Here’s a post from Karen Matthews (Bat on Wheels) about how to protect yourself when cycling in the summer sun.
Summer cycling is the best! Warm summer breezes, the sun shining and flowers blooming make it a pleasure to be outside riding your bike. However, summer cycling can also have some negative results if proper precautions aren’t taken to protect our skin. As cyclists, we are quite vulnerable to skin damage because we spend so much time outdoors.
I love riding in Florida and am about to face my first summer here – a bit scary! I’ve already learned how intense the sun can be, especially while riding on my recumbent bike. Because of the reclined trike position, my legs and face are quite exposed. I’ve learned to take a number of precautions to hopefully allow me to safely ride all summer.
When is the Most Dangerous Time to Ride Your Bike?
The sun can be most intense between 10-4, so plan your rides before or after that, and of course seek shade whenever possible. Be aware, it’s possible to get burned even on cloudy days, and UV rays can even penetrate through some clothing. My favorite bike trail is quite shaded, but even so, there are many open, sunny areas, so protection is still needed.
Sunlight is the main source of ultraviolet radiation (UV). In the USA, the National Weather Service publishes a UV index so we can gauge the strength of UV light in our area. The scale is from 1 to 11+, and a higher number means the risk of UV exposure is greater, as is the risk of sunburn and skin damage. When possible, try to plan your rides around the best days and times with a lower UV index.
What Can We Do to Protect our Skin?
We don’t want to give up riding in the summer, so in addition to riding at safer times, we can also seek ways to protect our skin – mainly by covering up. According to the American Cancer Society there are 3 main types of UV rays:
- UVA rays age skin cells and can damage their DNA. UVA rays are linked to long-term skin damage such as wrinkles, and are also thought to play a role in some skin cancers.
- UVB rays have slightly more energy than UVA rays and are the main rays that cause sunburn and can damage the skin cells’ DNA. They are also thought to cause most skin cancers.
- UVC rays have more energy than the other types of UV rays, but they don’t get through our atmosphere and are not in sunlight. They are not normally a cause of skin cancer.
Both UVA and UVB rays can damage skin and cause skin cancer and are dangerous; UVB rays may more potent.
Can Clothing Protect Our Skin when Cycling?
Luckily, many manufacturers now offer more clothing options that help protect our skin. The clothing has sun protection or UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor). UPF rates a fabric’s ability (from 15 to over 50) to stop UV rays from reaching our skin.
Many of these clothing options are lightweight, quite comfortable, and offer wicking properties. When riding in the heat, you want the sweat pulled away from your skin to allow as much cooling as possible.
Another option is leg and arm coolers.
- Arm coolers protect from the sun and can be worn with your short-sleeved jersey. These can also be wet to aid the cooling effect.
- Leg coolers can be worn with your biking shorts to help protect your legs from the sun. Summer leggings are another option to protect the legs.
Admittedly, I am not particularly fond of my summer cycling look. I never envisioned I would look quite like this when riding, but with the intense sun I don’t want to take any unnecessary risks!
While riding with this full cover-up, I generally don’t seem to be much warmer than I would’ve been with shorts and a tee shirt, but when I stop for breaks I do seem to get a bit warmer.
Sunscreen, although it doesn’t provide complete protection, is critical for any exposed areas. An SPF of 15 filters about 93% of UVB rays; SPF 30 filters about 97%; SPF 50 filters about 98. You want a broad spectrum protection sunscreen which protects against both UVA and UVB rays, and that’s sweat-resistant too. It should be specifically designed for athletes, such as this recommended Neutrogena product.
To apply sunscreen you need about 1 ounce to cover arms, legs, neck and face. It needs to be reapplied every two hours, so you may want to carry it with you. Don’t forget other vulnerable areas like ears, hands, and the tops of your feet (if wearing open shoes).
To see what skin cancer looks like visit the website of the American Academy of Dermatology.
Additional Sun Protection Accessories for Cyclists
Polarized cycling sunglasses can help shield sun glare and protect your eyes. Be sure the glasses offer UVA and UVB protection and fit correctly.
A cap or visor under your helmet provide additional protection for your eyes. On my recumbent bike, a visor is essential for me because of the reclined position. Some helmets have a large built-in visor which offers additional protection. If yours does not, definitely consider wearing a visored cap underneath your helmet.
Many riders also wear a shade cap (which looks like a baseball cap with fabric draping down the sides and back) to provide extra protection for the neck.
A sweatband to keep the sweat off your face and out of your eyes is advisable. A bandanna can be worn instead that you can wet at either water fountains or from your water bottle.
Lightweight, breathable socks are essential at this time of year.
Other Important Summer Cycling Considerations
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, before, during and after your ride. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Be sure to sip at regular intervals. Drink up to four 16 oz. bottles in hot weather. Consider sports drinks in hot weather if they agree with you. You never want to get to the point that you feel thirsty. Sip water throughout your ride, even if you don’t think you need it.
See our Post, FAQs About Hydration for Cyclists
Consider shortening your ride a bit. You don’t want to over-exert yourself to the point where you’re uncomfortable and don’t enjoy the ride.
Have a happy and safe summer riding season!
Thanks to Our Guest Author!
Karen Matthews has been cycling recreationally for over 30 years and recently switched to riding a recumbent bike in Florida. On her blog, Bat on Wheels, she shares her riding experiences and cycling tips for both upright and recumbent cyclists.
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