Cycling in a Heatwave

(Above) Ruth battling the heat in Croatia (Top) Carlos Macapuna : Pôr do sol em Algodoal

Ruth O’Connor has some tips on how to cope on a bike in this summer’s heatwave 

Back in 2015, I was cycling up 20% hill on a fully loaded tourer in 40’C heat. I had sunburnt legs, my nose was peeling, and I had very little water left. It wasn’t what one would describe as ideal. So, I’m here to help you avoid situations like this and make sure you stay happy and safe when cycling in a heatwave!

  1. Hydration

Whether you’re heading on a 100km training ride, a spin to the beach or are just heading to town to pick up something for the dinner, make sure you stay hydrated. If you’re going on a long ride, bring more than you think you’ll need. I would generally be happy to rely on topping up my bottles from a friendly homeowner or public water source but during these Covid-times, this isn’t as easy so it’s better to be prepared. I have two bottle cages on my bike that fit large 750ml bottles and wouldn’t go anywhere in this heat without at least one of them full.

It’s also worth noting that if you’re heading for a longer training spin, you’ll need to think of electrolytes as well as hydration. There’s a huge selection of isotonic drinks on the market as well as DIY recipes available online. Having some sachets of Dioralylte in your bag can also be a life saver for replacing salts and nutrients lost through sweating on a long ride.

  1. Sunblock

We’re not great in Ireland for applying (or reapplying) sun cream. Unfortunately, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer here and it is largely preventable. It is advisable to wear a high factor sun protection from April to September if you’re going to be outside, even on cloudy days. If you’re on the bike, the breeze as you fly passed traffic can lull you into a false sense of security and, very, quickly, you can be burnt to a crisp. Factor 50 is my friend these days, even if I’m only heading to the shop on the bike. And remember to reapply liberally every 2 hours and maybe even more frequently if you’re out for a long spin as you’ll sweat it off. Check out the Sun Smart code for more information on staying safe in the sun.

  1. What to wear

Ideally, in intense sun, we should cover up to physically block the sun from our skin. This isn’t always realistic option though. There are some great lightweight, moisture-wicking options if you’re doing a training ride. But what about if you’re just commuting or heading out for a leisurely spin? This may sound a bit simplistic, but I usually just wear whatever I want to wear at my destination. I try to keep my shoulders covered as they are the first to get hit by the sun on the bike but apart from that, just wear something comfortable and light. Remember though that the less clothes you wear, the more vigilant you need to be about reapplying your sunblock.

If you’re worried about arriving to your destination in a ball of sweat, why not give yourself extra time and just slow down the pace. You could of course pack a change of clothes for when you arrive if you are commuting to work or a formal affair, but for more casual spins, I would encourage you to accept that sweating is totally normal, especially in intense heat. So just slow down, wear a good deodorant and let it flow!

  1. Mind Your Eyes

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but I see so many people out on their bikes or walking, in glaring sun, without sunglasses or a hat on. Now, I am known to be the one still wearing their sunnies when the moon has come out, but there is a happy medium. Short term UV exposure to the eyes is not only uncomfortable, it can cause irritation and damage to the eyes. Long term exposure can cause serious issues including cataracts and cancer. Make sure to pick up sunglasses with UV protecting and, preferably, a wraparound style.

  1. Bike Maintenance

Looking after your trusty steed is crucial to keep her running smoothly year-round. Yes, there are times when it’s best to call a professional, but a lot of the day-to-day maintenance can be done at home with a few tools and a YouTube tutorial.

One of the big things to remember is that warmer weather means it’s time to switch from the wet lube you used in winter time to dry lube. Road surfaces are dustier in summer months and if you continue to use the wet lube, dust and dirt can stick to the lube and cause a myriad of issues, including a seized-up chain.

If the weather gets particularly hot, like it has during the current heatwave, keep an eye out for melting tar on the roads. Just this week, road races were cancelled in parts of the country as the roads just became too dangerous to cycle.

  1. Planning

Try to plan your journey so that you’re not riding during the hottest part of the day (12pm – 2pm). Obviously, this isn’t quite as feasible if you need to be somewhere at 1pm and your bike is your mode of transport. But if you’re just heading out for a leisurely spin, try to time it around the heat. You should also be realistic about how much training you can and should do when the temperatures soar. If you really need to do a 6-hour session, think about setting the alarm for an early start and getting some kilometres done before the real heat kicks in. You also then have the added bonus of quieter roads – win, win!

When it comes down to it, cycling when the sun is out is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Yes, there are a few extra things to think about when the temperature gets as high as it is now, but once you’re prepared, get out there and enjoy it! And if you notice anything that needs to be done to make cycling safer in your locality – shout about it. Find your nearest cycling advocacy group and shout about it!


Ruth O’Connor


Author: Ruth O'Connor

Ruth is a horticulturist turned baker who loves nothing more than heading out on two wheels when she can. It began with necessity - cycling to work. But this was a revelation as Ruth discovered the freedom and joy that can come from going for a spin. As well as actively getting out on her bike, Ruth is a member of WEXBUG, an advocacy group for everyday cycling in Wexford. Her particular area of interest is encouraging more women to hop on their bikes. She is also a co-founder of Stokers Bike Collective - a bike-packing adventure group based in Wexford. You can find Ruth on Twitter at @ruthoconnorwex 

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