Bicycling in the summer offers plenty of fun, it’s relaxing, and it gets you places. But sometimes the summer heat is a tad too intense for us Canadians.
Rather than hiding inside by the AC vent, take a spin on your bike, in comfort, by following these tips. With a little pre-planning, you can enjoy a bicycle ride even on the hottest days of summer.
My recent three-day ride to scout the K&P Rail Trail in HOT, humid weather reminded me how Ontario can get surprisingly uncomfortable if you are not ready for it.
Weather – First, check the weather forecast for the next few days. Today might be a scorcher, tomorrow not so, in which case, hold that urge to bolt out ’til it cools off. That could even be in a few hours if it clouds over, in the evening, or perhaps early the next morning. If you can be flexible and time your outdoor activity strategically, you’ll enjoy it more.
Food & Water – Water is the most important item to bring. Carry more water than you think you will drink. Be sure to drink before you are thirsty to avoid cramps. Heat exhaustion can be a real possibility when the temps get to 30°C.
Map out optional places where you might find a water fountain or buy a bottle. Freeze the water bottles overnight, or throw in ice cubes before your ride. And perhaps bring some for others who plan poorly (so you won’t have to conserve).
Add an extra water bottle cage or two onto your bike frame to carry two, even three bottles! MEC sells water bottles.
A sports backpack can carry a water bladder with a siphon hose that is easier to reach while riding. Find one that has an insulated hose and bag padding to keep the water as cool as possible, in spite of the heat from your body and the sun. The heat from your back will warm up your bladder otherwise, a bland, lukewarm drink is not refreshing. A selection of hydration packs at Chain Reaction Cycles or MEC.
Consider buying energy drinks (like Gatorade or Powerade), or add electrolyte tablets in your drinks to replenish the salts that you sweat out. This keeps your system in balance so you can go further. Order tablets and power bars from MEC, or Chain Reaction Cycles.
Whatever snacks you bring, be aware that the heat will melt any chocolate or sugars in your “power bars”. Choose wisely from the cupboard, as it could be a messy, sticky choice.
An ice cream stop is always a worthwhile destination, and a just reward for the efforts put in and can cool you down too. Yum!
Clothes – Aim for quick-dry, light-coloured fibres. Polyester bends are best and help wick sweat away if they are a tight fit. Shorts should breathe and not overheat an already steamy area. But then you should not be working up a sweat in the first place, right?
Look for a cycling jersey with a long front zipper for venting and easy removal afterwards. Wearing blacks and other dark shades may be trendy, but are a poor colour choice: you will absorb the radiant heat of the sun, and you’re less visible to others. Find a selection of bike jerseys here at Pro Bike Kit or MEC or Chain Reaction Cycles.
Shoes – If your plans are for a short trek, sandals might fare well. But for any long ride, you’d be wise to wear breathable running shoes or clipped-in bike shoes and a thin, polyblend pair of socks. There will be blisters without socks… eventually. Keen shoes and Nike Canada have many activewear designs.
Bike – Using a lightweight bicycle (and hauling less stuff) makes any hill less of an undertaking. Pump up the tire air to 50 – 60 psi and lube the chain. Less friction means less of a cranking effort for you.
Wind – Taking a bike path by a lake offers a cool breeze that is always a few degrees lower than kilometres inland. Wind at your back suits everybody, but once it is a headwind, it’s more friction to overcome. So pick your routes wisely, and don’t tackle any Rail Trails that cross open fields and wetlands, so you won’t have to dodge wind gusts and the baking sun.
Route – Reduce your cycling exertion so you don’t overheat. Now is not the time to pick a trail that is too hilly. Stick to level river routes or lakeshore paths.
You may fall into auto mode, pedalling as fast as usual, but try to mentally scale it back on a hot day. Lower your pedal cadence and try to cruise, meander, and not be in a sprint-to-get-there mindset.
Find a path that has more shade than open areas. It will make a huge difference. Plan a shorter route, or take all day to get there. Take breaks, stop more often, plan a picnic, read a book on a bench, sleep under a tree, have a dip.
For Mountain Bike riders, reduce your intake of log hops, roots and rock gardens to clamber over. Avoid loose gravel, mud and sand patches since crossing them makes you work harder. Think about opportunities to stiffen/lock your bike shocks when climbing hills and riding flat access roads, so you don’t waste energy compressing the shocks when cranking.
Last Tip – Have supplies stashed in the car when you return. Bring extra water that is cool and insulated from the cabin heat. Bring a change of loose clothing so you can get out of your sweaty garb and be comfortable and dry for the drive home or a lunch stop on the way. And try to park your vehicle in the shade if possible— a place that will still be shady when you return.
I am encouraging you to venture out on toasty summer days, but don’t be foolish or a hero. Pick your time and plan well. Do less riding than usual and take longer. You should be fine and will enjoy some of the best cycling summer has to offer. And that won’t last long! Fall and then winter will be here sooner than you think.
Avoid Heat Exhaustion
If you or others show signs of getting overwhelmed by the heat and humidity, take heed. At some point, the body will be struggling to keep you cool. Stop before this becomes a problem. Seek treatment and take evasive action.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR – Signs and symptoms of heat illness
- High body temperature
- Confusion and lack of coordination
- Skin rash
- Muscle cramps
- Dizziness or fainting
- Nausea or vomiting
- Heavy sweating
- Rapid breathing and heartbeat
- Extreme thirst
- Dark urine and decreased urination
If you experience any of these symptoms during extreme heat, immediately move to a cool place and drink liquids; water is best.
- High body temperature
- Confusion and lack of coordination
- No sweating, but very hot, red skin
Heat stroke is a medical emergency! Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. While waiting for help, cool the person right away by:
- moving them to a cool place, if you can
- applying cold water to large areas of the skin
- fanning the person as much as possible
Sourced from the Canadian Gov.