingly – a Camelbak or extra bidon cages are essential for longer, off-road trips.
2. Safe sun care
Pedalling away under a searing summer sun is not too different from a day spent lounging on the beach. Yes, you may have a cooling breeze hitting your face, but the dangerous UV rays are still hitting you from every angle. Your skin requires the most protection, especially the areas of skin exposed to the sun – the backs of your legs and neck are prime burn areas for cyclists.
Creaming up before your ride is obviously important, but taking a small bottle on your travels is also a good idea as sweat will likely lick away most of your UV protection over time. Sunglasses shouldn’t be forgotten either, as not only do they stop you from squinting your way through summer rides, but they also protect some of your most prized assets from damage. Look for a pair that advertise 100% UV protection and whatever you do, don’t settle for anything fake– stylish they may be, but protective they most certainly are not.
3. Dress accordingly
Cycle clothing is already quite light and airy, but nothing beats a summer-specific, extremely lightweight jersey with added moisture-wicking properties. There’s nothing worse than cresting a cloud-crested summit only to be left reeling as your body struggles to wick away the clinging sweat – this is where summer cycling jerseys come in.
With plenty of ventilation, mesh panels and full-length zips, it’s easy to create a cooling flow of air around your whole body, wicking away all the sweat and heat as you ride. Some top-end jerseys and bib shorts also offer reflective cooling technology like Coldblack or UVF protection, so keep your eye out for these. While it may seem counter-intuitive to wear a base layer, the light mesh variety can be quite effective in warmer weathers, helping you to wick away sweat and stay dry.
4. No excuses
Just because the temperatures are baking doesn’t mean you can forgo your helmet. Leaving your brain to cook inside a sweltering plastic lid isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, but neither is a knock to the head. If you’re finding that your helmet is a little uncomfortable in warmer weather, slowly broiling your scalp, you may just need to invest in a different, better ventilated lid.
A well-vented lightweight helmet is the perfect option for a long summer’s ride. Keeping the air flowing around your head will stop the build-up of hotspots, making your whole ride that little bit more comfortable under the sweltering sun.
5. Be Realistic
As the sun beats down and the roads ahead gleam with dazzling heatwaves, you can start to feel a million dollars – why shouldn’t a double century be doable in this beautiful weather? Well, it probably isn’t, and you probably shouldn’t try and put your body through it. The harder, faster and longer you ride in hot weather, the more of a toll it’s going to take on your body.
Be realistic and don’t plan a route that’s way beyond your own capabilities. The best time to ride in the summer is early in the day before the sun reaches it’s peak, but if you really want to be out for most of the day, keep the pace steady and avoid going into the ‘red-zone’. It’s also probably best to avoid attacking all the hills and make sure to take regular breaks in the shade – breaks are arguably more important on a summer ride than any other.
6. Food is fuel
There’s no denying that warmer weather suppresses one’s appetite – even the food-lovers among us often neglect to fuel correctly on warm weather rides. Just as you would with any other ride, it’s essential to keep fuelling your body – he standard rule of a piece of grub every hour is a perfect tip to follow.
Nibbling on high carbohydrate snacks is your best bet – bananas, energy bars, malt loaf or even café cake –helping to keep you on the bike for longer. Sticking to one piece of food every hour should also keep the dreaded bonk away. If you do feel it coming on, however, resort to pure sugar – Coca-Cola, Mars bar, or even sugar packets as a last resort) and have a sit down until it blows over and the energy kicks back in.
7. Ticks and tickles
As the temperatures increase, so do the number of airborne bugs, eager to dine on your fleshy limbs. If you’re in part of the world where biting bugs are rife, be sure to spray yourself with insect repellent before your ride and consider taking backup with you to keep those pesky midges away from you.
Another top tip while on this subject is to make sure you take antihistamines with you, especially if you’re prone to hay fever or other tickly ailments. On a long summer ride, pollen can prove the cyclist’s kryptonite, as can grass if you take too long a rest stop sat among the stuff, and grass allergies are surprisingly common. Antihistamines will help to relieve the uncomfortable itching and tickling, with any luck repairing your once inharmonious relationship with the summer season.
8. Look out for signs
Spotting the warning signs of dehydration, heatstroke and heat exhaustion early on can often mean the different between completing your ride or doing the rest in an ambulance. The searing summer heat isn’t to be underestimated and it’s vital to acquaint yourselves with the symptoms of these three big heat-related conditions.
Spotting dehydration is the most simple – if your pee starts to resemble, or exceed, the colour of the iconic yellow jersey, you’ve gone a little too deep and need to get some liquid on board as soon as possible. For heat exhaustion, look for signs of extreme fatigue, dizziness and nausea. Granted, it’s difficult to distinguish from bonking but if you’re still feeling weak after a carb-filled café stop, it may just be time to call an end to your adventure. Heatstroke has very similar tell-tale signs and occurs when your body is no longer able to cool itself. If you notice yourself or one of your riding buddies suffering, call a stop to the ride, find some shade and try to regulate their temperature with cold bidons of water and a soaked jersey on their forehead.
Cycling in the summer isn’t often as glamorous as you may think, especially if you head out without heeding any of the tips outlined here. However, if you do take these tips on board, a summer ride can be a uniquely worthwhile experience. So, grab your bidons, plan that route and get out there – the summer sun is calling your name.