This week, here in the Chicago area, we have had 90 degree plus days with 60% plus humidity… Basically, when you go outside you feel like you can’t breathe and are in a hot bath. Of course, I like to ride every day I get a chance, so I took a ride. Before I get to the technical answer, let me tell you my personal, non-scientific observations. I started sweating immediately, my heart rate seemed a little higher than normal during the ride, and I felt a little weaker. On the other side, I had a decent 35 mile ride and felt great afterwards. I went at 6am when it was a little warmer, but it is also usually a little more humid in the mornings as well.
So I did some research on riding in high humidity and this is what I found. The problem with high humidity is that it reduces the body’s ability to cool itself. That’s because the saturated air doesn’t allow water to evaporate. You sweat more, but it just stays on your skin. You’re still losing water and salt, so dehydration becomes a greater risk. Therefore, a lot of the advice about dealing with humid weather is much the same as advice about dealing with hot weather. Mainly: stay hydrated.
Cycling coaches seem to all agree that it is important to drink before the ride, even starting the night before. Take 16 ounces of liquid before you go to bed. Drink another 16-24 ounces in the morning before you head out. You might want to include some kind of electrolyte in this pre-ride drink.
During the ride, you should be drinking every 15-20 minutes. Your water bottles probably hold 12-16 ounces, and you should try to drink 16-24 ounces the first hour of the ride. That would empty both bottles in the first hour.
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After the first hour, add sports drink. Some folks say it might even be a good idea to add a pinch of salt to your sports drink. For one thing, it would eliminate the sometimes cloyingly sweet taste. But maybe a salty snack might be even better. Pretzels have both carbs and salt. Salting your food the day before the ride might help, too. But you should know whether your body can tolerate sodium.
A couple of other things I believe help me in high humidity are wearing a jersey with mesh inserts and filling your water bottles halfway the night before, and freezing them.
After the ride, remember to continue replacing the fluids you lost. Many experts recommend another 16-24 ounces in the first hour.
So, it is possible to ride in high humidity, just be careful to stay hydrated and cool. Even with all these tips, you will probably be more uncomfortable than riding on a nice cool dry day… but hey even a bad day on a bike is better than a good day at work!!