Yup, summer is almost here as far as the Keys are concerned. We have a very short winter, spring ends about the end of March and the real heat kicks in very soon. From Pedal Fritters, here are some tips for riding a bike in the tropical heat…
Summer is here in the Keys and with it comes a variety of heat, humidity, and weather conditions that few people are used to. Riding a bicycle around in the Keys during the summer season means taking a few more precautions than usual to avoid any problems like dehydration, sunstroke, heat exhaustion, or sunburn. I don’t mean to scare anyone but if you have never been in the Keys during the summer months it can be quite a shock compared to weather elsewhere on the mainland. Here are some things to watch out for and some tips on how to cope with the weather while riding in the Keys over the next three months…
Heat: It gets hot down here. Really, really hot. Not your typical simmering summer day. We are talking energy draining, burning hot. Highs during the day usually hit the high 80′s or low 90′s and lows at night stay in the high 70′s. Sure, you may say, but we hit the 100′s everyday in the desert. Yes, that is true. But coupled with the heat is high humidity. It’s not uncommon for humidity to be over 90% on an average day. It makes for a nice hot juicy sweaty experience. When you are surrounded by water, and the near tropic sun beating down on top of that, the heat is one of the top dangers for any kind of outside activity. Just standing in the open sun will cause you to sweat profusely. Stay out in the sun for extended periods of time and you are opening yourself up to any number of problems like heat stroke, dehydration, exhaustion, etc. Doing an activity like bicycling will only compound the problem. But that doesn’t mean you should go hide in a dark, air conditioned, bar and just drink all during your stay here…as tempting as that may sound. If you take a few minor precautions you can get plenty of biking in without winding up in the ICU.
First, dress for the heat. Lightweight and light colored clothing is the uniform du jour in the Keys. Stay away from heavy fabrics or dark colors. Dark absorbs heat while light colors reflect it. Light weight breathable fabrics will allow you to sweat but also allow the sweat to evaporate through the material and cause a cooling effect, especially when riding. A wide brim hat does wonders for keeping a bit of shade on your head. You can slide it under your helmet if you wear one.
B, don’t go thirsty. Keep some water handy at all times, be it a water bottle, hydration pack, or whatever. Drink plenty of water and occasionally mix in a sports drink if possible. Eat some juicy type fruit like an orange or apple. But under no circumstances rely on alcohol for staying hydrated. Booze is one of the worst things you can drink while out biking or doing any activity in the heat. Wait until you are done, the evening has cooled off a bit, or you are finished and recovered from your activity before ordering up that rum runner. Same with any heavy sugar drinks like soda pop. Stick to the stuff that will do you the most good.
3, slow down and take your time. Summer in the Keys is no time to be doing long distance, or speed riding. Slow your pace down and keep the rides a bit shorter in duration. Take frequent breaks, preferably in some shade, and if you start to feel the effects of the heat, stop, grab some water, and cool down before continuing. If the heat gets to be too much, stop, call a cab, and get a ride back to wherever you are staying. Do not underestimate the effects of the heat in the Keys.
Did I mention it gets hot down here?
The Sun: If you live anywhere north of the 24th latitude or you are from England, when the tropical sun hits your skin you are going to fry like a piece of bacon. Sunburn is one of the most common effects of the sun down here and a bad burn can ruin a vacation. Even those of us who live here and are out in the sun all the time still get burned now and then. Luckily, there are some easy steps to take to prevent that cool looking tan from turning into a painful, peeling mess.
Start with sunscreen, lots of sunscreen. It’s sold in just about every store on the island. I won’t favor any particular brand here, they all do pretty much the same thing. All sunscreen has a sunblock rating called SPF which is sunscreen industry talk for icky white greasy crap you slather all over your exposed skin. They add in things like coconut or aloe to enhance the odor so you don’t smell like a boiled lobster, but hey, they do the job. The higher the SPF the more sun it will block. The downside is the less tan you will get. But if it’s a matter of tan vs. third degree burns and stage one skin cancer, stick with the higher ratings, especially you British subjects. My personal favorite is SPF 50 which does an effective job of blocking out the worst the sun can throw at me but stops short of preventing radiation sickness in the event of a thermonuclear attack. Slather it on thick, heavy, and often. Hit any place where skin may be exposed to direct sun. This includes your neck, ears, and face. If you are doing a water activity keep in mind the sun reflects off the water and the effects are magnified. When you are riding you may only feel the breeze as you pedal along and not feel the burn until it is too late. Get a brand that holds up in wet conditions or won’t run off easily when you sweat. Get in the habit of adding some more when you take a water break. You may look a bit silly with all that lotion on you but you can easily rinse it off in the shower later and be ready to hit the town at night rather than lay in agony on a scratchy bed with third degree burns all over your body. Get some good sunscreen and use it.
Clothing again comes into play here. If you are using the breathable fabrics like I mentioned earlier you can get away with things like long sleeve shirts to keep the sun off your arms. Again, a bandanna around the neck and face along with a wide brim hat works wonders for keeping direct sunlight off your skin. I’ve found that one of the best sources for clothing that works well in the hot direct sun comes from Columbia. Columbia specializes in clothing for outdoor activities and many of their clothes have built in SPF to help block the sun but still breathe to allow your sweat to cool you off.
Don’t play off the effects of the sun on your skin. It can do some serious damage if you are not careful. And it’s hot…did I mention that before?
Rain: With the summer comes the rainy season. For most of the day the sun will shine and all will seem calm. Then, as the heat builds up, clouds form and suddenly, as if from nowhere, a furious thunderstorm will appear. They happen almost daily and the location is never the same. When these storms hit they produce very heavy rains, lots of thunder and lightning, and the occasional waterspout. The waterspouts are not a big deal usually unless you are on the water. The big thing to watch out for is the lightning and sudden flooding from the rain. These storms look spectacular when you are safe and sound inside someplace but can be quite deadly if you are out in the open. The Keys have very poor drainage due to being nearly level with the ocean so low lying areas will flood quickly. For example on the north end of Duval St., even a minor storm will create huge ponds of water that run up over the sidewalks and into the local store fronts. Most stores have sandbags at the ready to help stop the water but cars coming through and throwing up a wake don’t help. Luckily, these storms will pass through quickly and in a short time after they are gone, the sun comes back out and creates a nice steamy soupy atmosphere.
If you are out riding and see an approaching storm don’t fool around nor try to out run it. Remember you are on an island and most of these storms can cover the whole land area in a few minutes. Try to find some shelter as quickly as possible, a nearby restaurant, store, or whatever you can find…except of course any trees or tall metal structures like antennas. Get to shelter and wait out the storm. Even one that seems far away can cause problems. Lightning can occur pretty far from a storm center and strike just about anyplace that is open. Sit tight in a safe place, and it will pass quickly.
Try to avoid riding in the rain if possible. Visibility is reduced and something happens to the brains of anyone driving a vehicle when it rains. They can’t see, can’t stop, and can’t maneuver when there is water falling from the sky. Avoid riding through deep puddles where you can’t see what’s covered. Rain gear helps but you will get soaked pretty good anyways. That lightweight clothing I keep preaching about will dry quickly if you do get drenched so don’t worry to much about it. Remember that when the storm is over the sun will pop back out and it will heat up quickly. Always check the weather before heading out for a ride and if possible, avoid the storms.
Really, really hot.
One thing I should bring up and I have mentioned this in the past but it’s worth mentioning again. We live in a very salty environment in the Keys. All the surrounding water is seawater, full of salt and very corrosive. As a result, much of that salt gets on the land and when there is a rainstorm, said salt leaches up from the ground and into the standing water. So those puddles you are pedaling your $3,000 dollar custom bike through are pure salt water. Needless to say, those puddles will do a number on the metal bits of your bicycle, especially the nuts, bolts, and spokes. Clean your ride off thoroughly with fresh water as soon as possible after your ride. If you don’t you are going to have a most unpleasant surprise when you return home. Corrosion is a way of life in the Keys and you best take precautions to fight it or it will easily ruin your bike.
Hot, hot, hot.
Hurricanes: To honest, you really don’t have to worry much about riding a bike in a hurricane. We will have plenty of advance warning if a storm is heading our way and you, as a visitor, will be the first to know about it because the Monroe County authorities will be dragging your ass to the mainland right quick. Tourists are always the first to be evacuated if a storm threatens. If you do somehow ignore or avoid the warnings and wind up on the island during a hurricane and get the brilliant idea to go ride a bicycle in it, you deserve whatever fate befalls you. Best to leave when they tell you.
A few more quick tips…Invest in a good pair of polarized sunglasses. If you don’t bring any with you, check around the island. They are sold everywhere usually right along side the sunscreen. A good pair of sunglasses will help reduce the glare from the sun and protect your eyes from the rays. For those of you who need prescription, there are models with built in reader lenses.
After riding and before you pack to go home you might want to do some laundry. All those clothes you wore while riding are going to be caked with sweat and sunscreen and they will stink…as I have been alerted to by those unfortunate enough to be standing down wind from me when I am standing in line at the store after pedaling in the heat. Pack up those smelly clothes with the rest of your luggage and you will have a most unpleasant surprise when you unpack back home. I found that Sport Tide with Fabreze does a bang up job of getting rid of the smell and getting my riding togs back to a civilized odor again. If you can’t get any laundry done before heading home try to pack your sweaty stuff in a sealed bag of some sort so it won’t infect your other clothes or luggage.
Again I hope I’m not scaring anybody with all the talk of how hot, sweaty, and rainy it is during the summer but I do want to make you aware of what kind of conditions to expect when you come down here and do some pedaling. As long as you know what to expect and prepare for it properly, you can enjoy riding on the island in the summer just as well as in any other time of the year. Prep for the conditions and ride safely.
Really ho….well, you know what I mean.