When bicycle advocates talk about safety, they frequently talk about engineering issues, defensive cycling and vehicular behavior, stopping at stop signs, etc. etc.
But cycling safety goes beyond those issues. Taking care of YOURSELF is also core to cycling safety, especially on sweltering summer days like the one we’re having today here in Minnesota.
There are a number of considerations:
- Hydration. If you don’t hydrate, you can lose concentration. This can be dangerous. When it’s especially hot, you’re going to sweat more (more on that later), and thus you need to intake more. Plain old water is your friend, as are drinks with electrolytes. I personally like to take sport drink and mix it halvsies with water to make it less sweet, but still get sodium and potassium.
- Nutrition. I can’t tell you how many people trying to use cycling as weight control I’ve seen bonk because they’re trying to dodge taking in calories. You can balance the two and output more than you input, but your body needs glycogen to break into fat stores, which requires a bit of a quick-hit input. You also need, as mentioned, potassium and sodium. Water and low-calorie ‘sports drink’ alone may not be sufficient. When you bonk, this can be unsafe.<.li>
- Sunscreen. Look, skin cancer is no fun. I spent part of last weekend just wincing watching people ride by shirtless, and it was clear that the chest on display hadn’t seen sun in YEARS and if you held a piece of white printer paper up next to it, it’d blend. This just yells ‘ouch.’ Sunburn can raise your body temperature, and is skin damage. A generic sport sunscreen, reapplied regularly, is a fine thing.
- Moderation. Maybe the day with a 101 heat index isn’t a good day to do hill repeats. Moving your workout to dawn and dusk, outside the day’s heat and most direct sun, is a good start. Consider easier workouts, as hot weather can stress the heart, create air quality issues that stress the lungs, and stress your body’s ability to regulate temperature. Sweat is the body’s way of reducing temperature – you sweat, it evaporates on your skin, you cool. But if heat index is greater than standard body temperature, the evaporation step may be missing. Be aware of your body’s response to heat!
There are other considerations for heat, as well. Check your tire pressure, as temperature changes can impact the inflation of your tires. Beware of pavement tar strips intended to fix cracks, as they are treacherous when hot. Find a shady route. Or consider cross-training: A pool workout can build your upper-body core, all while being in delightful and refreshing water.
Being well is a first step to being safe. Never undervalue your own health in the safety equation!