I used to think cycling in San Francisco’s reliably tardy summer, during the months of September and October when temps soar into the 90s, was unbearably hot. That is until I came to Sri Lanka to ride. With close to 100% humidity and pre-dawn temps starting in the 80s before soaring to way above 100 during the day, riding here can best be described as pedaling inside a steam oven while someone blows a hot hair dryer in your face.
Our new Sri Lankan cycling friends offered plenty of advice for staying cool on the bike, and making sure we didn’t end up in the hospital with an IV drip at the end of the day.
- Ease into it: After about 4 days of riding in the heat, I was finally starting to get used to it but those first few days were rough. Take it slow and understand that you won’t be able to perform at the same level you do back home.
- Start early: We were on our bikes by 5 am, well before the sun comes up. Take advantage of the “cooler” morning hours to put in more mileage before you naturally start to slow down in the building heat. Once the sun comes up, you will notice your heart rate quickly rises, making the effort harder.
- Electrolytes: You sweat profusely so need to regularly replace your electrolytes. I drank at least one bottle of Nuun every day on the bike.
- Cover up: At first you will think the Sri Lankans are crazy covered head to toe while riding. But you will quickly figure out it is actually cooler to ride completely covered up in order to keep the baking sun off your skin. I rode with Columbia Freezer Zero arm sleeves and wish they made knee sleeves as well. I also had a Freezer Zero neck gaiter which protected my neck from the sun and also acted as a cool, wet compress around my neck all day. Wear a hat under your helmet to protect your head.
- Stop for popsicles or ice cream whenever possible.
- Regularly pour water over your head. Keep one bottle to pour over your head and the other to drink. If you find you are starting to overheat, drink ice cold water and pour some over your head to bring down your core temperature. If you don’t have access to cold water along your ride, freeze your bottles the night before to ensure your water stays cool.
- Drink regularly. Even if you aren’t thirsty, keep drinking. You don’t realize just how much you sweat.
- Head straight to the sea when you get done with your ride, cycling kit and all. The Sri Lankans believe it not only cools you off, but the salt water aids in recovery.
- Bring a small towel that you can dip in cool water and place around your neck, forearms, or on top of your head under your helmet. A couple of the guys even had cooling pads that construction workers use under their helmets. I need to get one of those.
- When taking a break, head straight for the shade. Get out of the sun whenever possible.