Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Bicycling in Hot Weather

The dog days of summer need not stop you from riding your bike if you take a few simple precautions to help you beat the heat.  Recently, an elderly relative of mine expressed astonishment that I’d be riding my bike in 90-degree weather, and was sure I’d get heat stroke from my 5-mile ride home.  I had to explain to her that, not only was I in no danger, it really was quite pleasant, since I’d brought a water bottle full of ice water and there was a little breeze blowing.  In fact, summer is a great time to ride, especially if you do so in the morning or evening hours, avoiding the hottest hours on the hottest of triple-digit days, from, say 2-5 pm.  If you opt for a bicycle ride on a summer evening, you’ll find it is one of the most enjoyable experiences of bicycling, the cool night air refreshing after the heat of the day has dissipated.  Be sure to ride with front and rear lights and bright or reflective clothing for night riding.

Here are some simple suggestions for riding your bike during the summer:

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.  The most important thing you can take on a summer ride is a large water bottle filled with ice water.  Avoid soft drinks, alcohol, or (in my opinion) the fancy, expensive sports drinks.  Good old ice water is the most effective thing to keep you cool and hydrated on your ride.
  • Wear light colored, breathable, loose fitting clothing.  This lets the air circulate around your skin and helps keep you cool.  Avoid tight-fitting lycra clothing, unless you’re going out to race.  Unfortunately, most cycling-specific clothing sold in the US is designed to mimic what racers wear, not what is practical.  If I’m going to work, button-down cotton oxford shirts, or quick-drying shirts designed for outdoor activities like hiking are also excellent summer cycling wear.  I usually wear a regular pair of shorts, too, not lycra.
  • It’s hot, so you’re going to sweat.  If you’re going to bike to work, for example, take a change of clothes.
  • Slow down and spin easy.  You’re not in the Tour de France.  When it’s hot, take it a little slower, use a lower gear when going uphill, and, if necessary, take a little breather in the shade.
  • Cover your head.  While I usually wear a helmet, when it’s really hot I’ll sometimes wear a straw hat that keeps the sun off my head, face, and neck, and lets the air circulate.

Southern California is fortunate enough to enjoy excellent weather for most of the year.  Once you prepare for the summer heat, there’s really no problem bicycling through the summer months.

What tips do you have for hot weather cycling?

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8 thoughts on “Bicycling in Hot Weather

  1. I especially like your recommendation for loose fitting clothing. I have no idea how people wear the lycra. I always thought it looked so hot!

    I find it quite comfortable to ride in 90+ degree heat. The breeze I get while riding keeps me from overheating though as soon as I get off my bike I need a shower or a fan to cool off.

  2. I think you hit the most important points. I would add: choose a shadier route even if it adds a few minutes. Can be hard to find in SoCal, I know, but it was why I was able to ride in the Louisiana heat and humidity last week and stay comfortable.

  3. Pingback: Motorists behaving badly — casually cutting off cyclists for no apparent reason « BikingInLA

  4. I’ll second the recommendation for shade! If you stop at a light and there’s shade, stay in the shade for a few minutes. Also, a damp bandana around your neck will make you feel much cooler.

  5. One more thing: get that backpack or messenger bag off your back and onto a rack or basket. There’s nothing that makes you sweat more than having your back covered, especially since there’s no wind-chill effect on your back side.

  6. There’s nothing quite like Southern California summer nights and bike riding! 🙂

  7. Geoff Herrig on said:

    On my long warm rides I will fill my Cambelbak bladder with ice cubes and up to 2/3 full with water, then stick it in the freezer flat with the top and bottom propped up to keep water from freezing in the tube connection or around the opening. In the morning I’ll fill this up the rest of the way with water. In an insulated Camelbak this stays cold for a very long time, and puts a little coolness on your back. I’ll also freeze half-full bike bottles of gatorade and fill the rest of it up with water in the morning.

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