My house hasn't burned down, or anything like that, but the weather is doing it's annual summer heat-up and not being terribly shy about it. While not as suddenly, brutally hot as last year, this is Austin and our summers are nothing if not long, hot, and dry. We haven't yet broken 100 F, but we're into the 90s every day, and with that has come the long, slow adjustment period to the heat in terms of dress, habits, and even the speed ridden.
Every year, our brief few weeks of spring gives way to summer with alarming speed, and there are so many things that you have to adjust for to make summer cycling safe and fun. So here's a brief list of tips and tricks to make get a bit more fun out of summer and a bit less "swelteringly miserable".
Okay folks, it's 2012. At this point, there's probably not anyone in the USA who's never heard the sun is bad for your skin in large doses. If you're riding a bike in June, the sun doesn't come in any other dose than "large". I personally prefer SPF 50 head to toe, because the sun <i>really is</i> that hard on your skin. Don't think this is limited to the fair-skinned: I'm hispanic, and despite my light hair, tan extremely easily and rarely burn. I wear the sunscreen anyways. Don't give me any of your "it feels icky," either - wear it anyways. Your skin will thank you.
2. Summer clothes
The clothing can make or break your experience tooling about town in the summer. I personally almost never wear cotton (most of my clothes are technical fabric or wool anyways). In non-technical fabrics, summer is the time for the loose and flappy. Bust out your linens, your shorts, your favorite sundress, or whatever you have that makes you feel cool. Counterintuitively, covering your skin can really help with keeping you cooler - think about the guys who work construction in the summer. Long sleeves, head coverings. It's built-in shade!
Man cannot live on tea, soda, or beer alone. Water. Electrolytes - they're what plants crave, but they're also a critical component of keeping you upright when the weather is sweltering. If you've ever wondered why your sweat tastes salty, that's electrolytes, and as you sweat you don't just lose water, you're losing minerals. Sticking to just water is a great way to pass out after any duration of activity, and having a sport drink around to complement the bottle of water you should be drinking anyways will help keep your electrolyte levels in balance.
4. Slow Down
In the wintertime, I feel like a speed machine. The environment is helping me keep my core temperature down, which is one less thing to think about. In the summer, you have to actively work to keep your core temperature down and the one easy thing everyone can do is slow the hell down. Reduce the workload on your body, and absorb the sights a little better while you're at it. My preferred pace in the summer is fast enough to catch a breeze and get where I'm going, but no faster.
5. Take breaks
As a corollary to "Slow down", take more frequent breaks in hot weather. It's possible to go from slightly dehydrated to heat stroke in an amazingly short amount of time - take it from me, I've had heat stroke more times than I can count on my fingers and toes. Even with sunscreen, summer clothes, adequate hydration, and taking it easy, I've found myself seeing stars, unable to lower my core temperature. If you ever feel like you're cycling in slow motion, stop. If you see spots, stop. If your breathing "feels" hot, stop. Don't let your pride get you injured out in the world. Leave a little earlier, get there happy and healthy.
I hope everyone has had a wonderful spring of cycling and that summer goes the same! I'm happy to field any questions about hot-weather cycling - being from Texas, you get to be a pro. Happy summer!