Summer Cycling Guide: Beat the Heat

Summer weather is officially here in NYC. It always amazes me when people say, “I love this weather!!” (when it’s 95 degrees and humid outside).

As some of you may know, I suffered heat exhaustion last year during the 40-mile route of The Epic Ride with the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative. It was a VERY hot day, 99, with real feel well over 105. I was a ride marshall – meaning that I had to wear a thick cotton t-shirt over my jersey. Throughout the ride, I actually was moving quite well, hydrating properly, eating, but having to walk across the Cross Bay Boulevard Bridge in 100-degree temperature and in the sun, was just too much.

Average Temp (in the last 7 miles of the 40-mile) route: 99 Degrees

 

Shortly before arriving at Riis Park on Rockaway beach, I felt my vision brown out slightly. I sat under some trees, had ice packs on my legs and core, and drank plenty of water. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling and felt very weak and disoriented. I got checked out by paramedics, thankfully didn’t have to go to the hospital. However, a considerable number of cyclists were not so lucky and had to be taken to the hospital by the EMTs. I had to get an Uber that could fit a bike because there was no way I was making it back the 1.5  miles to the subway station, I needed to be in A/C to recuperate, the subway would have taken 2 hours and 3 transfers. That said, the Uber was a complete rip-off to the tune of $175 (ouch).

Lesson 100% Learned: do not mess with the heat! Some people have no problems with extreme heat, kudos to them! For the rest of us, we need to take precautions.

 

Temperature Range – Relative Humidity and Dewpoint Charts:

There are a couple different charts that I’ve used as a rough guideline to gauge hot temperature impact on cycling. One involves relative humidity and the other involves dew point, each compared to outside temperature. Of course, it goes without saying, that everything read here should be taken with a grain of salt and used simply as a guideline, not as medical advice as I’m an athlete and not a doctor.

 

The National Weather Service states the following:

 

“The Heat Index is a measure of how hot it really feels when relative humidity is factored in with the actual air temperature. To find the Heat Index temperature, look at the Heat Index Chart above or check our Heat Index Calculator. As an example, if the air temperature is 96°F and the relative humidity is 65%, the heat index–how hot it feels–is 121°F. The red area without numbers indicates extreme danger. The National Weather Service will initiate alert procedures when the Heat Index is expected to exceed 105°-110°F (depending on local climate) for at least 2 consecutive days.

 

NWS also offers a Heat Index chart for area with high heat but low relative humidity. Since heat index values were devised for shady, light wind conditions, exposure to full sunshine can increase heat index values by up to 15°F. Also, strong winds, particularly with very hot, dry air, can be extremely hazardous.”

 

 

 

From what I understand from looking at different articles, the dewpoint is the simply temperature at which water vapor will condense. The dewpoint is an “absolute” measure of how much moisture is in the air. The higher the dewpoint, the more water that is present in the atmosphere.The relative humidity is an expression of how saturated the air is for a given temperature. When the temperature and dewpoint are equal, the “relative humidity” is 100%. The air cannot hold any more moisture, at that temperature. If the temperature and dewpoint are far apart, then the relative humidity is low and the air is relatively dry for the temperature.

 

Cycling Tips for the Summer Heat:

 

For me, personally, after the heat exhaustion episode last year, I feel more sensitive to exercising in heat and humidity. So, if the temperature is above 85 and 55% humidity, I won’t be doing long, hilly rides outside. Shorter or flat rides less than 20 miles are fine and manageable – commuting home from work isn’t a problem since it’s ~5 miles. For heat waves, you’ll find me indoors on the Wahoo Kickr, Zwifting! I think I’ll use the Kickr more in the Summer than in the Winter because the cold doesn’t bother me down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, I’ll be out there.

 

1) Hydration / Electrolytes

Drinking water is crucial, but too much water with not enough electrolytes can be detrimental. I highly recommend incorporating Nuun tabs, Skratch powder, or similar electrolyte-driven supplements. Some of these products also give you an added bump in energy – Nuun energy tabs, for instance, have Green Tea extract (for the caffeine). Not to mention, they make your water taste great!

 

 

2) Sunscreen

Getting sunburnt while riding is no fun, getting sunburnt while riding in very hot temperatures is even worse. Sunscreen blocks certain UV levels, so be sure to appropriately apply sunblock at regular intervals if you’re going to be out there! There are so many iterations on the market, that you can’t go wrong. I usually just use Neutrogena (sensitive skin) Broad Spectrum 60+ which works fine for me.

 

 

3) Effort

For those of us who use Strava avidly, whether you will admit it or not, we like to see PR’s on our rides. For me, makes me feel like I’m making progress and my training is paying off, even if it is a small segment. That said, in the extreme Summer heat, this is not the time to be breaking records, unless you’re a pro-cyclist racing. Easier said than done, but something that is very important to be aware of. Save the grueling climbs for cooler weather if you can.

 

 

4) Fuel

When it comes to eating while cycling, everyone has a different methodology that works for them. Exercising in the heat tends to reduce appetite. That said, it’s important to consume the right foods to sustain your efforts. Even if you’re going on an easier ride than you would typically do, adding in scorching temperatures makes it feel more difficult. Gels, Chews, and Fruits are going to be your friends. A word to the wise though, putting berries in a ziplock bag in your jersey pocket will result in a fruit/fruit juice puree if you save it for last. Not necessarily a bad thing, but can be messy! Especially if you’re wearing a light colored jersey.

 

5) Lightweight Clothing

There are so many different technical fabrics on the market today and historically, I didn’t really believe that one short sleeve jersey could be more lightweight than another. Could not have been more wrong. I found a phenomenal deal on a Flyweight Rapha Jersey from Competitive Cyclist (great site). The sides of the jersey are mesh, the fabric itself is so thin that it pretty much feels nonexistent. I want to pick up some Flyweight bib shorts to test out, but am waiting for a notable sale.

 

Light colored and lightweight clothing is essential during the Summer. Some people that are more sensitive to the sun will actually wear sun sleeves (they look just like arm warmers, but are usually white and very thin), lightweight cycling caps, and even Smartwool socks. Now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Wool, in the Summer???” Well, I’ve learned that smart wool can serve many purposes – of course, you have your thicker socks for the winter, but for the summer, some companies spin very, very light material that will keep your feet cool and comfortable compared to cotton athletic socks.

 

6) Timing

In life, timing is everything. Cycling in the summer absolutely should be considered the same way. I know that waking up at 5:30 am is a pain. It’s always difficult to fall asleep earlier to make sure you get enough rest for the early rise. Furthermore, the first few minutes after getting out of bed, you question if it’s really worth it to get up and ride. However, once you get your gear on, grab some coffee and food, you won’t regret it.

The world is pretty quiet at that time, especially on a weekend. I would always joke to myself, “when I get to the GWB at 6:30 am, the elites are already at Piermont!” At the very least, during a heat wave, from ~10:00 am to ~6:00 pm, it’s best to avoid exercising outside.

 

7) Plan of Action

“Location.Location.Location” is what realtors always say, but for summer cycling, location (and route planning) is crucial. If you’re going to be out in the sun, even with all the precautions, it’s crucial to plan a route that has shade, is flatter, has access to public transportation and bathrooms in case you’re not feeling great from the heat. During the Epic Ride last year, we had to walk across the Cross Bay Boulevard Bridge (in 100-degree weather with no shade) which was extremely detrimental. I believe it was a large part of why so many cyclists had heat exhaustion that day.

 

North / South County Trail Shade

 

 

8) Acclimate

Whenever you leave an air-conditioned building and you walk out into the Summer heat, it can feel overwhelming. It’s almost as if you’ve stepped into a furnace. Not to mention when there’s a strong wind and it’s 90+ degrees outside, it’s very uncomfortable. Getting used to exercising in the heat requires time to acclimate for some people, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s important to not overdo it in the early stages of the Summer season. If you typically ride 50 miles when the weather is cooler, try 15-25 miles to see how you do.

 

 

9) Dipping in lakes, ponds, bodies of water

Pools and beaches are most crowded during the Summer in part because dipping in the water helps cool you off. While it might not be feasible to swim in a body of water while you’re cycling, you can take off your shoes and socks, and walk into the water up to your knees for 5-10 minutes. It feels fantastic.There’s a little brook in Fort Lee that has been perfect for this and the water is very cold, even in the summer.

 

Yes, that’s me! (During the NYC Century cooling off in some fountain sort of near Citi Field).

 

If you don’t have a place where you can do this, some people will actually remove their jersey, pour water on it from a garden hose or a water fountain and put it back on. The depending on the weather, this can buy you 20-30 minutes of relief and make a huge difference in your psychological perception of the exertion. It was extremely hot during the NYC Century ride last year.

At each rest station, I took off my helmet and put my head under the water station hose for 30-45 seconds.This helped significantly! However, at 68 miles, I decided to take the subway home from Astoria Park because I knew the distance to the next rest area in Van Cortlandt Park was substantial. Better safe than sorry, I learned my lesson after the Epic Ride.

 

 

10) Ice Packs

From what I understand, Heat Exhaustion occurs when your core has trouble cooling itself. I saw some threads online that a lot of MS patients utilize ice vests during the Summer because it helps with managing their heat intolerance symptoms. I ordered one on sale for my own curiosity and while it is bulky, it truly keeps your core chilly. Some of them are so cooling that you would even get freezer burn if you’re wearing it directly against your skin. I haven’t tried to ride with the vest yet, but it’s a potentially good idea that should buy you ~2 hours of relief from the heat, depending on the type of vest you purchase.

 

Depending on the size, these can fit up to 11 ice packs. The brand is Polar Products. I bought mine new from Ebay, so it was a lot cheaper.

 

 

 

 

At the end of the day, it’s most important to listen to your body and do what feels right. If you can’t ride to Nyack when it’s scorching outside, that’s okay! Take that time to train indoors, workout at the gym, or even just recover from a long week.

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