Summers in Europe can get pretty hot and if you’re used to British weather a week cycling off the coast of Spain or in the Pyrenean mountains can come as something of a shock to the system. This year mainland Europe are seeing record temperatures consistently in the high 30s for extended periods. Schools are closing for the day, outdoor workers are downing tools, but you have a holiday to go to!
If your holiday or tour is all booked and you’re jetting off in the middle of a heatwave, how can you stay safe in the sun and still enjoy your ride?
The dangers of heat exhaustion
First up let’s look at what happens in the sun and the effects you need to mitigate to ride safely.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion are varied and it’s important to recognise the signs to avoid developing heat stroke, which can be life threatening and require medical treatment.
Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion may develop suddenly or over time, especially with prolonged periods of exercise. Possible heat exhaustion signs and symptoms include:
- Skin that’s cool to the touch but with heat bumps
- Sweating heavily
- Feeling faint or dizzy (possibly worse when standing)
- A weak rapid pulse
- Muscle cramps
If you start to feel any of these symptoms you need to stop and rest, get out of the sun, and drink lots of fluids – water or a hydration solution – so that your body can recover.
If you don’t feel great try – as well as resting, hydrating, and getting out of the sun – removing as much clothing as you can then place ice packs under your knees and armpits, and mist your skin.
Heat exhaustion becomes a medical condition requiring urgent medical attention if the sufferer becomes confused or agitated or loses consciousness. If this happens to someone in your group, call 112 and wait for the emergency services!
Of course it’s best not to get into this situation in the first place so here are some suggestions to help you avoid heat exhaustion while cycling in the heat.
Stay Safe in the Sun when Cycling
Start your ride early. Anyone who’s lived in one of the Gulf States will tell you this is the only way to ride in extreme heat. This isn’t always practical when you’re on holiday though so in this case you should try and at least reduce the time you’re in full sun and try to avoid the hottest part of the day if you can. Start early, stop (in the shade) often, and engineer a lunch break in a shady location at peak times of the day.
Drink plenty of water and electrolytes. The general advice is little and often: 2-3 gulps of water or electrolyte drink every 10-15 minutes. British Cycling  recommend water for rides of less than 60 minutes in normal conditions but electrolytes for extended periods and in heat.
Carry a canister of water for misting. It’s quite usual to see canisters of mineral water for sale in chemists and supermarkets. A light mist of water helps to cool the skin and will help to bring your temperature down. Use on the back of the neck, armpits or backs of the knees. If you don’t want to buy a canister, make your own using a small travel sprayer that will easily fit in your back pocket, with the advantage of this being you can refill it from any water source along the way while you’re out on your ride.
Take a break at midday. It’s no coincidence that in Spain, Italy, France and other Southern European countries it’s traditional to start work early and down tools for the hottest part of the day. If you can’t be finished at lunch time and you’re self-organising – on a self-guided tour or a DIY holiday – try and plan your day around the heat so that you are out of the sun between 12 and 2. Build a long lunch or rest stop into the middle of the day or build a swim stop into your schedule at one of the many outdoor lakes or other wild swimming spots. And don’t forget that boosting your calorie intake will also reduce pressure on your body and provide additional water, minerals, and electrolytes!
Use sunscreen and cover up. It may seem counter-intuitive but covering up is one of the best ways to prevent heat exposure. Keep cool by opening your jersey to catch the breeze but cover your arms with something that reflects the light (white, ideally) and offers a high SPF (50 or above). If you don’t want the layers then use high factor sports sunscreen. If you’re planning to go in the water, make sure it’s “reef safe”. Also consider wearing a cap with UPF protection as this will also help keep the sun out of your eyes.
Our Cycling Holidays and Tours
If you’re looking for a cycling holiday or tour take a look at our listings. You can filter them by country, ride grading, ride type (gravel, road, leisure) and find the perfect ride! We have self-guided and guided tours as well as holidays from a fixed based. Take a look!
If you’re a holiday provider and want to join us, get in touch with your details – or find out more about the benefits of a listing with Cycling Holidays Europe and how we help your cycling holiday business here.
We also have listings for cyclist-friendly accommodation, include self-catered luxury gites with private pools, dedicated cycling hotels and B&B accommodation the French Pyrenees.