Beat the Heat: Cycling Through the Dog Days
By George Roman Babiak
She couldn't pedal another yard. Anne pulled her bike over and collapsed onto the cool green grass of a lane divider. Her energy was gone, completely drained by the 60 miles we'd already cycled from Manhattan. "This is it," she said, "I can't go any farther." Unfortunately, our destination in Pennsylvania was still another 25 miles away.
My partner was a very experienced cyclist. Although the ride was long, we had covered distances like it before without mishap. The difference was that on this particular day the temperature was well above 90°. Anne did not function as well in heat as I did. I was uncomfortable, but she was in misery. Also, Anne was not drinking enough water.
So what did we do? I went to a nearby store, bought Anne a quart of juice and an ice cream, and we sat in the shade and waited. After an hour or so, she began to recover her strength. We climbed back on our bikes and continued riding at a snails pace. Luckily, the roads were now tree-lined and shady. When we reached our hotel, Anne jumped into the swimming pool.
It could have been much worse. According to Sports Injury Assessment and Rehabilitation by David C. Reid (Churchill and Livingstone, 1992), there are four different levels of heat illness that can strike an athlete:
Although it is unlikely that the average cyclist will be stricken with the most serious forms of heat illness, most of us are still concerned about riding in the heat. So how do you keep from frying when it's 98° in the shade?
H20: Your Best Pal
It's obvious: Water, water, and more water. Drink plenty of it before, during, and after your ride, whether or not you feel thirsty. The important thing is to keep yourself fully hydrated. Even water that has become lukewarm will replenish the precious body fluids that pour out of a rider's body on a hot summer day. Other tips on fluids:
Wear the Right Stuff
Protect Yourself From the Sun
Tips from the Vets
All the veterans we spoke to, incidentally, recommended drinking copious amounts of water.
John Benfatti, New York City's Bicycle Coordinator, uses any extra water in the bottle to douse his head regularly throughout his 30-mile roundtrip commute.
Hal Ruzal, co-founder of Bicycle Habitat, used to shuttle regularly between New Haven and Brooklyn to visit his parents, a ride of almost exactly 100 miles that he did at least once in 100° weather. Hal's recommendations: "Ride early. Select a higher gear and use a lower cadence than you normally would. That forces you to breath easier and keep cooler. Anytime you pass someone washing a car, ask them to hose you down. And if you pass any lakes, jump in!"
Christy Guzzetta is a former president of the New York Cycle Club who is also a suit-and-tie commuter. Guzzetta, the self-described "fastest bike in New York City" on weekends, recommends commuting at a slow, sedate pace. "You don't get there much faster if you rush," he says. "Sometimes I'll see some rider zoom past me in the Park only to see the same guy just a bike-length ahead of me at Grand Central." Christy rides an old three-speed with a front basket to work every day. On hot days he puts his folded suit jacket in the basket "nice and neat," loosens his tie, and slowly pedals to his office. Christy finds the alternative (the sweltering crush of mass transit) to be far more uncomfortable.
The most original heat-beating technique we've heard of is a device fashioned by Phil O'Reilly, former president of the Five Borough Bike Club. Bucking conventional marketing wisdom, he simply calls his creation "my invention." Take a standard square bandanna and fold it diagonally to make a right triangle. Turn it into a pocket by stitching the sides and leave a three or four inch opening at one of the comers. Stuff a couple of handfuls of ice cubes through this opening, forming a sort of frozen, cloth-covered samosa. Loosely tie the bandanna around your neck and aim the point with the ice in it down your backbone. The "invention" will not only shield the back of your neck from the sun, it will cool it. As you ride, the ice will melt and cause a slow rivulet of cold water to dribble between your shoulder blades and down your spine, cooling your entire upper torso. Phil recommends wetting down your jersey before donning the "invention" so as not to attract too much attention to yourself.
By the way, did we mention that you should drink a lot of water?
© 1997-2009 Transportation Alternatives
127 West 26th Street, Suite 1002
New York, NY 10001