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Top tips for summer cycling

Nick Soldinger BikesEtc
30 May 2019

Cycling in the sunshine is one of life’s greatest delights, so here’s our checklist for doing it right

Earlier in the year might be the best for professional racing thanks to the Spring Classics, but the warmest months of the year are usually the best for us mere amateurs. But with the possibility of sunstroke and a torrential downpour in the same ride, it pays to be prepared when heading out this Summer.

Here we've run through some top tip for Summer cycling to get you pedalling happily along until Autumn.

1. Pick the right jersey

British summers are more unpredictable than a toddler on E numbers, but with a bit of luck you can confidently treat yourself to a cool short-sleeved jersey.

For very hot days, you want something that’s built from man-made, synthetic technical fabrics that have been specifically created to keep you cool and sweat-free.

We’d also recommend a fit that sits close to the skin as this will allow the fabric to do its job better, although we appreciate this is a personal choice – especially for the, ahem, bigger-boned among us.

It’s also worth noting that the sizing on Italian brands like Alé and to a lesser degree Sportful and Castelli can be on the small side. So if one of their jerseys catches your eye, consider going for a bigger size than usual, and definitely try before you buy.

2. Look after your skin

Yes, we know those tan lines are an all-important badge of cycling honour to some, but keeping your skin safe should be your first priority.

As you’re likely to be exposed to sunlight for long periods – perhaps even all day when you ride – you’ll need use a sunblock with the highest protection factor you can find.

Depending on the block you may need to reapply it to any exposed parts of your body, including your face, arms and legs and the back of your neck. 

3. Protect your peepers

Another essential bit of kit is your cycling sunglasses. The intense ultraviolet rays in sunlight damage sensitive cells in your eyes, the cumulative effect of which can result in cataracts, clouded vision and even more horrible stuff that we’re not going to go into here.

So make sure your sunglasses have 100% UV-filtering lenses. To get the most value for your money, look for a pair that has interchangeable lenses too, so that you can adapt them for your look or the conditions.

As well as the sun, a good pair of sunnies will keep your eyes free of pesky bugs, gravel and grime. Most importantly, though, they’ll make you look damn cool.

4. Don’t forget your mitts

Just because the sun’s come out it doesn’t mean you should cycle without gloves. Opt for a pair of short-fingered mitts that will prevent your grip slipping through sweat, will protect your hands in the case of a tumble and will help support your hands, preventing nerve damage.

Many even have little sweat wipes on the thumb which you can mop your brow with. Which is handy!

5. Sort your shorts

If you don’t own a pair of bibshorts now is the time to invest. Why won’t regular shorts do? Because they have a waistband that can dig into your tummy – not great when you’re bent over on a bike all day.

Bibs instead, of course, use straps to stay up and provide extra coverage on your lower back so that no skin ever gets exposed when your cycling jersey inevitably rides up.

As a rule of thumb, the more panels your shorts have the greater degree of comfort they’ll offer as they’ll be better able to wrap themselves around your body.

Along with fit, the chamois pad is the key to ensuring your ride is as comfortable as possible. Ideally, you want a pad which is anti-bacterial, breathable and is generous in the amount of padding it provides for your posterior.

Oh, also apply some chamois cream before a ride to help combat chafing, and clean them after every ride to avoid saddle sores.

6. Recover right

Before you set out on your ride, pre-prepare your recovery drink and leave it chilling in the fridge for when you get in. Something like a flavoured protein shake would be ideal as the fluid in it will help boost hydration (see tip 11) while the protein will help repair muscle tissue.

Then hit the shower – it’ll help cool you down and stop you ponging like a pair of old undercrackers.

7. Keep a cool head

Just because the roads aren’t covered in ice doesn’t mean you can do away with your lid, so don’t dream of giving your helmet a summer sabbatical.

Encasing your head in a polystyrene shell can make it pretty warm on a sunny day, but fortunately many modern helmets have plentiful vents to scoop in cooling air while you ride – Giro’s Synthe MIPS is the choice of top pros such as Richie Porte of BMC Racing to keep their head cool on hot Tour de France stages.

Others, such as Bollé’s The One has clip-on aero panels that you can remove to take advantage of its 31 vents on warm days.

8. Watch the road

Summer riding should be a cinch compared to the ice, snow and sleet that blights saddle time the rest of the year, but it still has its pitfalls and potholes!

If you can, avoid riding on scorching hot days (or see point 12) as tarmacked road surfaces can start to melt, making the road both sticky and slippery in places.

The tar can also stick to your tyres, turning them into magnets for road debris, grit and gravel, all of which can potentially lead to punctures or cause damage to your wheel.

A sudden summer storm, meanwhile, can leave the roads very slippery, especially under tree cover, so exercise care after a downpour.

9. Prepare for the worst

OK, we can only keep the eternal optimist act up for so long. It’s Britain and that means British weather and British weather means rain – even in the middle of August!

Always check the forecast and if there is the slightest chance of a shower, make sure you pack a lightweight gilet or rain jacket into your back pocket.

If it looks like things might turn chilly but stay dry, you might also want to consider a pair of arm warmers. Some even have an SPF rating, so will protect you against the sun, too.

10. Buy a summer base layer

It’s summer, which means you can ditch the base layer, right? Not necessarily. A lightweight, polyester summer base is gossamer-thin and super breathable is ideal for wicking sweat away from your skin, helping to keep you dry.

A good summer base layer will also protect you from nipple chaffing. Your base layer will need to be worn slim-fitting, though, even if you are carrying a few extra pounds, as the fabric needs to sit close to your skin in order to work effectively.

11. Make sure you drink enough

Sweat is your body’s way of cooling itself down to prevent overheating. So it figures that when you cycle on hot days, you’re going sweat more, which is why it’s vital that you take sufficient fluids on board.

Aim to drink every 15 minutes or so to avoid allowing thirst to kick in – an indicator that you’re already dehydrated.

As a rule of thumb, drink between one and two bottles an hour, depending on the temperature and your effort. That works out at 475ml to 825ml an hour – and make sure one of your bottles has electrolytes in it to ensure all your body salts are replenished.

12. Ride when it’s coolest

The hottest part of a day is obviously between noon and 15:00, when the sun is highest in the sky, so why not schedule your rides for either early morning or early evening when things are considerably cooler?

Things start getting light in Britain before 5am in the summer time, with night not turning up until after 9pm, so there’s plenty of light for you ride in.

Early morning rides also bring their own benefits, such as cleaner air and quieter roads. Should you choose to ride in the evening, however, remember to take your lights in case you get caught out.

And always pack a gilet in case things turn chilly.

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