Surviving summer

Two years ago, I posted an article on beating the heat. It basically boiled down to the following advice which I still stand by.

  • Wear sunscreen and eye protection
  • Stay hydrated
  • Replenish electrolytes and calories if needed
  • Stay cool by packing ice in jersey pockets or riding through shady areas and sprinklers on the route
  • Reduce sun exposure by shifting your work schedule or mixing your bike commute with transit if possible
  • Finally, recognize the symptoms of heat-induced sickness. These are bad news!
  1. Dizziness
  2. Nausea
  3. Sudden fatigue
  4. Headaches
  5. Blurred vision

A few other things to consider (some of which were from the comments two years ago!)

Learn where you can top off your water bottles. If you drink a lot of water in the summer, you might be tempted to wear a hydration pack, but your best bet is to keep your back free and able to stay cool. Parks, convenience stores and walking trails will usually have somewhere for you to get more water.

Ditch the helmet if you start to get too hot. A bike helmet will protect your head in the crash, but as Fritz points out, there’s irony in suffering heat illnesses because you have your head stuck in a well-insulated heat trap. Fritz also noted that while it feels good to douse yourself with water, the liquid does a much better job when you DRINK it, so if your water is in limited supply, refrain from dumping it on your head.

Some say Cotton is Rotten. Cotton t-shirts are cheap, but they don’t breathe well when they’re soaked with sweat. Pick your clothing carefully. Discount warehouse stores often sell inexpensive running or golf shirts that wick water away from the body and breathe quite well. You don’t need to spend $40 and up for a fancy brand-name running shirt or jersey.  Stick with light colors in the summer. That dark blue jersey might look nice, but it’ll soak up heat from the sun quickly.

What do you do to beat the summer heat? We had a 110 degree heat index here in Kansas City this afternoon. I spent a few minutes on my way home sitting in the shade and filling up my bottles at a local park.


  1. Rantwick June 22, 2009 6:43 pm 

    Remove your helmet! Safety benefits do indeed go away if you end up being dizzy instead! I’ve got to say that would not have occured to me without your post, which I find odd. I thought I was smarter than that.

    Thanks for the timely tips.

  2. Donald Hayward June 22, 2009 6:44 pm 

    Awesome article. I see so many “how to survive the winter” posts, and those are great and all, but I live in Tampa where there is no winter. Considering that the wind here felt like an oven emanating heat in my face today, this is great stuff. Thanks!

  3. Jim June 22, 2009 6:48 pm 

    Although it doesn’t get terribly hot where I live, I agree with the advice about keeping your back free. I used to carry things around in a backpack, but it would make me sweat in sunny but otherwise comfortable circumstances. A rack with a bag or basket is a good investment for many reasons, including the fact that it removes that burden and improves ventilation!

  4. Ghost Rider June 22, 2009 7:51 pm 

    Donald, check our archive for other heat-fighting articles, particularly:

    Until Noah and Elizabeth joined the crew, all the rest of us focused on the warm climate stuff — being based in Tampa and in southern California, that’s all we know!

    Noah and Elizabeth will really thrill us with some under-represented (0n this site, at least) coverage of cold-weather tips when winter returns…

  5. Noah June 22, 2009 8:02 pm 

    I’ve concluded that from a weather perspective, Kansas City has it about as bad as it gets. We might not see -40*F temps like Minneapolis or Anchorage. We might not get 115*F ambient temps like Las Vegas. What we do get, though, is a pretty large swing down to -5*F in the winter and up to 110*F in the summer. We also sit right in the plains where all the humidity rushes up from the Gulf Coast. That means heat indices can be more than 15 degrees above ambient!

    I haven’t confirmed it, but I heard someone say that if you take Heat Index into account, Kansas City was the hottest place in the US today by a narrow margin. I’d believe it. You know what, though? I took it easy. I took a bus to get me closer to home (the whole ride is about 15 miles each way) and I made sure to drink plenty of water. It was a nice, enjoyable ride!

  6. Tinker June 22, 2009 9:30 pm 

    I pretty much do the same thing as a I do on my motorcycle. UnderArmor makes a line up of LooseGear, wicking, long sleeved shirts, designed to stay dry no matter how you sweat. Long sleeves will keep you from sunburn that you generally get at the beginning of Summer (I.E. last month). The US Military used to use double wall, insulated, stainless steel Arctic canteens, Being insulated, these keep cold things cold, (and yes, if you are a winter rider, hot things hot). Cold drinks are real help, when maintaining body temperature at a lower level.

    Has anyone tried some of the cooling vests, developed over the last few years, for motorcyclists, firefighters, decon teams and the like? Some of these depend on evaporation, others depend on freezing chemical packets in interior pockets to cool the user, other depend on more bizarre, high tech solutions.

    Question. Doesn’t anyone find that the bicycle helmet with its styrofoam insulates your head from 105 degree heat? (Cause it does on a motorcycle, and a motorcycle helmet moves less air through the vents than a bicycle helmet.) Unless you need it, though, I’d just put on a hat to protect your head from the mid-day sun. I never fell down that often on a motorcycle either.

    Wear WOOL SOCKS, your feet will stay dry no matter how much you sweat in wool socks, yes it sounds counter productive. But when you wash a load of laundry with typical white cotton socks, whats the last thing to dry??? Cotton, thats right. Avoid cotton underwear too. (Go commando, wear wooly undies, I do not care, but do not wear cotton.)

    Hope that helps. You learn to live with the heat in Central Texas… Or NOT.

  7. Noah June 22, 2009 9:45 pm 

    Tinker: Try taking the helmet off halfway through a good, hot summer ride. Then tell me which way is more comfy. I am okay riding with or without a helmet but for commuting I feel a bit naked without it. It took a 108*F ambient day in 2007 to make me realize that when it gets that hot, it really is smarter to take it off.

  8. Raiyn June 23, 2009 12:36 am 

    RE: “Cotton is Rotten”
    Keep an eye out for sales at Old Navy. I just picked up 2 of their “Rec Tech” wicking T-shirts for $10. Worked fine for a trip to Epcot last week and will work equally well on the bike. Best $5 t-shirt I’ve gotten in a long time.

  9. Elizabeth June 23, 2009 5:42 am 

    In Chicago I would never remove my helmet, not even on the Lake Front Path (LFP) where I feel more vulnerable to falling due to dodging volleyballs, kids, etc from pedestrian and beach traffic.

    I do advocate, though, for finding a light helmet with plenty of vents! (just look at any race style helmet)

    Today a heat advisory is already in effect! In the 90s with high humidity and tomorrow a heat index of 101! Like KC, we definitely get some extremes here – and often 3 seasons in one day. What’s the saying in Chicago? “You don’t like the weather? Just wait 10 minutes.” :-)

    Stay cool out there!

  10. Iron Man June 23, 2009 7:22 am 

    I’ve ridden the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred in Texas (highly recommend it) where temps hit 115 F and up. It’s brutally hot, but dry and flat. I’d rather ride in that than the 90’s here in Southern Missouri. The humidity is far worse on you and Texas just don’t have hills…at least not in Wichita Falls.

    I love the list. Good stuff for sure. One thing I’d add is just take it easier than normal. Super high heat is not a time to push it. Give yourself extra time to get home especially, since the hottest part of the day is during that rush hour home.

  11. Quinn June 23, 2009 9:32 am 

    IM diggin’ the list, I agree with Elizabeth, road/race helmets are the best, light with lots of ventilation.

    And 1 thing to add, Sleeveless jersies make a good bit of difference, allows a lot more air flow.

  12. Guy June 23, 2009 10:46 am 

    I’m glad to live in SF where the temps rarely reach past the 90s in the summer. I was wondering how the bikes hold up in that heat. Don’t tires blow out easily?

  13. Ghost Rider June 23, 2009 10:55 am 

    Tires don’t blow out in the heat…that’s a complete myth. It takes a LOT more heat than ambient air and pavement temperatures to cause damage to the tires/tubes.

  14. Raiyn June 23, 2009 12:30 pm 

    @ Ghost
    While that’s true, you can’t deny that blowouts almost never occur in a sheltered, air conditioned place. 😉

  15. Quinn June 23, 2009 12:45 pm 


    another POV, from a 29er commuter, 26″ tubes, save room and weight, good for commuting, right?

    I have had to retire 2 tires and a wheel in the past 6 weeks because of blow outs, needless to say I went back to proper tubes.

    the blow outs weren’t debris, every time the rim side of the tube blew.

  16. Michael June 24, 2009 10:31 am 

    Amen Elizabeth, never go without a helmet. If your feeling dizzy with a helmet on, then you will feel dizzy 5 minutes later without a helmet and NOW your dizzy without a helmet and something hard and sharp will certainly break your fall. All the rest are great tips but always wear a helmet.

  17. David June 25, 2009 7:27 am 

    This might sound stupid, but I think that my bike helmet with it’s attached (though small) visor helps a lot during the hot and humid DC summers. There’s less sun hitting my face and eyes as I’m riding and, as a result, I t feel coolor while riding.

  18. Ghost Rider June 25, 2009 8:30 am 

    Yeah…I’ve never noticed a difference in heat going with or without a helmet — and my helmet is jet black.

    If it’s hot out, you’re going to sweat no matter what. Even if a helmet does increase retained heat, I’d sure rather have one on!

  19. BeachCruiser June 28, 2009 4:01 pm 

    Wal-mart: $6.96 workout shirts cannot be beat. It took me awhile to do away with the drawer full of vendor cotton T-shirts, but these WM things do the job and the cost is right. They seem to use a very similar fabric to the top end jerseys (but without a zipper) and at a fraction of the cost. Heck, most of the patterns they offer even look like jerseys if you are into that.

    For sunscreen my favorite is the Coppertone sport SPF 50. Sprays on in seconds. They recently came out with a SPF 85, but it seems very greasy. The 50 dries nicely and does not get all over everything else you touch.

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