Keeping Cool, Sun
Protection & Summer Wardrobe
Avoiding heat exhaustion and minimizing one's accumulated sun exposure can be a major challenge when cycling in the summer months. Bill plans our annual routes with the intention of avoiding the sizzling summer heat, but the weather doesn't always cooperate. Below is what we've learned about keeping cool on and off the bike, how we protect ourselves from the sun with sunscreens and clothing, and what we've settled on for our general summer biking and traveling wardrobe.
Gear & Techniques for Managing the Heat
We keep cool on the bikes by:
1. Using a helmet:
-with a visor or add one for more shade (for facial coolness and UV eye protection)
-with a maximum number of vent holes for air circulation
-that can be easily adjusted while riding to loosen the fit for more air flow on hot days
2. Using a Dromedary hydration bag on our back rack
-to increase fluid consumption
-with extra tubing to keep it off our bodies
. -covering it with several layers of wetted
viscose cloth to keep the water cool
3. Carrying a self-cooling water bottle for a continuous
supply of refreshingly cold water throughout the day,
like MaxChill by VAP www.maxchill.com or from the
Performance Bike Shops retail stores
4. Wearing a cooling gel-filled neck scarf or viscose cloth
soaked in cool water.
5. Wearing lighter-colored clothing.
6. Drinking a lot; drinking often (we'll each carry as much
as a gallon for a riding day).
If you are getting too hot when riding:
1. Stop more often and take longer to cool down more completely with each stop.
2 . Remove your helmet and close-fitting sport glasses for more heat release from your head when you stop.
3. Always stop in the shade, preferably also catching some breeze.
4. Keep a small folding umbrella handy for when there is no shade to create your own.
5. At sit-down stops, remove your socks & shoes for faster cooling.
6. Drizzle water on your head and neck, and feet if wearing sandals.
7. Dunk more of your body into cool water, like soaking your head in a drinking fountain or wading in a stream.
8. End your riding day earlier than you planned.
When camping, a Cool-Max sleeping bag liner keeps those of us with sweaty skin more comfortable in the heat. And hanging a small battery-operated fan from the ceiling of your tent may be enough breeze to help you sleep. Indoors or in a tent on dreadfully hot nights, keep a dampened viscose cloth handy for moistening your skin for more evaporative cooling.
Salt Intake & Avoiding Hyponatremia
If you eat processed foods like canned goods, cheeses and cured meats, you may not need any additional salt when exerting in the heat. But if you eat unprocessed foods and don’t cook with much salt, you may run short of sodium chloride in hot weather and develop hyponatremia, which can lead to a fatal metabolic cascade.
It’s difficult to determine if you need more salt, and if you do, how much. But unless you have salt-sensitive hypertension, you may want to experiment with adding table salt to your drinking water when riding in very hot weather. Begin by adding an eighth of a teaspoon or less to each 1 to 2 quarts of water and see how it tastes and makes you feel.
If adding a little salt makes the water taste salty, then we assume it's more than we need at that point. If instead, a little salt makes the water seem very palatable, then we are probably running a little short on salt for our exertion level. If we are salting our Dromedary bag water--our biggest reservoir--we keep a bottle of water salt-free so we can quickly decrease our salt intake if it seems like we are getting too much.
When Bill is very salt-short, he quickly pee’s out anything he drinks in minutes. My body handles salt in an unusual way, and if I get salt short, I sometimes retain almost all of the water I drink (it has to do with a hormone called ADH) and will retain 5 lbs or more of consumed water. We have both experimented with different amounts of added salt over the years and despite our different physiological responses to having too little dietary salt on board, we both find it most effective to judge our salt intake in the heat by the palatability of water with salt added to it.
More About Riding When It's Seriously Hot
If it’s very hot or one of us is feeling overheated, we take breaks more often, sometimes as frequently as every half hour or more. And if that doesn't do it, then the breaks also have to get longer to more significantly drop our temperature.
There is little point in stopping unless there is some shade, however scant, as you will likely just get hotter. And if you are forced to stop in the heat for road construction, a train crossing, or another prolonged activity, scout around for a bit of shade or make your own with a handy umbrella to keep your core temperature from rising.
Positioning yourself to get the maximum effect from any available wind when stopping is a huge help in cooling down as it speeds the evaporation of your perspiration or applied water. In really hot weather, spying a spot with shade and a breeze is enough of a reason to take a break. In such a spot, I immediately take off my helmet, glasses, gloves and outer shirt to release the trapped heat even if we are only stopping for a minute or 2. And I've learned that in really hot weather, I prefer to ride in a head wind rather than a tail wind as the cooling from the head wind helps prevent overheating.
Extra cooling at our breaks comes from water. Soaking my head and neck with water from my cooling bottle purchased from Performance Bikes helps drop my temperature, as does drinking the cool water. Saturating our socks exposed by our sandals gives more cooling once riding again, as does splashing water on pants fabric over the thighs. We find that one cooling water bottle is enough between us. Soaking the fabric covering with water from another bottle and then creating wind on it by riding will cool the water quickly. When we empty the cooling water bottle, we refill it from one of our other bottles and rewet the fabric to keep ourselves in cool water all day.
Drink cold beverages as possible in the extreme heat and of course if you are frazzled and there is any possibility of ducking into a shop with air conditioning or splashing in a water fountain, take it. On very hot afternoons we hope to find cold juice or perhaps an ice cream bar to help drop our temperature. The extra calories are a bit of insurance against missing that we were getting short on food with the stream of confusing sensations of being too hot. We favor juice over soda pop for the extra bit of nutrition and less plaque build-up on our teeth. If we can buy juice or pop, we always select it over buying cold water because we will always drink more of a beverage with some flavor. Of course, if you like the re-hydration drinks, they are a great choice but rarely available overseas. However, you may find some packaged drink mix crystals marketed to kids with which to flavor your water to help increase your hydration level.
Assessing how you are handling the heat should be done at
each break. Learn what signs your body gives you that you are
overheating: mine are tension/pain in neck and jaw muscles and tingling feeling
on cheeks. When any of those markers come up, I take extra time and care in
cooling down. And once those get activated, I take breaks more frequently and
make them longer to cool down more completely.
I can do some monitoring on the bike but find that it’s better done during a
We also make changes to our daily plan when we get caught in a heat wave. If we have a big climb to do, Bill tries hard to set it up so it is very early in a riding day. One kicks out enough of your own heat when climbing that it is doubly unpleasant to climb in the heat of direct afternoon sunlight. We also shift our routine so that we get out the door earlier in the morning. For several steep climbs in hot weather, we stopped for the day as close as possible to the start and then headed out at daybreak. And in really hot weather, we'll also shorten our riding days if possible.
Sun Protection & Our Summer Wardrobe
We rely on clothing, rather than liquid sunscreen products, for most of our UV protection. Some researchers believe that sunscreens are counterproductive. Their argument is that the products are incomplete in their protection from the immunological damage caused by UV exposure and encourage fair-skinned folks like ourselves to be out in the sun too much. While waiting for the debate to be resolved, our compromise is to cover all but our fingers and faces with sun-screening fabric, relying on sunscreen lotions only for those small exposed areas. We have sewn triangular nose covers that we loop onto our sport glasses for extra nose protection when in especially harsh conditions.
I am allergic to many sunscreen products but can use La Roche-Posay brand Anthelios XL 50+ products year after year without irritation. They have several formulations, all of which have the potent UVA screen Mexoryl, which gives broadband UVA protection and is photostable. Mexoryl is just now being allowed in the US by the FDA in lower strengths and it is one of the few UVA blockers that doesn't lose its effectiveness in sunlight. (Strange isn't it, that most UVA sunscreens aren't "photostable.")
Many are advocating using a maximum of SPF 15 sunscreens, saying that the higher rated products have nothing to offer. I disagree for 2 reasons. My first reason for disagreeing is that if you read the studies, the laboratory testing of sunscreens is done using a hefty application thickness that no one in real life uses because it's too uncomfortable and tacky. So, you can make up for using a thinner coating by using a more potent product. The second reason I stay with high SPF products is that I can see a difference in the protection delivered between products, even with the same SPF rating. Several times I've been my own lab rat and applied one product to half of my face for weeks at a time and a second product to the other side and I can see a color difference at the end of the day.
We buy our high SPF sunscreen with Mexoryl in Europe and haul extra with us for use at home and in places like New Zealand. One 100 ml tube will last the 2 of us about a month if we are only applying it to our faces, necks, and hands. When it is very bright, I also apply it to my arms and the tops of my feet for extra protection even though I'll be wearing a long-sleeved shirt and lightweight socks. If you are shopping for this product, hold out for the 100 ml tubes at about 17€ that are just a little more expensive than the 50 ml tubes.
We also use lip balms with sun blocks for both the UV protection and the drying effect of the wind on our lips.
Sunscreen Wear on the Bike That's Presentable, Practical & Promotes Paleness
Touring Clothing Criteria
Even before we began our travels in 2001, we decided not to tour in traditional, skin-tight cycling Lycra. We didn’t want our clothing to compromise our reception in the countryside of conservative countries or in restaurants, religious buildings, and museums. Our goal was to see the world, not to be stared at. So, years before we started cycling abroad, we began experimenting with cycling in street clothes or clothes that passed for street clothes. I even fiddled with a full-length skirt design with an elaborate button system for hiking up the fabric when pedaling.
In addition to being conservative and presentable, being comfortable for long hours on the bike was essential. But the chosen garments also had to pack very compactly; be relatively stain and wrinkle resistant; be hand washable and quick drying; be durable; and be part of a stable product line so we only had to solve this problem once. And since we are both are fair-skinned, burn easily and are very concerned about skin cancer risk due to sun exposure, we decided to wear long sleeved shirts and long pants with sunscreen properties built-in to the fabric.
For both of us, the best compromise for our 3 seasons wardrobe came from a Seattle, Washington-based company called SunPrecautions (www.sunprecautions.com). They also use the brand name Solumbra. Their small line of clothing is designed for people with a medical reason for avoiding the sun, like sun allergies or a history of skin cancer.
Despite the fact that the SunPrecautions products are registered as medical devices, they don’t block 100% of the rays. I still get a faint but unmistakable tan line on my shoulders demarking my bra straps if I don't wear a T-shirt underneath their shirt. But the garments give substantial sun protection and we certainly never get burned. And their clothing satisfied our rigorous list of other requirements. The only real downside with their garments is the small product line to choose from and the big price on their articles, which often run $60-80 each.
Shirts Details: Features & Color Concerns
We both carry 2 or 3 of the SunPrecautions unisex, long sleeved shirts with mesh venting under the arms and under a flap on the upper back. I flip-up the standard men’s collar to give my neck more sun protection. The shirt is a bit oversized for me and it’s definitely not my most flattering look, but it’s a workable solution for my sun protection needs.
I often have thought about shorting the shirt tails to decrease the excess fabric but have resisted the alteration for the extra bit of privacy the fabric provides when peeing in scant vegetation. Unfortunately, the sleeves leave my wrists exposed in the riding position, so I cut a 6" length of a light weight sock top to shade the gap between my sleeve cuff and glove top when riding. We both buy a size larger than we would choose for street wear for the longer sleeves. I wear the unisex rather than the women's shirts for the same reason--longer sleeves for the 'hitched-up' riding position.
I gave up traveling with their white shirt that looked sharp
against my black pants because of yellowing. The nylon fabric eventually
yellowed slightly with the constant sun exposure and my sunscreens tended to
discolor the collar. The sunscreen discoloration came out with my spot remover,
but it was a hassle to tend to it every night. I love their vibrant periwinkle
and watermelon colors, but those quickly fade in the strong sun and
unfortunately, the mottled fading patterns revealed the uneven sun exposure to
which the shirt is subjected. Most years, we’ve both settled for the less interesting pastel
colored shirts which look unchanged after months of daily wear and sun
These shirts are easy to maintain. We can get just about any stain out of the fabric, from bike grease to tomato sauce, and they wash and dry easily. They don't however ever look freshly pressed and instead are always a little rumpled looking.
Bill has settled on having 3 pairs of black, lightweight woven nylon drawstring-styled pants. The dark green pants he used to buy also suffered from the botchy color fading from sun exposure that I experienced with the dark colored shirts. Unlike the green pants, the tint in this SunPrecautions black pants fabric is uniform even at the end of a cycling year.
Street pants legs twist and wad up when I pedal, a problem with which Bill has absolutely no experience. I therefore do best with stretch fabrics and use a trim cut stretch pant from SunPrecautions. Since they are a knit, they do snag more than Bill’s woven pants, but as knits go, they are pretty durable. They keep their shape, finish and tint through a year of heavy use. They are a little heavier than our other garments, so they take a little longer to dry and are hotter to wear in the heat.
I generally carry 2 black pair of pants and 1 or 2 khaki pair for the heat, depending on how much hot weather we anticipate. The khaki pants still trap the heat but they absorb enough less heat to be noticeably cooler in the direct sun. If you are wearing light colored street pants for cycling, check to make sure that they don't become overly revealing when soggy from heavy sweating.
Other Clothing in Our Summer Traveling Wardrobe
Non-Sunscreen Wear for Barb
I am more extravagant than Bill and carry a few more garments than he does—but hey, I am smaller--they don’t take up much room. My indulgences include 2 smallish Cool-Max or other wicking, scooped neck T-shirts. I wear them under my long john tops in the winter and under the long sleeved sun shirts in the summer. They wick the moisture off my skin better than the sunscreen shirts I wear over them and give me a little more sun protection on my back and shoulders when on the bike. The sunscreen skirts don’t vent well without a wind, so if its hot and we stop in the shade to rest, I can cool down more quickly by taking off the over shirt.
I also have a “summer in the city outfit” for really hot weather. I have black, breezy knit pants that are cooler than my sunscreen Lycra pants and I pair them with a sleeveless top. I cover my arms with the sunscreen shirt when sightseeing in the sun, and in the shade and stuffy museums, I cool-off by carrying the over shirt instead of wearing it.
I usually pack 2 narrow silk scarves to dress me up a bit. They are color coordinated to go with my 2 sunscreen shirts in the summer and can be worn with my black fleece in the winter. They also serve as handy head covering in Islamic countries—I never go sightseeing there without one around my neck. If we peek into a mosque, I can quickly cover my head. (I carried a long skirt the first year for similar situations, but never needed it--I only wore it when doing laundry.)
Non Sunscreen Wear for Bill
Bill has 1 dark plaid shirt selected to look good with his black pants. It’s relatively wrinkle free and it definitely a step-up in presentability compared with the sunscreen shirts. He also carries a black knit vest to wear with this dress shirt when it's cool.
Extras For Both of Us
We each have a compact swimsuit that we only use a couple of times a year but are always glad to have them with us. We each have a compact tank top or T and nylon boxer shorts to wear in the shade in campgrounds or in sultry hotel rooms. (We never wear them out in the sun.) And most years we each have a very packable nylon ‘city’ jacket that doesn’t shout “cyclist” for our urban sightseeing off the bike. We also have reflective vests for safety in tunnels and dim light, though we more often wear them for wind breaking if the weather turns a little cool on a summer day.
Our Summer Wardrobe Packing List
Barb & Bill
2 or 3 long sleeved, vented, sunscreen shirts
3 pairs sunscreen long pants
1-2 pair lightweight socks
2 pairs medium weight socks
1 compact swim suit
1 tank top or slim-fitting T-shirt
1 pair boxer-styled sports shorts
1 nylon “city” jacket
1 Illuminite reflective vest
1 sun hat
Just For Barb
2 silk scarves for dressing up my outfits
2 Cool-Max T-shirts
1 cool mesh pants
1 sleeveless top
2 pair wrist covers
2 pair of briefs
Just for Bill
1 dress shirt
1 knit vest
3 pair Cool-Max briefs