Keeping Cool On Summer Bike Tours

dsc_2715.jpgSummer is both the nicest time of year to go on tour, and also one of the more challenging.

High temperatures mean you have to be well prepared to deal with the heat. There’s sunburn to worry about, dehydration and, worst of all, sunstroke. We’ve experienced all of these, and we wouldn’t like to repeat any of them!

Here are some tips for staying cool and healthy if you’re bike touring in hot weather.

#1 – Water, water, water

Think about how much you normally drink during the day and then add an extra 1-2 litres. Sip on your water supply during the day, rather than taking in a lot of water all at once. Doing this will help you stay well hydrated and that is a huge factor in coping with the heat.

Sometimes it’s hard to drink a lot of plain water, so you can add some flavourings. We like to add a little iced tea powder, a squeeze of lemon juice or about 20% orange juice to the mix. Clean your bottles well afterwards to stop mould from growing in them.

#2 – Find A Water Tap And Get Soaked

Andrew with a wet t-shirt after dunking it in an irrigation canalCycling with a wet shirt is like instant air conditioning. When it’s really hot, we stop at any water source we can find (streams are great, or water taps at places like cemeteries and gas stations) and soak our shirts in water. We also soak the bandannas that are often around our necks. It’s a little chilly putting the wet shirt back on, but it feels so good and keeps you really nice and cool for about 1/2 an hour. The bonus is that you also wash a bit of sweat out of your shirt, so it’s not so grungy after a long, hot day of riding.

#3 – Pick Your Time Of Day

Start early, have a lunchtime siesta and finish your ride in the evening. Riding through the midday heat is the surest way to fry your brain and body during a bike tour. If temperatures are set to rise above 30°C, we start riding at first light and plan for a lunch break of at least 2-3 hours.

#4 – Carry Shade With You

A tarp comes in handy in the desertOn hot days, of course you want to rest in the shade, but what if there isn’t any? Carry a tarp and you can create instant shade, just about anywhere. We have strung our tarp between telephone poles and power pylons in sparsely populated areas, making the perfect spot to wait out the heat of the day. When you set up camp, a tarp can also protect your tent from UV damage.

#5 – Cover Up With Clothing

dsc_5298Look at people who live constantly in a hot climate and you’ll see they almost always cover up with long sleeves and trousers. Why? It’s the best way to protect your body. Wear longer clothing and you also use less sunscreen. For us, that is a huge bonus because we’ve never found sunscreen that effective. Aside from the cost and the fact it leaves a film on our skin, we sweat too much for the sunscreen to do its job properly and never remember to re-apply it often enough during the day.

By using long-sleeved shirts that covered our arms and 3/4 length trousers, we only have to worry about the sunscreen on our faces and small sections of our arms and legs. As long as you get lightweight clothing, it’s not as hot as you might imagine.

#6 – Carry A Thermos

A thermos is the kind of thing you’d expect to carry on a winter trip, but it can be handy on hot days too, to keep water nice and cold. Yes, there are insulated water bottles (we have a couple ourselves) but they only keep water cold for a couple extra hours. That’s fine if you are on a day trip somewhere, but if you are planning a full day of hot cycling, a thermos will keep water cold right until the end of the day.


  1. Hans
    7th August 2010 at 7:48 am #

    Good tips.

    Talking about tarps, which one is good to be used as
    – a shade,
    – a footprint to protect the tent
    – a bivouac
    – to sit on when taking a break and the grass is wet?

    It should be
    – lightweight
    – not strech over time
    – have holes in the side to attach lines to it….
    – maybe has (or can have) a zipper in the center, so it serves as a protection against rain.

    You know, an ‘all purpose’ thing.

    Greetings from DK, Hans

  2. friedel
    7th August 2010 at 8:09 am #

    Hans, watch for our next post. It’s on just that topic 🙂

  3. Tom Allen
    7th August 2010 at 9:15 am #

    Nice tips. I would add to the cover-up tip that you should cover up with loose-fitting natural fabrics – cotton is best. It stays wet for longer which helps to keep you cool and is ideal for extreme heat and sun e.g. deserts. Technical clothing is generally revolting to wear in these conditions, but is OK in a temperate summer.

    Also, the most obvious one – don’t cycle in deserts in summer! 🙂

  4. Ray Swartz
    7th August 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    If you use a Camelbak, put lots of ice in it and have cold water for hours.

  5. Cathy
    7th August 2010 at 8:19 pm #

    Good summary, I agree with all of those suggestion.

    For clothing a loose fitting seersucker business shirt is hard to beat.

    And in hot, dry and remote areas a canvas bag that cools water by evaporation makes for a treat


  6. Keef
    7th August 2010 at 9:30 pm #

    Great tips with Turkey soon to come into view.Great styling also Andrew!Cheers and keep up the great work Guys.Keef

  7. Chris Leakey
    8th August 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    Good stuff, we love our lightweight icebreaker T-shrits they are better than cotton or synthetic even though they are made from wool. They don’t smell much, really comfortable and keep you cool. Liz is always reappearing from toilets stops with a wet t-shirt, good way to keep cool.

  8. Ingrid
    9th August 2010 at 10:36 am #

    We cycled in 42° and more in the Pyrenees some weeks ago. We used wet wool socks to cool the 1.5 liter water bottles. Even after the hottest days our water was cooler than from the tap. Sock size 38 was okay. Put the bottle in the wet sock so that you can drink at any time, without removing the sock. Wool socks works great because they keep a lot of water.
    We also soaked our caps, long-sleeves shirts, 3/4 trousers and gloves.

    • friedel
      9th August 2010 at 10:03 pm #

      Good to know that works! I’d heard of people doing similar things, but never tried it myself.

  9. Frederike
    10th August 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    Great tips. We like to mix some juice with our water to replace some of the electrolytes you lose when sweating, but after a while it makes the water bottles develop a strange mouldy coating. We now just buy some bottled water and reuse that bottle for our juice / water mix, reserving our Sigg water bottles for pure water only.

    For the last month or so we’ve been cycling in temperatures in the high 30°s and low 40°s C almost every day. We have found that the heat is kind of bearable until around 2pm. Between 2-6pm it gets much hotter, as the tarmac has been heated up and the heat reflects from the road.

    Getting up early and reducing daily distance helps a little, but long lunch breaks are not ideal for us, as the worst heat only really kicks in after lunch here (in Bulgaria/Greece/Turkey). An afternoon siesta might be a better option in that case.

    • friedel
      10th August 2010 at 1:52 pm #

      Hi Frederike,

      It’s true, putting juice in your water bottles isn’t exactly best practice. They’re less likely to get mouldy if you wash them out as soon as you’re done the juice, but that’s not always possible. A great way to clean water bottles is to use denture cleaning tablets. Pop one in with some warmish water, let it sit overnight and rinse. Sparkling clean bottles!

  10. Bob Adair
    12th August 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    On the ‘cover up’ theme, I also found that wearing some kind of cloth insert under my helmet (even a T shirt or a dish towel if elegance isn’t an issue) keeps your head cooler and also protects the back of your neck. I think I’ve seen photos of custom headgear for this purpose, but haven’t seen them for sale in bike stores. I also find a simple, loose, long sleeve cotton shirt to be the best top.
    And as everyone says, start early – if you’re on the road half an hour before sunrise you can often get a reasonable day’s riding in by noon, and spend the rest of the day in glorious idleness. It can be the difference between touring heaven and the trip from hell:)

    • friedel
      13th August 2010 at 7:30 am #

      Bob, we met someone in Australia who did something similar. He had a piece of fabric, to which he attached a bit of velcro. There was another strip of velcro on the inside, bottom edge of the helmet.

  11. Dave
    25th October 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    You can get head bands and necklets made of a double layer of silk filled with isocyanurate crystals. (Nappy crystals) They are common here (Brisbane, Australia) at markets. A quick dip in water and they stay cool for hours. Anyone with a sewing machine can run one up for you.

    A damp bandana with a neck cover is also useful when the temperature heads above 40.

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