Keep Cool and Carry On: Summer Riding Tips
As we push through August, summer break is winding down in many parts of the world. Ready or not, our normal routines are starting up again: kids are headed back to school, summer hours at the office (and for some, remote work) are ending, and our to-do lists are growing long.
But while this transitional time has us running around—and riding around!—more than ever, in many places, the heat seems nowhere close to letting up. And that’s to say nothing of the Indian summer that may lie ahead (in Taiwan, where much of the Tern Team is based, it’s called the Autumn Tiger and it is seriously hot).
We want to make sure getting on your bike remains option number one, even when the mercury rises. So we held a summer riding Q&A with Sean Smith, a Tern Team member and bike commuter who works out of scorching hot Austin, Texas (average August daily high 36°C/97°F).
Here’s what he had to say:
Q. What are the biggest challenges you face as a bike commuter during the summer months?
A. For us denizens of Central Texas, we have a relatively unique seasonal schedule. It's basically: Winter → Chilly Summer → Nice Summer → OMG GLOBAL WARMING IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW!!! → a rather quick Before-the-Holidays Summer and then → Winter again (and to be honest, it’s not much of a winter).
As you can imagine, those who ride year-round here are pretty dedicated to the bike lifestyle. I personally have a really hard time accepting the heat as an obstacle to my riding, even at the age of 47. A lot of us here have developed procedures and heat hacks to deal with the Texan furnace.
First and foremost, e-bikes help a lot in the summertime!
I'm personally the type of cyclist that likes to use a bicycle for anything and everything. I'm a sight-seer, a grocery-getter, an errand-runner, a plainclothes urbanist, and a utility cyclist. I like to challenge myself to see what I can and can't do on my bike.
My GSD has been a great addition to this lifestyle. It’s given me the ability to do more, see more, haul more, and go further, faster, with the same amount of effort. Having said that, the tips in this article are good for anyone riding a non-electric bike as well.
Q. Have you been able to overcome the heat and keep riding throughout the summer? If so, what are some of the “heat hacks” that have helped?
A. I have, but not all the time, not every day. Planning ahead to avoid the hottest parts of the day (or the hottest days in general), is the best way to not bring too much pain and sweat to commuting by bike in a hot climate.
But if you have to be out, plan your route, bring some gear depending on what you're doing in the afternoon, and know your hydration and cooling spots in advance. This will make riding during the summer much easier, and actually pretty enjoyable.
Q. Can you recommend any gear that might help riders cope with the heat better?
A. I try to keep it simple: a helmet with a visor and good air circulation, super big sunglasses, a nice buff drenched in cool water, heavy-duty (we’re talking mayonnaise-level) sunscreen, and light and breathable clothing (with UV-blocking fabric if possible).
[Ed.: Tern Team Captain Josh Hon also recommends a full-coverage UV-blocking garment. He takes the “dunk it in water” trick one step further by submerging his entire shirt before putting it on, which provides evaporative cooling under the Taipei sun. Then he wraps a drenched microfiber towel around his shoulders, which he wrings out onto his shirt as the shirt dries.]
If you have to be somewhere to meet people, plan to arrive about 15 minutes early so you can take some time to cool off and freshen up. I recommend carrying a couple of towels for after your ride and possibly some soap.
Q. Have you encountered any bicycle maintenance concerns specific to the hot summer months?
A. In regard to e-bikes, I treat my batteries like a pet. I bring them inside from the heat when at home. I make sure they are always in the mildest possible temperatures and that they get “fed” each evening.
For any kind of bike, you’ll want to do tire pressure checks at least weekly, since hot weather can cause tire pressure changes. I also keep a close eye for dirt and grime on my chain or on my bike in general.
Q. Do you have any tips about routes or infrastructure?
A. Always try to park in the shade. Coming back to a scorching hot bike saddle to ride home on is not fun at all.
When riding, I tend to go out of my way to take the shadiest routes I know. Here in Austin, we are lucky to have some very lovely tree-lined neighborhoods, which make for excellent daytime riding during the hottest of days. Natural shade is an often overlooked and essential feature that needs to be considered when redesigning our cities and their streets.
Q. Is there anything else you might want to share with our riders about summer riding?
A. As my dad used to always say...
"Son, just pay attention to the cool side of your sweat."
That has stuck with me through all types of life scenarios, but especially when riding bikes in the Texas heat.
So there you have it! Bicycle commuting in the summertime is possible, and we hope some of these tips will make it more bearable. Stay hydrated, stay in the shade, and rest assured—fall will be here before you know it (except in Texas, apparently).