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Take the no-sweat challenge (and other tips to survive the heat)

Posted by on July 1st, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Splash Dance Ride-5-4

If you see water, ride through it.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

It’s hot out there and it doesn’t look like we’ve got much relief in sight.


To cope with the high temps, I’ve started doing something new this year. I call it the no-sweat challenge. I figured now was a great time to share more about that and all the other tricks we know in hopes of keeping more of you — comfortably — on the bike. (Because there’s no reason to stop riding in the heat. And besides, MAX is unreliable over 90-degrees and auto traffic has been hellish in Portland lately.)

OK. Back to the no-sweat challenge: The challenge is to not break a sweat while riding or when you get to your destination. How? Simple! Just don’t pedal hard. Shift into a very easy gear and just spin easily as if you are dawdling through the park on a Sunday afternoon. Not only will you stay cooler, but you’ll find that by going slower you’ll have a much more enjoyable and safer experience overall (as will the people you share the road with). It’s a win-win of stay cool and creating a more courteous biking culture.


Splash Dance Ride-11-10

Dan has the right idea.

Here are some other quick tips culled from my own experiences and reader comments over the years:

Ride through fountains and other water sources whenever possible: Portland has water in parks, in plazas, in rivers, and so on. Adjust your route to ride through water and get soaked!

Carry your bags on your bike, not your body: Wearing a backpack in the heat is the worst. If you can, plop your bags on a pannier rack or in a basket.

Adjust your schedule: If at all possible, try to ride early in the morning or later in the evening to miss peak scorching.

Freeze your bottles: Oldest trick in the book.

Soak your shirt or other items before heading out: Lots of folks swear by wrapping a wet bandanna around their neck or under their helmet. Other variations on this tip include wearing a wet t-shirt and/or wrapping a sock full of ice around your neck.

Chill out when you’re done: As you ride, the wind keeps you cool and evaporates your sweat. But don’t let your guard down when you get to your destination. Make sure you take several minutes to cool off and gather yourself or you could get dizzy and queasy from heat exposure.

Drink a lot of water: ‘Nuff said.

What are you best tips for riding in this heat?

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  • Dan July 1, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    I always carry small bits of cash so I can buy from lemonade stands, when I can find them. I rode over the west hills on Monday without a water bottle (forgotten!) and the usual houses didn’t have any stands out, though, so it’s a hit-or-miss strategy!

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  • Mossby Pomegranate July 1, 2015 at 4:59 pm

    Why does our public transit have so many deficiencies?

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    • Reza July 1, 2015 at 9:49 pm

      Because Portland on the whole is not very affluent and we tend to do everything on the cheap, Mossby.

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    • q`Tzal July 2, 2015 at 9:56 am

      Cuz we’re Murica and if you don’t drive an F150 you must be a luzer.

      And as ridiculous as that statement is it does accurately reflect the political dynamic that keeps adequate funding from every public transportation system in America.

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  • AndyC of Linnton July 1, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    Usually power through on my particular route home down ol’ Dirty30, but yesterday I took a book to the air-conditioned bar near work. I found that there was a little less traffic and a slight bit more shade on the highway at about 6:30, as opposed to 5. Heavy headwinds don’t seem to let up though these days. Strip bare and a cold shower when I get home.

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  • Paul July 1, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    Break a sweat? LOL, I will break sweat standing still in this weather.

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    • Nathan July 2, 2015 at 10:35 am

      I independently tried out this riding slow thing yesterday. I was meeting some friends after work and didn’t want to arrive drenched. It went great, until I arrived at the 90 degree draft-free restaurant!

      Sometimes you just can’t win!

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  • Electric Mayhem July 1, 2015 at 5:16 pm

    If money is no object, check out this vest that circulates ice water:

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    • Anne Hawley July 1, 2015 at 6:46 pm

      Whoa! I mean, it’s cool (literally), but whoa.

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  • paul g. July 1, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    I rode last night around sundown using my lights and had a glorious time.

    In fact, I wanted to comment the driver of the Hawthorne bus #4 (already wrote to TriMet). I was approaching Grand traveling pretty fast, trying to make the light.

    The bus was completing a pickup and was preparing to move across my lane.

    I worried that the bus would hesitate then cut me off, or force me around to the right, or otherwise not be able to judge my speed.

    In fact, the driver judged the speed precisely and correctly. She veered left, gave a little gas, got across Grand, and was well clear of the bike lane by the time I approached Grand (and also got across).

    I ran her down on 5th and Yamhill and thanked her. She gave me a big smile.

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  • rick July 1, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    Take a route with a general downhill descent on the way home.

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    • SilkySlim July 2, 2015 at 7:53 am

      But what about on the way there!?!

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    • Tait July 3, 2015 at 5:55 am

      My commute is uphill both ways. In the snow.. err, triple-digit heat. And no clipless pedals.

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  • gutterbunnybikes July 1, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    These little bad boys work like a charm. I use them at work from time to time (welder – usually outside – lucky I’m between jobs right now). Doesn’t seem like much, but they do cool the blood on it’s way to and from the head, they usually stay cool about an hour or so.

    Oh yeah, ride slower.

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    • gutterbunnybikes July 1, 2015 at 6:10 pm

      on shorter trips just using a bandana soaked in cold water or kept in a freezer will do the trick too.

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      • Dan G July 2, 2015 at 6:37 pm

        I tried this, but bandannas don’t hold much water. Use hand towels instead.

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    • Anne Hawley July 1, 2015 at 7:01 pm

      Thanks for this! I’d never heard of the product before. Now, one of them is on its way to me.

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      • gutterbunnybikes July 1, 2015 at 7:47 pm

        Actually most construction supply retailers (Acme – industrial SE on MLD just south of the Hawthorne Bridge, Airgas branches all over town), likely Sanderson Safety – across the street from Acme) usually has them in stock this time of the year if you don’t want to wait for the shipping (though with this heat they might be sold out).

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  • Steve Hoyt-McBeth July 1, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    I rode (slowly!) through the Salmon Springs Fountain last night and got thoroughly soaked, refreshed, and relaxed. As I recalled from year’s past, I was completely dry by the time I got home in inner NE.

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  • Indy July 1, 2015 at 8:32 pm

    Can I make a small, unpopular suggestion?

    Love the heat?

    Take it in? On a bike, the heat isn’t so bad.

    Sweating isn’t so bad.

    Heat + wind in your face + sweating, really isn’t the worst thing out there.

    Take breaks, drink 4x the amount of liquid you’d normally take in…. But heat and ranges of temperatures can be experienced without dread. Just “shift” your perspective to one of “I’m experiencing this sensation” rather than one of dread because you aren’t used to it.

    Try it?

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    • rachel b July 1, 2015 at 11:57 pm

      Clearly, you are not a redhead. 😉

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  • Reza July 1, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    If you live on the west side and frequently have to take the lane on downtown streets, this type of advice (go as slow as you can!) is NOT PRACTICAL. And yes, I inevitably end up at my destination drenched in sweat. But the way my body works, I end up with a sweaty back after walking a 1/4 mile in these temperatures.

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    • EJ July 2, 2015 at 6:24 pm

      Yes! Don’t go as slow as you can in heavily shared areas. Ride like you mean it! Riding with purpose and intent is a positive way to share the road. Save the slow for Greenwars and side streets and bike lanes please.

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  • Eric July 1, 2015 at 10:23 pm

    Use the throttle instead of pedal assist. Seems like drivers have an even harder time judging speed when your feet aren’t moving though.

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    • Paul Wilkins July 2, 2015 at 12:12 pm

      Or skiff with an e-bike.

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  • Beth H July 1, 2015 at 10:36 pm

    Honestly, the heat in Portland isn’t so bad. I just came home from a month in the Midwest. Temps near 90, humidity about the same. Returned to Portland last week and the humidity was around 35 %. I can feel the difference. No complaints here.

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    • rachel b July 2, 2015 at 12:04 am

      C’mon, Beth! You’re killing me! It IS bad. Maybe better than the Midwest, but still bad, very bad for the pastier among us (cough, speaking)! But then, I always voted for the world to end in ice, not fire. Mmmm….ice! Sigh.

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    • q`Tzal July 2, 2015 at 10:06 am

      Was just in Phoenix, AZ and Brownsville, TX today (southern most town in Texas, near the gulf):
      Phoenix was 114°F but dry, Brownsville was 95°F and rather humid.
      This morning when I woke up and did my vehicle check it was 76°F, dewpoint was 76°F and humidity was of course 100%. This was evident by the condensation that was rolling off of every surface like it was raining.

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      • rachel b July 2, 2015 at 11:15 am

        Ugh. 🙁 I suppose some gratitude is in order after all…

        But: I’ve always thought of those places as miserably hot and sticky and like NOwhere I’d ever want to live or be for any reason whatsoever. I have avoided such places! What’s so disturbing about hot sticky weather here is that it’s here at all. If you’ve lived here for anything longer than five years, you know what I mean.

        Our summers here have changed so fast–really only in the past few years, but they keep saying this is the new normal. June was traditionally a wet and cloudy month in Western Oregon. Then the sun lovers would get their fairly reliable dry/warm July and August summer fix and very occasionally we’d have a week of “uncharacteristic” warm (as in 70s) weather in September. I still remember wearing my new wool school clothes in September and enjoying being chilly. Now we get half a year of summer–approaching SW summer heat norms–which is sheer torture to those of us who’ve always prized this region for its cloaked, cloudy, moist, cool clime, and is very worrisome for multitudinous reasons. Drought, fires, the poor creatures (salmon, et al). 🙁

        Again, I curse the human ability to adapt, because that seems to be happening with very little attention being paid to just how incredibly new and weird this kind of endless boiling steaming summer is to THIS area, and what we can do to about it (more biking! less driving!). It worries me a lot. I keep thinking we’re going to look like a Mars-scape, glowing radioactively, by end of August. I hate contemplating this as the new normal.

        Here’s a good link that shows the Urban Heat Island effect (in degrees) in cities, including Portland:

        In other news more relevant to the thread–I just dowse myself head to toe before going out in this weather–esp. biking! Apologies for the meandering.

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        • rachel b July 2, 2015 at 12:14 pm

          Er… “douse,” I meant. I am not divining water in me with a stick.

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        • Anne Hawley July 2, 2015 at 3:29 pm

          For the first time in my life, I now have home air conditioning. As a native Portlander, I’ve viewed it like I view umbrellas: just not that necessary or useful around here. But if August is going to start in May, then by July 1, nighttime cooling isn’t going to be enough – particularly now that I don’t spend my days in an air conditioned office building downtown.

          So yesterday I gave in and bought a window unit. It’s gonna be a love-hate-guilt-glee thing, but I couldn’t face four August-like months without it.

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          • rachel b July 2, 2015 at 3:40 pm

            We capitulated too, Anne! Grateful for the heat pump, but it also makes me nervous (my Eeyore doomsday scenario mind immediately leaps to chronic drought, power shortages, etc. I don’t like being dependent on artificial cooling, grateful or no).

            The loss of our historic nighttime cooling is really doing Portland in-part of the Urban Heat Island effect, evidently. I just find it so weird that we’re all comparing temps and conditions here to temps and conditions in the Midwest or Texas–traditionally VERY different climes–at all. It’s freaking me out. I want my damp mossy rock to crawl under.

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        • Deeebo July 2, 2015 at 4:51 pm

          You haven’t lived here long enough. About 10 years ago things were warmer and dryer and in the intervening years things have been a bit cooler and wetter. Recently its swung back to hot and dry. I’m not saying this to either confirm or deny climate change. I’m saying weather and yearly temperature fluctuation is not the same thing as climate.

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          • rachel b July 3, 2015 at 12:02 am

            I’ve lived here all my life. I was born here.

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          • Anne Hawley July 3, 2015 at 12:03 am

            I dunno. I’ve been here since December 5, 1955. How long is long enough?

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  • Clark in Vancouver July 1, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    Often if you freeze the entire bottle of water, it doesn’t thaw enough early enough. What you can do though, is fill it half full, then freeze it at an angle in the freezer, then fill up the rest when you take it out. That way you have something to drink sooner.
    Another thing you can do is freeze coffee or tea or juice. I’m thinking of when you do long trips where you’ll be out all day.

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  • Tait July 2, 2015 at 2:46 am

    I wish I could do this. I try, but I just cannot seem to maintain a low enough exertion to not sweat — no matter the weather. I’ll have to try ditching the backpack, but I can’t help but feel there’s some secret everybody else knows to low-exertion riding that I’ve never been able to figure out.

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    • Dan July 2, 2015 at 8:21 am

      Ditto. I have to bring two caps with me, and change one out halfway when it starts dripping in front of me.

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  • DaveM July 2, 2015 at 5:35 am

    I wanted to give props to CityBikes for putting out their water spraying hoop for riders on Ankeny. Thanks guys!

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  • Alexandra July 2, 2015 at 8:27 am

    I’m four months pregnant, so biking home in 95 degree weather has not worked for me, especially since my trip is 11 miles. But I will defend the public transit system and say that I am very grateful that you can take your bike on any bus or MAX (provided there is a space!). I have been leaving work a bit earlier to make sure I get one, but not every city has this option. The morning rides in 65 degree weather are pretty glorious, though. Stay hydrated out there, folks, and wear sunscreen!

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  • MeghanH July 2, 2015 at 10:00 am

    Wet a bandana, roll it up like you were about to tie it around your neck, stick it in a plastic bag and freeze it during the day. It makes a difference to me. Drinking water at every single opportunity helps. But I have to say, the prospect of a TriMet bus with A/C grabbed me today, when it’s forecast to be 99 degrees.

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  • invisiblebikes July 2, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Here is a suggestion from a long time dessert rider;

    Step 1) soak all the pads in your helmet with water (either on the helmet or off)

    step 2) put your helmet and pads (installed) in the freezer over night.

    step 3) 15 minutes before your ride pull helmet out of freezer and let (pads) slightly thaw so they won’t be a shock to your skin when you put it on. then put it on for a much cooler head during the rides entirety.

    The closed cell foam of your helmet will hold the temps from the freezer internally (towards the core of the foam) for a pretty long time, it’s insulation 101 the foam is such a good insulator that it slowly releases the cold temps from its core to create a cooling affect around your head. The heat from your head will not heat up the foam because it’s a 2 way shield. resists heat while releasing cool until it reaches air temp which is usually still cooler than what your feeling from the suns rays.

    Most people think wearing a helmet makes your head hotter, which on very warm days above 90 it’s actually the opposite. The foam is insulating your brain from the sun and heat. The excess heat that you feel under your helmet from your head is mostly your skin not being able to breath and release heat fast enough. But in a helmet your brain is able to stay at a consistent temp (in the core of your head) while your skins releases the heat and builds up a little of its own.
    To counter act your skin from building heat just poor water over your head (with your helmet on) and it will cool your skin while the helmet protects and insulates your brain from over heating from the sun.
    Much of the symptoms of heat stroke or heat exhaustion start at your brain due to being unprotected from heat and sun beating down on your head. This is why you should always wear a hat (or helmet) while in the direct sun for periods longer than 15 minutes.

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    • gutterbunnybikes July 2, 2015 at 6:11 pm

      Pretty sure freezing the foam in your helmet would constitute an improper fitting (or something like that). And I’d be curious to know what the long term effects of freezing the foam repeatedly would do it over time – I suspect that it would weaken the foam, from constant expansion and contraction, thus weakening the molecules.

      Not that it matters no helmet manufacturer has ever been successfully sued, no one ever seems to wear a helmet properly – go figure.

      Now I’ll admit, in the heat you’re much more likely to suffer heat related injuries and illnesses, so I’d probably do this – if I wore a helmet.

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  • SEPDXRider July 2, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    This is great, and I apologize that this post is slightly off topic but I agree with the folks who point out that riding slower can actually get you into more trouble sometimes and more conflicts with other road users.

    Weird, I know, but it’s really true from what I’ve experienced. There’s a happy medium there – and definitely you have to take where you are riding into consideration.

    That said. I try to ride slow. I really, really do, but there’s just this DNA strand in me that demands I hammer. Before I know it I’m cranking again. It’s a lot of work and repetitive mantras for someone like me to learn to slow down. 🙂

    “Easy, easy, not a race, let him go. I know he looked back. It’s ok. Ride your pace. OK fine you can ‘pace’ the hill and pass him if you want. Deal? Good stay slow…”


    “Slow, slow, slow… hey look at that sweet bike… I would totally lock it better than that… oh DANGIT! Slow remember? Ok, slow, slow, slow, slow….”

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