Tips to keep cool on a long bike ride
July 13, 2012 5:03 PM   Subscribe

Please give me your best tips to keep cool while I'm doing long bike rides on my road bike on warm days (and assume I know the basics of hydration, electrolytes, sports drinks, etc).

I overheat really easily when active, even when the weather might not seem that hot to other folks. My face gets really red, my head is hot and often headache-y, and I feel warm all over, even when I'm hydrated and in good shape (and the same thing happens to my dad and sister).

On Sunday, I'm going out for a long bike ride, 90 miles or more, near where I live in Portland, Oregon. The weather should be in the mid-70s and not too humid, which probably sounds great to hot-landers, I'm sure, but it'll feel hot to me, especially on long climbs.

This isn't dehydration, and drinking more water doesn't help (which is the common advice you find online). My body and especially my head don't sweat all that much, even when my cycling companions are drenched. On my last long bike ride last weekend, I was drinking so much, at least one and a half to two water bottles an hour (electrolyte tabs dissolved in water, mostly, with some plain water too), that I had to pee constantly (and yes it was clear to light yellow).

My helmet is well-ventilated, and I have good cycling clothes.

What works pretty well, at least on my a couple of recent, shorter rides:
Using one water bottle for electrolyte/sports drink and using the other for plain water, which I squirt onto my head, neck, and chest when I'm feeling warm (artificial sweat!).

Making sure to stop in the shade when I do stop.

Wetting the pads inside of my helmet (more artificial sweat) when I stop to re-fill my water bottles.

Some other things I might try (some based on this article in Bicycling Magazine):
Ice my legs before the ride
Drink protein with my carbs
Make a pre-ride slushie (and see if I can buy one or two along the way)
Switch to breathable sunscreen
Wear deodorant but not anti-perspirant
Pack my water bottles with ice before filling (when ice is available).
Take my gloves off at times.
Bring a tube sock and stuff it with ice and put it on my neck/under my jersey.
Stop at streams along the way to splash.

So how else can I keep cool, especially when I don't have any access to ice?
posted by bluedaisy to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I used to wear a bandana on my head that I would keep wet, and that helped a lot - especially with a well-ventilated helmet.

Also, rinse your hands whenever you're near enough water to do so. They dissipate heat very well.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:11 PM on July 13, 2012

Best answer: When you're spraying water on yourself at stops, also get the small of your back.
Wear a wet bandana around your wrist so you can wipe water on yourself while you're riding.
Wear sunscreen---a sunburn will make you feel much hotter.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 5:18 PM on July 13, 2012

A technical base layer might seem like wearing extra clothes, but it helps with cooling a lot.

Are you really overheating, or do you just maybe not like heat? Sometimes a hot ride is just a hot ride.
posted by rhizome at 5:33 PM on July 13, 2012

These things saved me during a very, very hot Vineman 70.3.
- DeSoto Cool Wings. Get them wet frequently. (Regular arm coolers work too.)
- The other thing is the neck cooler gel things. Again, keep it a bit wet.

If you don't perspire effectively, then you need to have fake sweat for evaporation cooling. Get yourself wet somehow.
posted by 26.2 at 5:38 PM on July 13, 2012

Best answer: What has helped me (in much hotter weather): Freeze several plastic water bottles solid. Keep them together, preferably in something at least slightly insulated. Take out one at a time as needed. These last so much longer than regular ice water. If they're not melting fast enough, it helps to have some room temp water to add to your frozen bottle. Hold against your neck and the inside of your wrists when you feel overheated. Generally, I try not to buy disposable water bottles, but they do work well for this purpose.

Also, a camelbak, or similar insulated bladder, will stay cold forever if you stuff it as full as possible with ice and then add water. As a bonus, you can scoop out some ice when necessary. I find that a small handful of ice in my cap will cool me right down on even the hottest day. Might not work that well with a helmet, of course.

Finally, as a long(er) term plan, once you get acclimated to a certain temp, be it mid 70s, 80s, 90s, or *gulp* the low 100s we've been dealing with in my neck of the woods, it really is a lot easier to deal with it.

Good luck! You are not alone in the pain of easily overheating.
posted by quietshout at 5:49 PM on July 13, 2012

Best answer: Last week, one of my friends mentioned that he had been riding with ice packs in his jersey pockets. It probably won't last 90 miles, but it could really help.
posted by advicepig at 6:26 PM on July 13, 2012

Best answer: - Wear white
- wear technical fabric (that stuff just feels cold it's so good at stealing heat.
- get a misting spray cap for your plain-water bottle, so you can spray it such that your entire outfit becomes uniformly damp, but not wet. This means there is much more surface area for evaporative cooling, and that this is also covering more of your body, and that you use less water to do it, and that it's pretty quick and easy to do - those last two points mean that you can do it more frequently.

You don't mention it, but I assume you're not carrying anything like a backpack. If so, move that to a rack and let your back breath
posted by -harlequin- at 7:00 PM on July 13, 2012

You could also replace your second water bottle with something like this - you fill it and pump it up beforehand, and then it's a pressurized spray-can of water, so you can easily mist up while cycling. You'd probably want a larger one though (you can't fill them since it uses air pressure), and I haven't tried it - it might be a gimmick that is better in concept than in reality, but hey, might be worth a try too.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:06 PM on July 13, 2012

Best answer: I'll freeze a (not quite full) water bottle the night before I go out for a ride on a hot day. That'll be bottle #2 for me; bottle #1 will have ice cubes but not be frozen solid.

Camelbaks are great for this kind of thing. I think you can even get an insulating sleeve to put the bladder in to keep the water colder.

Spray water over yourself as you ride.

If you stop anywhere, ice your wrists. Like get a giant big gulp with icewater and plunge a hand in. You move a lot of blood near the surface there, so it's a way to cool your circulatory system.
posted by adamrice at 7:28 PM on July 13, 2012

If I don't work out regularly in warm temperatures, I have the same thing you do - red face, pounding head, no sweat. It's not that I'm exhausted or out of shape. It's that I do not sweat or cool-off. Before hot weather events I do a lot of training in the midday heat to prepare my body. It's not immediate, but after a few weeks I do perspire more effectively.

Do you know your rate of perspiration? You should be replacing approximately that amount. I can run a full marathon - fully hydrated - and not take a pee break because I'm replacing nearly exactly what I'm sweating. I sip water constantly instead of guzzling a few cups of water at the aid table. In my experience, drinking more doesn't make me sweat more effectively. It just sends me to the bathroom.

If you're peeing constantly you may be drinking more than you need. That's not a big problem unless your drink crazy amounts. However, it's annoying to constantly need to stop.
posted by 26.2 at 8:53 PM on July 13, 2012

Best answer: I also overheat very easily, get a very red face, swollen feet and hands, etc. I don't just spray a little water on my head when I stop, I actually dump an entire water bottle over my head and then sit in the shade for a while until it's sort of dried. (I wear target c9 exercise tops most of the time that dry fairly quickly.) Part of that is to use it as a timer to force myself to sit still long enough to cool down. I've found that if I rest well in the middle a few times I can walk or bike much farther overall i than if I only take short breaks.

Also try out the salty lemonade from the blog Lovely Bike, it's similar to electrolyte powders but lets you customize the salts and sugar content. She actually has a whole section on cycling in the heat with many other good tips.
posted by lyra4 at 3:35 AM on July 14, 2012

If youre road riding then I assume you may be using road clipless pedals and shoes. I prefer to use allround/mountain bike clipless pedals (Time ATACs specifically) which let me wear Keen clipless pedal compatible sandals. This alone makes a huge difference in how cool I can stay on a hot bike ride. So ditch the socks.
posted by No Shmoobles at 1:25 PM on July 14, 2012

Response by poster: Hey, all, thanks! You've given me some great ideas! To answer a few questions:

I have a white sleeveless cycling jersey with a lighter weight back.
I do wear sunscreen and carry extra to re-apply.
My cycling shoes are regular road shoes with cleats--I'm not quite ready to try cycling sandals, at least not on my road bike (I ride in sandals all the time on my commuter).
I do overheat--on my ride last weekend, I was about a mile from home when I realized I had goosebumps from the heat. In fact, my friend rode right to my house with me and later I realized he probably thought I was going to pass out or puke. My big goal is always to avoid getting a headache.
I'm mostly acclimated--I ride my bike to and from work each day, and we haven't had the a/c on, and I've been riding in mid-day on longer rides regularly all spring and into summer.

New ideas:
I dug out my slightly shorter cycling shorts, to expose more skin to the air. I might try the wet bandana, either on my head or wrist. I bought some small bottles of gatorade and they're in the freezer. I'll carry two in my back pockets and enjoy the coolness as they melt -- and then I'll add them to my water bottle when I re-fill. I made some salty lemonade (limeade, actually), and it's in the fridge. The plain water bottle is full and in the freezer. I'll also make sure to get my hands and wrists wet--that's a great one.

I also found out that there are some great swimming holes along this ride, so we're planning to stop once or twice and do a quick dip in our cycling clothes. Instant hypothermia! Fortunately, it's not supposed to be too hot tomorrow.

I'm interested to try out the sun sleeves. I thought they were fun sun protection but didn't realize they could cool you off, too.

Thanks again!
posted by bluedaisy at 8:14 PM on July 14, 2012

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