How to Handle a Hot Summer Commute

An everyday rider can gain health benefits while riding at low intensity in the heat. So saddle up, drink plenty of water, and ride easy all summer long.

In Tucson, AZ, our worst summer days reach a scorching 110-degree heat (43 degrees Celsius) yet you will see daily riders braving the baking pavement on their way to work. If you want great tips for surviving the summer heat – and getting to the office looking fresh and professional – look to these desert pros for help.

You may already know the most important tip: stay hydrated. What you might not realize is that dehydration reduces your blood volume, making your heart work harder and making it more difficult for your body to regulate its temperature. Always drink water, even on short rides, and if you need a little boost, add some ice and electrolytes to the bottle to help you feel energized.

Dress for your climate. Lightweight, synthetic clothing will work in hot, dry regions but if you are dealing with humidity as well stretchy, clingy fabrics tend to get sticky, slimy, and hard to peel off after a ride. Wool is amazing in the heat – even though it’s thought of as a winter fabric. Wool wicks sweat well and breathes like cotton, but dries much faster. For punishingly sunny places, try long sleeve tops – shading your skin will keep it from feeling so sapped. Choose loose-fitting clothing when possible to let your skin air out and reduce chafing on longer rides.

Get your pack off your back and use a rear rack and panniers instead. A sweat-free back is worth the initial cost alone. If you have a shower at work, bring a quick-drying pack towel and a travel bottle of body wash. Most workplaces don’t have showers, so bring bath wipes, as they are a quick way to freshen up at the traditional office birdbath. To spruce up your coif, sprinkle a little dry shampoo or baking soda on your hair and bring a travel brush to brush it through.

In sun-baked Tucson, the intense heat can make a ride feel sluggish. A recent study from the University of Oregon compared the benefits of riding in hot weather to those of high-altitude training. After just ten days of riding in the heat, cyclists in the study had better circulation of oxygen to their muscles and better regulation of their core temperatures, similar to improvements made in high altitudes. While the study focused on athletic training, even an everyday rider will gain health benefits while riding at low intensity in the heat. So saddle up, drink plenty of water, and ride easy all summer long.

Emily Gindlesparger rides and writes in Tucson, AZ, where she loves using her bicycle for commuting and adventure. Gindlesparger has spent the past few years here sharing stories of human powered adventure in local publications.


  • Ken

    Good start. A few more I’ve learned over many summers:
    – Use a “cooling towel” (many brands). Soak it before you go out in the heat, and put it between your helmet and head. Re-wet it every 5-15 miles, depending on humidity, winds, and temperatures.
    – Get insulated water bottles, and freeze them a few hours before riding — don’t fill them all the way, and don’t screw the top on tight; the expanding ice can weaken or even break the bottle.
    – If you’ll be biking home in the heat at 5:00 p.m., start drinking extra water around 3:00.
    – Add “light-colored” to your “lightweight” clothing. Ditch the black and dark colors, they’re not good for being visible anyway, and they’re substantially hotter than white and hi-vis colors.
    – Plan for more time — pedal a little more slowly.
    – Set regular intervals to drink, even if you don’t feel like it. Drink at most every 2 miles; I go down to every mile when it’s above 105 F.
    – In dry climates, soak your shirt/jersey before you head out.
    – Select your route to take advantage of trees, water/rest areas, and roads/trails with few stops.
    – Memorize the signs of hyperthermia, and carry a cell phone.

    • morlamweb

      I disagree with you about light-colored clothing. Dark-colored clothing is no hotter as a rule than lighter stuff. Clothing is not necessary for being visible when you have bright lights fore and aft. Dark colors hide pit stains better than lighter colors, which is a real concern for me.

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