It was probably August of last year when I heard the woman on the radio reading the weather forecast for Sacramento say, “cool today with highs in the mid to low nineties.” There was a part of me that wanted to giggle (yes, I sometimes giggle) at the concept of low nineties being “cool” and a part of me that was looking forward to break in the heat.
When people ask me how I ride my bike when it’s so hot, I usually respond by saying, “in Sacramento you either ride in the heat or you don’t ride.” And that pretty much sums up how I feel about it. I don’t claim to “enjoy” riding when it’s 90+, I certainly don’t spend the winter looking forward to it, but I like cycling more than I hate being hot, so I ride. Eventually you just get used to it.
Against my better judgment and at the risk losing the few dozen readers we have to heat exhaustion, I’m going to share with you my easy three-step guide to surviving the heat (to be clear I mean cycling in 90+ degree heat, not the Miami Heat, if you’re looking for how to survive the Miami Heat you should ask the Dallas Mavericks).
Prepare: When I say prepare, I don’t mean fill bottles, buy sunscreen or any of that “get things together for my ride” stuff. I mean prepare mentally. Specifically, I mean complain. This is the time to get it out there. To announce to the world your hatred for the heat and your desire to move, at the first opportunity, to somewhere a bit more temperate. You should start complaining as soon as you hear it’s going to be hot and you shouldn’t stop until you’re used to the heat, too hot to complain, or it starts to cool down again (at which point you can begin complaining about the cold/rain).
Hydrate: You should start hydrating while you’re complaining and continue hydrating throughout the day. But remember it is possible to drink too much water and get something called hyponatremia. The general recommendation is to drink 8 ounces of water for every 15 minutes of cycling, but this can vary pretty significantly depending on the individual so take Richard Masoner’s advice and use a scale to help gauge how much you need to be drinking and remember that when you sweat it’s not just water that you lose so consider one of those electrolyte drinks.
Ride: This is the hard part. The thing is that it is possible to acclimate yourself to the heat, but it’s not going to happen from the bucket seat of your air-conditioned car. The more time you spend in the heat the easier it will get. So get on the bike, pedal, complain, drink water and, most importantly, give yourself permission to take it easy. Allow your body to adjust to the temperature. In my experience it usually takes a few weeks of summer riding to get to the point where I feel almost comfortable. This is usually when I stop complaining about the heat and start thinking about how crappy it’s going to be when it starts to rain again.
That’s it. Three easy steps to successful bike commuting in the Sacramento summer: prepare, hydrate and ride. I promise that if you follow these guidelines you will find yourself at home most weeknights, drenched in sweat, wondering how you ended up buzzed after half a beer.