Tips for Bicycling in Extreme Hot or Cold Weather

Dealing with Heat & the Sun

Riding in the heat can certainly be uncomfortable if you wear the wrong clothes. But there’s another problem: the sun. You can beat the heat by wearing less clothing, but then the sun will fry you to a crisp. You can avoid the sun by wearing more clothing, but then you’ll be really hot. So what do you do? Here are some super tips:

  1. Wear a long-sleeve dress cotton dress shirt, unbuttoned in the front.This is cooler than a t-shirt, because it’s ventilated: you don’t have sticky clothing insulating you and keeping the heat in, like with a t-shirt. And even though it’s cooler than a t-shirt, it still protects you better than a t-shirt, because it covers your arms completely and the back of your neck better. Women, of course, can still use this trick by simply wearing a sports bra under the shirt.
  2. Soak your shirt in water.No matter what kind of shirt you wear, soak the top half in water before you head out. This is built-in evaporative cooling, and keeps you very cool for the first 15-30 minutes. Soak only the top half because otherwise your pants/shorts will get wet and won’t dry so quickly.
  3. Use a mister.Fill a small sprayer bottle with ice water and mount it to the second water bottle cage on your bike. Misting yourself with cold water on occasion is incredibly refreshing. Or if you want to be more elaborate, go for Kit O.’s suggestion: “You can get a device called a ‘Misty Mate’ at Academy or other outdoors stores. Fill it with ice water, hang it over on the handlebars, and clip the hose to your shirt. When you turn it on it will mist you nicely while you ride.”
  4. Avoid biking during the hottest hours of the day.Patrick Goetz writes: “The final thing no one has mentioned is the simplest of all: just avoid biking during the hottest hours of the day. I bike to work in the morning when the air is still comfortable and the sun at an angle, and leave in the evening under similar conditions. What a perfect excuse to suggest going to a 4-day 10 hour schedule during summer months. Otherwise, I save errands for either early morning or late evening hours whenever possible. To paraphrase an old saying, only mad dogs and republicans go out in the heat of the midday sun, and republicans are always out in their air-conditioned 3-ton SUV’s, so they don’t really count, and mad dogs have good skin protection. Keep yourself busy indoors between May and September at 12 and 5.”

Dealing with Cold Weather

  1. Don’t dress too warmly.You’ll heat up naturally after 10-15 minutes of riding, so you should be slightly chilly when you start out. If you’re warm when you start, then you’ll be hot in 10-15 minutes, and soak your clothes with sweat.
  2. Wear a cloth hat.A lot of your body heat escapes through your head. Wearing a cloth hat will help you retain heat, and keep your ears warm too. If you wear a helmet you can still wear it over your hat; just loosen the helmet straps a little. If a hat interferes with your helmet, you can wear an earwarmer headband instead.

    Another alternative is a cycling hat with a bill, which will keep rain sprinkles and mist out of our eyes.

  3. Don’t wear cotton.Wear clothes made of Lycra, Polypropylene, Thermax, or Drylete, not cotton. Cotton retains and holds that moisture against your skin, which will chill you to the bone. Also, cotton takes forever to dry, so your clothes won’t dry at work in time for your ride home. Hi-tech fabrics, on the other hand, wick the moisture away from your skin and disperse it, allowing you to stay warm and dry. Polypropylene socks and a long sleeved polypropylene undershirt or cycling jersey would be the basis of any cold weather riding ensemble.
  4. Wear gloves.There are many choices in materials and styles, but anything is better than nothing.
  5. Wear a windbreaker.You can get them in bright yellow or orange so you’ll increase your visibility as well.

Contributions by Robert Far and Fred Meredith.

Also refer to our newer article, Bike Commuting: Planning for the Weather